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NMAAHC collaborated with the National Portrait Gallery on an inaugural exhibition of photographic portraits of African Americans. Selected by guest curator and photography historian Deborah Willis, Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits explores the medium’s influential role in shaping public identity and individual notions of race and status over the past 150 years.
The exhibition's title was inspired by the rallying cry of celebrated abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882) who challenged the "slaves of the United States of America" to rise up and emancipate themselves. "Let your motto be resistance!," he exclaimed. "Resistance! Resistance! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance!"
The portrait subjects come from many sectors of the African American community, from Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Edmonia Lewis, to W.E.B. Du Bois, Lorraine Hansberry, and Wynton Marsalis. Among the featured photographers who employ a variety of strategies to create their powerful images are Mathew Brady, Berenice Abbott, James VanDerZee, Doris Ulmann, Edward Weston, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, and Carl Van Vechten.
The national tour is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).