The Gordon Parks Foundation has named artists Bisa Butler and Andre D. Wagner as its 2022 fellows. Art historian and curator Nicole Fleetwood, who received a MacArthur “Genius” Award last year, was named the foundation’s inaugural Genevieve Young Fellow in Writing. The new fellows, announced yesterday, January 25, will each receive $25,000 to support new or ongoing projects that tackle themes of representation and social justice.
Launched in 2017, the Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship is awarded annually to two artists from a range of disciplines to explore topics at the intersection of art and social justice. The fellowships culminate in a solo exhibition at the Gordon Parks Foundation Gallery in Pleasantville, New York. This year, the foundation announced its first Genevieve Young Fellow in Writing, named after a prominent book editor who was also Parks’s former wife and estate executor. Young died in February of 2020.
The new fellowship supports the research, development, and publication of a new project in various fields including art history, journalism, and literature.
Fleetwood, a professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, is the author of several books and numerous essays on representations of Blackness in art, performance, and popular culture. Her latest publication, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration (2020), has won high praise and multiple accolades. The book was accompanied by a namesake exhibition at MoMA PS1 in 2020, which later traveled to the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In a statement, Fleetwood said that Parks “has long been an enormous influence on my teaching, curating, and writing.”
Butler is a textile artist who creates vibrant quilts, often based on archival photos, reimagining and celebrating Black life. Her practice is informed by her training as a painter and childhood experiences of sewing with her mother and grandmother. Butler’s work was exhibited widely in museums across the country and her quilts are included in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC; the Art Institute of Chicago; and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, among other institutions.
“As an artist, I have used quilt-making as a means of revealing essential, often hidden, truths about beauty, strength, and fragility in the human experience — themes that were central to Parks’s own work,” Butler said in a statement yesterday.
Wagner is a Brooklyn-based street photographer who chronicles the daily lives of Black communities in New York in poetic black and white portraits and photo essays. His photographs have been commissioned by publications including the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Vogue, and others. “Since my first encounter with Parks’s autobiography in 2010, I’ve considered myself a student of his work,” he said.
Past recipients of the art fellowships include Nina Chanel Abney and Tyler Mitchell (2020), Guadalupe Rosales and Hank Willis Thomas (2019), Derrick Adams and Deana Lawson (2018), and Devin Allen and Harriet Dedman (2017).
Parks was a seminal figure of 20th-century American photography. In 2006, he established his eponymous foundation together with his long-time collaborator and friend Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., a former managing editor of LIFE magazine. Both men died in March that year.
“Parks captured the contours of Black American life in the mid- to late 20th century: community, joy, exclusion, racist violence, and uprising,” Alexandra M. Thomas wrote for Hyperallergic in a review of the 2021 exhibition Gordon Parks: Half and the Whole at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. “Contemplating these strikingly familiar photographs in 2021 underlines the unfinished state of racial justice — reminding us that the past is not yet behind us.”