Previous Exhibitions

Our Friend Jean: Early Works of Jean-Michel Basquiat

October 28, 2022 – November 4, 2022

Our Friend, Jean is a sampling of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s earliest works on loan from several collectors who knew him intimately, as friends, collaborators, and lovers. Featuring 20+ artworks including drawings, writings, apparel, mixed media collages, and ephemera. The group of collectors consists of Jane Diaz, Hilary Jaeger, Katie Taylor, Lucy Sante, Al Diaz, and photographer Alexis Adler who also served as a co-curator with Erwin John and Stevenson Dunn, Jr.. Through this exhibition each collector shares uniquely intimate stories of their friend Jean. The exhibition lends a voice to the unsung collectors of the world, those who offer an artist critical early support out of genuine friendship. It is precisely this type of support that can springboard an artist’s career to unimaginable heights. Friendship is what distinguishes the group of collectors who are lending their works to the “Our Friend, Jean” exhibition.

Michi Meko: Black and Blur

October 6, 2019 - December 3, 2021

This exhibition features a large-scale installation and abstract paintings by Atlanta-based artist Michi Meko. The title is inspired by the work of Fred Moten. In Black and Blur: consent not to be a single being, Moten uses his intimate knowledge of music and performance to expand understanding of the concept of blackness. Meko shares with Moten a desire to give form to blackness as an aesthetic and human experience. Meko’s concern with color, material, and the meditative seamlessly come together in the large-scale installation. The landscape fabric and trash bags – which were created to inhibit exposure to sunlight and hide contents inside – obscure and give texture to the artist’s desire to emphasize our inner nature. The folds, bulges, breaks, and shifts in the curtain-like structure play with perception. The work also shows how a single, dark color can conjure an entire universe of possibilities. Blackness in the artist’s abstract paintings is rooted in the experiences of African Americans and the Southern landscape. Meko transforms his intimate connection to these worlds into a cosmic universe. Sharp lines and a few bursts of color hint at emerging states of being that are akin to elemental forces of nature. Depictions of thresholds, or points where things begin to happen, these works also reflect the depth of uncertainty that can emerge when individuals begin to explore the internal self.

20/21 Interlude: The Evolution of Clark Atlanta University's Permanent Art Collection

This installation highlights some of the museum's recent acquisitions in relation to works from its permanent collection. We are particularly enthusiastic about adding works by Atlanta-based artists Jamaal Barber, Paul Stephen Benjamin, Krista Clark, Alfred Conteh, William Downs, Jerushia Graham, Kojo Griffin, and Wilay Méndez Páez. By juxtaposing selections from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we demonstrate that artists residing in the American South, and presented at Black cultural institutions, continue to transform the visual landscape of the United States in profound ways.

Guy Gabon: L'Autre Bord

October 6, 2019 - December 3, 2021

L’Autre Bord, or The Bridge of Beyond, is the final project for Black Optics Artist in Residence Guy Gabon. It consists of a new body of work inspired by her engagement with both the museum’s collection and the city of Atlanta. An eco-artist, Gabon uses art to encourage viewers to consider ways to build an environmentally friendly future. Drawing upon her deep understanding of aesthetic traditions in Guadeloupe, she has created ceramics and sculptures made of organic materials to symbolically connect landscape, historical realities, and contemporary sociopolitical issues. The exhibition also includes a selection of works from the permanent collection that connects Gabon’s practice to African American artists whose works deal with either representation of black women or forms of expression associated with them.

The exhibition’s title is taken from the novel The Bridge of Beyond written by Guadeloupean author Simon Schwartz-Bart. The book focuses on the experiences of women who reside in a remote village in Guadeloupe. Gabon shares Schwartz-Bart’s interest in giving form to marginalized black women’s ways of being. In her site-specific installation Reliance, she depicts portraits of unknown or underrecognized women on kites. The kites, which reference a popular past-time in many Caribbean countries is a way to symbolically elevate these women. The artist positions the portraits above a mound of Georgia’s red soil. In so doing, she subtly suggests that the answers we seek for a sustainable future can be found in the viewpoints and traditions of those who live in harmony with nature.

Crafting for Life

September 8, 2019 - May 22, 2020

The exhibition Crafting for Life features rarely shown decorative objects from the permanent collection. The works, which range from Gee’s Bend quilts and handwoven sweetgrass baskets to an intricately designed granary door, encourage a consideration of the overlap between art, design, and industry. In the installation, the handicrafts are juxtaposed with a mixed media work by Lillian Blades and tapestries by Alexander Calder. The contrast draws attention to the arbitrary divide between fine art and craft as well as the role of gender, class, and ethnicity in shaping our interpretations of the significance and quality of the work. The exhibition also strives to illustrate the openness and cultural interchange essential to the development of fine art inspired by craft traditions.

