On the evening of November 1st, the En Foco familia gathered at the home of board member Sid Baumgarten, and Terri Paladini Baumgarten, to celebrate the achievements of photo curator, historian, and woman extraordinaire Deborah Willis, and to raise funds for our nationally traveling permanent collection exhibition En Foco/In Focus: Selected Works from the Permanent Collection.
En Foco’s co-founder and director-emeritus, Charles Biasiny-Rivera, wrote an essay in the late 80s which still rings true today. In it, he emphasized the importance of “creating our own mentors, seers and visionaries who are found among our communities, who remind us of our own destiny – and the strength & dignity resulting from that knowledge.” Deborah Willis has long been a mentor for not only our organization, but also for many of the photographers we have worked with and in this spirit, we presented her with En Foco’s first award for making a notable difference in photographic history and beyond.
Named among the 100 Most Important People in Photography by American Photography magazine, Dr. Deborah Willis is Chair and Professor of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. She is one of the nation’s leading historians of African American photography and curator of African American culture, as well as a 2005 Guggenheim and Fletcher Fellow and a 2000 MacArthur Fellow. Among all these achievements, her pride and joy is also sharing that she is Hank Willis Thomas‘ mom.
Her projects include Posing Beauty –African American Images from the 1890s to the Present, Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits, Black Venus 2010: They Called Her ‘Hottentot’ (editor), Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present. Most recently, Dr. Willis’s book, Michelle Obama, The First Lady in Photographs, garnered her the 2010 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Biography/Autobiography, and she is the recipient of the 2010 Society of Photographic Education‘s Honored Educator Award. On this evening, it was truly an honor to present her with En Foco’s Award.
Just as our honoree has brought to light so many photographers of the African diaspora, our permanent collection aims to do the same with artists of diverse cultures. Since it’s founding almost forty years ago, En Foco has celebrated the right of artists of Latino, African, Asian and Native American heritage to self-representation and a space where they can be welcomed, validated, and encouraged to be active participants in the art world. As a leader in documenting the efforts of these artists, En Foco developed a permanent collection of images spanning the past four decades.
In an effort to get this work seen by the public, we worked with curator Elizabeth Ferrer on a nationally traveling exhibition, En Foco/In Focus: Selected Works from the Permanent Collection, which opened this fall at Light Work in Syracuse, New York. Thanks to the Art & Cocktail ticket purchases, donations, and Print Collectors Program purchases we were able to raise $8,000 help meet to the matching fund requirement for our National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces grant. These funds will hep toward our goal to travel the show around the country and publish an extensive exhibition catalog.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to the following contributors for helping to make An Evening of Art & Cocktails a huge success:
C. Danny Dawson
Ana de Orbegoso
Reggi Reich Gerber
Donna Marie Jones
Bruce & Jennifer Miller
J. Thomas Roland, Jr.
Hank Willis Thomas
We still have a little way to go to meet our grant match — if you would like to contribute towards our Permanent Collection project, you can still make a secure online tax-deductible donation HERE, or by calling En Foco at 718-931-9311.