Amsterdam News
July 6 – July 12, 2006

Chester Higgins Jr. speaks at MoCADA

By Damaso Reyes
Special to the AmNews

For the past 30 years, New York Times staff photographer and award-winning artist Chester Higgins Jr. has sought to capture that which is perhaps unobtainable: the spirit that binds us all together as a global human family. In his books and on the pages of the Times, Higgins has documented the African Diaspora around the globe and photographed the diverse spirituality that binds us together as people of faith. Recently Higgins came to the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporian Arts (MoCADA) in Brooklyn to talk about his work and show images from his more than three decades of work.

The artist was interviewed by photographer, historian, MacArthur Fellowship winner and New York University professor Deborah Willis about his life and work. "It’s a reminder to people of the normalcy and beauty in our lives," Willis said of Higgins’ photographs. "I think he has made a real impact on the people he has touched" with his images, she added.

Higgins has traveled to more than 30 countries around the world in his pursuit of both the African Diaspora and what he calls "the spirit" which is the subject of one of his best known books, "Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa."

"Most people who photograph people of color focus on our pathologies," Higgins said after presenting a slide show of several dozen of his most revealing and amazing images. A theme that came up several times during the discussion was that of the obsession that many photographers and much of mainstream media has with all that is wrong with the Black community. Higgins himself was inspired to become a photographer because of the lack of positive images of African-American in the press. More than 30 years later, he has amassed a large body of work that celebrates the huge variety of positive elements of Black life in America. "One of the challenging aspects of growing up a minority in a majority culture is always being defined by the majority," Higgins said.

"Chester is an artist who really embodies what it is we do here," MoCADA Founder and Executive Director Laurie Cumbo said after the discussion. "For people in the African Diaspora to see their image finally claimed and deemed worthy of discussion," is truly exciting, she added.

Founded in 1999, MoCADA itself is part of that larger dream of reclaiming the images and art of the Diaspora which for too long have been held hostage by an art and media establishment that is not truly representative of American society. The Museum recently moved into a new, larger building located at 80 Hanson Place near the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The new location will enable the museum to host longer and more elaborate shows featuring art of and by the African Diaspora.
For more information about the work of Chester Higgins Jr., visit To learn more about MoCADA, visit or call 718.230.0492.

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