Black Optics Interlude

January 26, 2020 - February 14, 2020

This installation comprises works from the permanent collection that speak to themes of interest to Guy Gabon, the inaugural Black Optics artist in residence. The residency offers a platform to explore African Diaspora aesthetics in relation to Clark Atlanta University’s collection. It does so by giving contemporary artists from the American South and the Caribbean the opportunity to develop new work.

During her residency, Gabon has been inspired by cultural expression and aesthetic traditions associated with women’s practices and crafts tradition. She selected Nellie’s Hands (at right) as the signature work for this exhibition. It visually underscores her interest in considering how insights from underrecognized women might help us build a more sustainable future. The photograph is paired with Lillian Blades’s Memory Board, which reconfigures discarded materials associated with sewing and clothing into a quilt-like pattern. Inspired by memory boards created by the Luba in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is a conceptual work that reminds us of some of the most fundamental aspects of African American culture. This latter work emphasizes Gabon’s interest in making connections among women’s history, African and African Diasporic expressive traditions, and contemporary fine art practices.

Four sculptures of black women by William Artis and Henry Bannarn set off works by African American artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries that mostly either depict women or were created by women. Henry Ossawa Tanner’s biblical works do not include women, while William Edouard Scott and Frederick D. Jones’s religious works do. This contrast shows how the inclusion of women can transform our perspective about a subject. These works are understood as an extension of Gabon’s project because they draw attention to artists who have traditionally been marginalized within the canon of American art history.

Traveling Exhibition: Reckoning with John Wilson’s Studies for a Lynching Mural“The Incident”

October 6, 2019 - December 6, 2019

In 1952, while a student at La Esmeralda—Mexico’s national school of art—American artist John Wilson (1922–2015) painted a powerful mural that he titled The Incident. The fresco depicted a scene of a racial-terror lynching at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, as witnessed by a young African American family. Although the mural is no longer extant, this exhibition brings together publicly for the first time nearly all of Wilson’s known preparatory sketches and painted studies for it, as well as related prints and drawings. Inspired by the political and social activism of the Mexican muralists, in particular José Clemente Orozco, and haunted by images of lynchings that he had seen in newspapers as a child, Wilson revisited the subject of The Incident over many years as a way of grappling with racial violence, both past and present. The works on view, some disturbing in content, encourage contemporary viewers to do the same.

Exhibition made possible by the Isabel B. Wilson Memorial Fund. Organized by Pamela Franks, Class of 1956 Director, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Mass., and former Senior Deputy Director and Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Yale University Art Gallery, and Elisabeth Hodermarsky, the Sutphin Family Senior Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings, Yale University Art Gallery.

The Sense of Something Universal

Opening September 15

Utilizing John Wilson works from CAUAM’s permanent collection, this exhibition serves as a complement to the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG) exhibition “Reckoning with ‘The Incident’: John Wilson’s Studies for a Lynching Mural,” which will be on view from October 6th to December 6th. It primarily includes works that won prizes in the Atlanta Annuals competition during the forties and fifties as well as “The Richard Wright Suite”. The show encourages reflection on Wilson as an artist and individual concerned with what he described as “the magic, the sense of something universal, of some life force that intervenes and that is part of this whole rhythm of life.” More significantly, it provides viewers with an opportunity to have firsthand experience with the artist’s range of expression.

Guy Gabon: Soleil de la Conscience/ Sun of Consciousness

Opening September 15, 2019

This exhibition is the first phase of the Black Optics Artist Residency, which features work by Guadeloupean-born artist Guy Gabon. The show’s title “Soleil de la Conscience” is borrowed from a book by Martinican poet Edouard Glissant. Glissant’s work serves as inspiration for a sustained reflection on a short film by Gabon. The film, which is entitled “Mary Prince”, indirectly encourages reflection on the life of Mary Prince, a woman from Bermuda whose slave narrative is one of the most well-known accounts from the Caribbean. The artist relates Prince's harrowing and traumatic experience through a performer who symbolically seeks to unearth traces of the woman's life as well as the larger institution of slavery in the Caribbean. A potentially revelatory event for the viewers, the work subtly suggests that this exposé is as central to understanding the Francophone Caribbean as it is for developing a more nuanced perspective about people of African descent in the New World.

