The First Kin

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Whitfield Lovell, Kin I (Our Folks), 2008. Conté on paper, paper flags, and string, 30 x 22 1/2 in. Collection of Reginald and Aliya Browne © Whitfield Lovell and DC Moore Gallery, New York

The importance of home, family, ancestry feeds my work entirely. African Americans were generally not aware of who their ancestors were, since slaves were sold from plantation to plantation and families were split up. Any time I pick up one of these old vintage photographs, I have the feeling that this could be one of my ancestors.—Whitfield Lovell

It was quite unexpectedly, in response to seeing a young boy in an ID photograph, that Whitfield Lovell began the first in his ongoing series of Kin works. As he recalled, “There was something about the emotion in his eyes that immediately spoke to me. I was compelled to draw that young man’s face at a certain life-like scale, and to capture as much of his expression as I could.” Lovell’s subtitle for the work, “Our Folks,” set the tone for the series, which has grown to a veritable family of 60 some relations—each one individualized with the artist’s careful attention to capturing the character of his subjects and their distinctive facial attributes.

The banner of American paper flags beneath the male figure, one of various flag motifs that recur in subsequent works by the artist, alludes to the complicated history of patriotism for African Americans, expressed by Frederick Douglass as early as 1852 when he asked a crowd in Rochester, New York, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?”

Whitfield Lovell: The Kin Series and Related Works is on view through Jan. 8, 2017.

Video Tour of Whitfield Lovell

“Immersing oneself in the soulful reveries of Lovell’s art opens a window onto our shared past, and it’s ongoing reverberations in our contemporary world.” More from Exhibition Curator Elsa Smithgall on Whitfield Lovell: The Kin Series and Related Works in this video.

ArtGrams: Whitfield Lovell

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Instagrammer @bmpashle snapped a photo of this visitor with Whitfield Lovell’s Kin VI (Nobody), 2008 at left and Kin XLIX (The Well), 2011 at right.

Since the exhibition’s opening, we’ve seen tons of creative photos of Whitfield Lovell‘s Kin series and tableaux works. Highlighting a few of our favorites for this month’s ArtGrams! Share your photos in and around the museum for a chance to be featured on the blog.

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Whitfield Lovell’s Rice Barton Series, 2004, as photographed by @risunshine143.

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“Got to see some amazing pieces @PhillipsCollection today during my lunch break including this (Whitfield Lovell, Fortune, 2000). Photo: IG/chelloanne

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“Sound traveling w/ 37 vintage radios. Making waves 🌊” Instagrammer (and Phillips Museum Assistant/emerging artist) @joelvincii pictured here with Whitfield Lovell’s After an Afternoon, 2008.

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Of Lovell’s “At Home and Abroad” (2008), Instagrammer @benevelint notes: “Still relevant / sad reality”

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Phillips Manager of Public Engagement and Instagrammer @kkdaley28 snapped this photo of Lovell’s Dawn to Dawn (2006) during opening week

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Photo: IG/tkgphoto

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Lovell’s Kin IX (To Make Your False Heart True), 2008. Photo: IG/artistjuliakwon

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Accompanying this photo of Whitfield Lovell’s Cage (2001), Instagrammer @tohmase pairs the caption: “The first act of liberation is to destroy one’s own cage” – Michael S. Harper

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Love this perspective from Instagrammer @baeyahh

 

ArtGrams is a monthly series in which we feature our favorite Instagrammed pictures taken around or inspired by the museum. Each month, we’ll feature a different theme based on trends we’ve seen in visitor photos. Hashtag your images with #PhillipsCollection or tag your location for a chance to be featured.