Bill Gaskins Celebrates the Conclusion of His Exhibition ‘Black Mystery Month’ at Art & Art History Lecture Series

This spring, the Clifford Gallery hosted a groundbreaking series of photographs from Bill Gaskins, entitled “Black Mystery Month.” Gaskins is currently a professor and founding director of the graduate program in photographic & electronic media at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Prior to his role at MICA, Gaskins was a faculty member at Cornell University, where he originally began conducting a research project that culminated in the exhibition seen today, “Black Mystery Month.”

“I conducted a research project for five years through a simple in-class student survey I distributed at Cornell University. The study led to revealing and unexpected views on the scholarly literacy of this random sample of students at the intersection of race and scholarship. The survey results also informed and inspired a dynamic group of photographic portraits I am producing,” Gaskins said.

The works express the often overlooked intersections between photography, race and visual culture, highlighted by the stark contrasts of a traditional black and white photo.

Gaskins aims to tell stories in our 21st century world while paying homage to historical tropes and struggles that have led to the complex imagery depicted throughout the exhibit. His art aims to encourage discussion and allow for audience interactivity on topics of culture and community in celebration of generations of Black resilience while disrupting claims of a post-civil rights America. 

“Each photograph reveals the degree of viewer comprehension and acknowledgment of African American people as a social, intellectual and historical presence in the United States,” Gaskins said.

“It was really interesting to attend an exhibit that I had to interact with. I also really enjoyed how blurred the photographs were. It clearly felt very thought out and passionate,” sophomore Emma Barrison said.

As the exhibition closed on March 23, Gaskins offered an art and art history lecture open to all students and community members in Little Hall’s Golden Auditorium. Throughout the lecture, Gaskins shed a positive light on careers in visual arts and spoke of his experiences leading up to the culmination of “Black Mystery Month.” He stressed that art is a profession that places emphasis on the intellectual architecture of social constructs and complex thinking, as opposed to encyclopedic academic jobs, such as doctors or lawyers. He also noted the urgent and interdisciplinary freedom that artists hold within their career paths. 

“I really enjoyed Gaskins’ interdisciplinary approach within the exhibition, showing the intersections of people, nations and knowledge. Attending his lecture also helped me contextualize the works,” sophomore Kaia Pedone said.

Gaskins is not only a renowned photographer but also well known for his work in American and African American studies. As a non-fiction writer, Gaskins has published essays, reviews and exhibition catalog essays for publications including, “NKA; Journal of Contemporary African Art,” “Artsy,” “Aperture” and “The New Yorker Magazine.” He is the author of “Good & Bad Hair: Photographs by Bill Gaskins” and the film “The Meaning of Hope.” His work has been featured in anthologies, catalogs and solo and group exhibitions at major venues including the Crocker Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts and The Smithsonian Institution. 

“These photographs offer a visual, cerebral and communal visual experience that defies casual dismissal,” Gaskins said. “My art is driven by a purpose at the intersection of visual and liberal arts.”