The Sweet Spot

September 23, 2018 - June 31, 2019

This two-part exhibition revisits Alfred Conteh’s Two Fronts and Tetanus series. Conteh’s works are inspired by daily life in areas of Atlanta where mostly African Americans reside. His landscape paintings explore the notion of freedom in relation to living one’s best life.

Radical Lens

September 23, 2018 - June 31, 2019

This exhibition features selections from Sheila Pree Bright's 1960Now series, exploring the role of photography in documenting social justice movements.

Black Interiors

September 23, 2018 through June 30, 2019

CAUAM Permanent Collection This exhibition features African American art from 1912 to 2014 that draws attention to interior spaces as sites of liberation and creative expression.

Leisure without Luxury

August 27, 2017 - May 25, 2018

Leisure Without Luxury playfully reflects upon the paradoxical relationship between the concept of leisure and African American life. Inspired by works from the museum’s permanent collection created from the 1940s until the 1990s, Curatorial Assistant Diamond Mason has crafted a poem that encourages a meditation on the ways visual artists’ depicted possibilities for people whose lives were often severely restricted by limited resources and opportunities. The fruit of their creativity and ingenuity.

Frederick D. Jones Jr. and the Social Surreal

August 27, 2017 - May 25, 2018

This permanent collection exhibition considers the work of Frederick D. Jones Jr. in relation to the art movement known as Social Surrealism. As a branch of Social Realism, Social Surrealism was similarly invested in depicting the plight of workers, laborers, and other social groups positioned on society's margins. The work of Social Surrealists, however, was distinctive for its engagement with the European Surrealist tradition and its emphasis on dreamlike imagery inspired by the unconscious.

Beyond Boundaries

August 27, 2017 - May 25, 2018

Focused on works created from 1931 to 2002, this exhibition considers the ways artists from the permanent collection have pushed conceptual and material boundaries in their search for a visual language that adequately represents the human experience. William Edouard Scott, often described as a creative ethnographer, created the earliest works in the show during his eight-month sojourn in Haiti. Night Turtle Fishing in Haiti (1931), particularly, is representative of the type of paintings he composed to counter the representation of black people as caricatures or figures of fun. Scott’s works are markedly different from that of artists like John Wilson who during his time abroad created more overtly sociopolitical works such as La Calle (1951). These artists active engagement with communities beyond the confines of the United States serves as an example of one of the ways that African American artists infused new life into their practice.

Other artists utilized color and form to produce alternative ways of seeing, or envisioning, reality. Rose Piper, an artist enamored by the blues and African American folk traditions, attempted to pictorially capture the essence of her interests in paintings such as Grievin’ Hearted (1947). By contrast, Felrath Hines created geometric abstractions, such as Intermission (1989), to consider questions about design, spatial illusion, and optical effect. These abstract works indicate that the African American aesthetic tradition is an evolving one that includes artists engaged in a broad range of experimental practices.

Joseph Norman: Variations on a Theme

March 14 - June 23, 2017

This permanent collection exhibition revisits works from Joseph Norman’s series Strange Fruit, Autumn Berlin, and Out at Home in order to examine one form of printmaking - the lithograph. Norman refines his techniques and ideas by developing series of works that are variations on a given theme. His practice of working in series is useful for exploring a medium known for its capacity to create multiples that appear to be identical, but that are in fact quite original and distinct. By juxtaposing Norman’s works with prints by artists such as Grace Albee, Robert Blackburn, Norma Morgan, and John Wilson, the show draws attention to the versatility inherent to this particular style of printmaking.

A secondary, but equally significant, emphasis of the exhibition is Norman’s use of metaphor to make political allusions. A recurring feature in the displayed series is the use of heavily loaded allegorical symbols and vegetation to indirectly encourage reflection on violence and sociopolitical injustices such as lynching and discrimination in American baseball. Exploiting the expressive possibilities of a black-and-white palette and dark tonalities, the artist sensitively renders visible the effects of American racism and oppressive environments.

Fathi Hassan: Edge of Memory

October 9, 2016 - June 23, 2017

Contemporary artist Fathi Hassan creates mixed-media works that explore the plight of Nubians, an ethnic group from southern Egypt and northern Sudan. His well-known works are massive canvases or wall drawings comprised of illegible Arabic calligraphy. Hassan’s intentional obscuring of text evokes questions about the representational possibilities of written language and graphic form. His play with symbolic form also alludes to the challenge of adequately representing human experience.

