Zimmerli exhibit explores legacies of influential black figures throughout history


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Photo by Wikimedia |

Terrence A. Reese's Reflections exhibit depicts influential black individuals in intimate settings with short blurbs beside each piece. The goal is to make it easier for students to relate to the historic figures.


Terrence A. Reese's exhibit "Reflections: Photographs of Iconic African-Americans" explores the lives of influential black Americans in U.S. history through photography at the Zimmerli Art Museum and aims to remind people of the importance of learning about the past, while actively pursuing a better future.

Reese, also known by the acronym TAR, has spent decades taking black-and-white portraits of influential black icons in their personal worlds. TAR gives a modern spin on portraiture, an old photographic tradition, by providing a short blurb with each image.

Photos in the exhibit depict these individuals in their living rooms, private offices and even their bathrooms. This intimacy allows for the audience to relate to these iconic men and women on a more personal level.

“Reflections is like the first day of kindergarten where a child runs home to tell their parents all that they learned that day. The 500 words that accompany the image gives a person a more (of an) in-depth look into the life of an iconic figure whose contributions to society may not be a part of our educational system,” Reese said via email.

The photographs capture not only civil rights leaders and activists, such as James and Esther Cooper Jackson, but musicians, artists and writers as well, including sculptor Dr. Selma H. Burke and journalist Marvel Cooke, Reese said. 

Reese said he hopes that his photographs will be his own personal legacy for shaping the world to be a better place.

“When Reese was in his 20s, he thought about what his legacy as a photographer would be, and how he could pay tribute to the people who helped pave the way for him, as well as other younger generations of African-Americans, to follow their dreams,” said Donna Gustafson, curator of American Art and Mellon director of Academic Programs at the Zimmerli.

His photographs serve to remind audiences that acknowledging the past helps individuals prepare for the future, she said.

Rutgers students have the opportunity to see Reese’s work until the middle of July, she said. The opening for "Reflections: Photographs of Iconic African Americans" was on Feb. 7 during Zimmerli's Art After Hours event.

“We were very fortunate to be able to schedule Terrence Reese to speak at the Exhibition Celebration at Art After Hours on Feb. 7. In addition to his scheduled talk, Reese spent part of the day in the gallery, talking with students and other visitors throughout the day. Visitors enjoy meeting and hearing directly from the artists — it allows for a deeper level of experiencing art,” said Theresa Watson, communications coordinator of the Zimmerli Art Museum.

The photographer captures these icons in a brand-new way that allows audiences to consider what they can achieve personally as they stand in the shoes of some of the most influential people of our nation, she said. 

“Reflections documents a time and place for these iconic figures who, many against great odds, paved the way for greatness within us all. Knowledge is truly power ... so the more informed a person is, the more opportunities they will have to be successful,” Reese said. 


Christina Froelich

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