An Egyptian-born Nubian, Hassan’s works are intimately tied to the flooding of his homeland by the Egyptian government when they constructed the Aswan High Dam in 1964. His paintings and installations pay tribute to Nubia’s lost heritage and extend beyond the Nubian frame of reference by incorporating aesthetic forms and styles from other cultures. This is most readily apparent in his style of Arabic calligraphy, which he invented to give visual form to Nubia’s threatened oral culture. Hassan’s cursive-style of calligraphy emphasizes the mutability that was a feature of life for Nubians after their relocation.

This exhibition explores how the artist commemorates Nubia and strives to recount their experience of migration and displacement, not only via text or symbols incorporated in his works but also in the form of the objects themselves. Consisting almost exclusively of works on paper, the fragmented and seemingly fragile pieces illustrate how tenuous the grasp and representation of individual and community experience can be. The selected works also draw attention to the various ways the artist, over four decades, has sought to capture, preserve, and represent contemporary Nubian history and culture.


October 9, 2016 - March 3, 2017

This exhibition highlights works from the 1940s to the present that provide a nuanced representation of African American experiences. Comprised primarily of objects from the museum’s permanent collection, it also includes works by sculptor Alfred Conteh, painter Dante Yarbrough, and Clark Atlanta University professor Christopher Hickey and his students. The show foregrounds African American visual art that is simultaneously socially and politically relevant and expands the boundaries of artistic content and form.

The selections equally draw attention to the varied ways that artists have attempted to develop a visual language and aesthetic praxis that renders the complexity of black humanity. Works such as John Bigger’s Kneeling Figure (1953) and Alfred Conteh’s Sink (2015) sensitively convey the angst, despair, and struggle wrought by broader socioeconomic, political, and structural conditions. Pieces such as William H. Johnson’s Jitterbugs (1942) and Eddie Jack Jordan’s Negro Girl Skipping Rope (1960), however, remind us that African American lives are comprised of more than pain, sorrow, and struggle. Collectively, these artistic depictions indicate that black lives, like all of humanity, include joy and pain, alienation and connection, triumphs and defeats – or the bitter and the sweet.

This Postman Collects: The Rapture of Kerry and C. Betty Davis

January 17 - July 15, 2016

This exhibition features a private collection of fine art acquired by the Davises over a period of 30 years. It began as a modest desire to provide some form of interior decor in their mid-century, split-level home in a suburb of Greater Atlanta. Unforeseen by the Davises was its evolution into a dynamic assemblage of over 300 works of art that would come to influence their daily lives and the community at large. It demonstrates the plausibility of amassing a collection of fine art with limited resources predicated on the essential ingredients of curiosity, passion, and due diligence, thereby, offering a road map for young collectors that will ultimately benefit artists and their communities. Eighty-one works from the Davises’ collection reveal an evolved sense of discernment for successful, aesthetic resolutions across several genres and masterful techniques present in the works of both emerging and distinguished artists. In pictorial concert, their collection conveys a formidable tone of commitment to an unsung artist community that too often languishes for patron support. With each purchase the Davises were drawn into the galaxies of artists, exposing them to creative processes—the artists’ rapture that would inevitably become their own.

Beyond the University Art Annuals: Acquisitions from 1980-2014

September 23, 2014- May 29, 2014

In 1942, Hale Aspacio Woodruff (1900-1980) began the Exhibition of Paintings, Prints and Sculptures by Negro Artists of America at Atlanta University. This national, juried show later became known as the Atlanta University Art Annuals. The Annuals, which ended in 1970 after 29 consecutive exhibitions offered African American artist a national forum in which to share their work during the epoch of segregation.

What happened after 1970? Did Woodruff’s vision evaporate? How was it sustained?

By the end of the Annuals, artists who were emerging during that juried competition had become renowned. The Annuals played a significant part in the development of their work and career, thereby making the Annuals as a noteworthy competition, and placing Atlanta University as a leader in the world of fine art. To that end, having one’s work acquired by the Clark Atlanta University Art Collection became a prestigious honor that remains today—for artists of all nationalities.

The legacy of Hale Woodruff continued. His vision of celebrating the work of artists of the African Diaspora in a way that honored their craft and their life breathes on in the Clark Atlanta University Permanent Collection. With the exception of the Adopt-An-Artwork program and the student-curated exhibit, Negritude, the majority of the artworks installed were acquired since 1980, representing a breadth of mediums and artists.

Our catalog, In the Eye of the Muses (2012), is the first catalog to chronicle the collection since its inception in 1942. Never before has a comprehensive presentation of the Clark Atlanta University Permanent Collection been available in one volume.

Now, we invited visitors to travel through our galleries to witness the continuum of the vision which began in 1942—the commitment to create a space for art to live, where viewers can embrace its beauty and power, where students can learn its history, and where the community can conserve its legacy.

Arms Race to Embrace: James Pate's KKK Series, Kin Killin' Kin

January 19 - March 7, 2014

A visually stimulating exhibition addressing the epidemic of gun violence in communities nationwide.

Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries presents Arms Race to Embrace: James Pate’s KKK Series, Kin Killin’ Kin a visually stimulating exhibition addressing the epidemic of gun violence in urban communities nationwide. KKK: Kin Killin’ Kin is Pate’s personal protest to what he calls “Black-on-Black terrorism,” visually comparing it to Ku Klux Klan terrorism. In light of the national dialogue underway addressing the plight of African American males, this provocative exhibition will seek to engage communities in relevant discussions leading to plausible solutions to violence prevention. The exhibition opens Sunday, January 19, 2014, with a reception from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p. m., featuring an Artist’s Talk with James Pate. It continues through March 7, 2014.

As the national debate on gun violence and gun control continues to capture attention and make headlines, Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries offers the Atlanta community an opportunity to join the debate through this cutting-edge exhibition. “Certainly, gun violence is a too common reality in this country, but even more so in the African American community. KKK: Kin Killin’ Kin allows the Galleries to visually represent that reality in an engaging way. This exhibit is present as a catalyst to explore the myriad causes of gun violence,” says Tina Dunkley, Director or the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries.

James Pate is intentional in naming the exhibition “KKK,” a longtime symbol and source of terrorism for African Americans, particularly during the Jim Crow era. Pate’s series of images, which include 12 charcoal drawings and one oil painting, each represent a “moment of silence and dedication” to people who have been impacted directly by gun violence. The artist portrays African American men in pointed “hoods,” similar to those worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan as a way to juxtapose disparate worlds and underscore the irony. Pate points to the book, “Without Sanctuary,” by Leon F. Litwack, which cites that “between 1882 and 1968, an estimated 4,742 Blacks met their death at the hands of lynch mobs.” However, between 1976 and 2000, 94% of Black homicide victims in America were killed by other Blacks. Pate’s notation of the latter statistic by the Bureau of Justice, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s research that homicide has been the leading cause of death for Black males between the age of 15 and 34 in recent years provide the impetus for the KKK Series.

James Pate’s KKK Series, Kin Killin’ Kin is atraveling art exhibition curated by Bing Davis and organized by Shango: Center for the Study of African American Art and Culture, Inc. and Ebony Nia Gallery in Dayton, Ohio. The exhibition in Atlanta is supported in part by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.

For more information on this exhibition, and sponsorship opportunities please visit or send an e-mail to:

Arms Race to Embrace: James Pate’s KKK Series is presented in collaboration with the city-wide celebration, Africa Atlanta 2014.

Ascending Yellow

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries is proud to present Ascending Yellow, a memorial exhibition and art auction celebrating the late Dr. Richard A. Long, the longtime Fine Art Advisor to the Galleries. Long’s steadfast devotion to the preservation of the permanent collection made him an invaluable supporter until his death in January 2013. To commemorate Long’s cultural legacy in the humanities – founder of the Triennial International African Art Symposium in its 15th cycle – and his contribution to the visual arts, Clark Atlanta University commissioned a fantasy coffin in the image of Long’s indispensable car, a 1974 yellow B210 Datsun. The coffin, created in Accra, Ghana will be unveiled during the fundraiser reception on Sunday, February 9, 2014, 2:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m., the day that would have been Long’s 89th birthday.

In March 2013, the “CBS Sunday Morning” television show featured the Ghanaian tradition of memorializing the dead that can often include a vernacular crafted coffin in the likeness of an object or subject related to the deceased’s favorite pastime a year after their transition. Long was recognized as a major cultural historian, and he was the Atticus Haygood Professor Emeritus of Interdisciplinary Studies at Emory University.

The reveal will be preceded by a dance performance and reading of Long’s poem, “Ascending.” Included in the presentation are works by local Atlanta artists inspired by Long’s legendary car that will be for sale in support of the University’s permanent collection. The fundraising exhibition will serve as an opportunity for the Galleries to raise funds to continue to preserve its internationally acclaimed collection, which is esteemed among Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This event is made possible through the generous support of Jim and Marsha Meadows, whose contribution covered the entire expense of the coffin’s production and shipping.

For more information on this exhibition, tickets, and sponsorship opportunities please visit or send an e-mail to:

Ascending Yellow is presented in collaboration with the city-wide celebration, Africa Atlanta 2014.