Landscapes of the Soul: Women of the African Diaspora









Acclaimed photographer, Chester Higgins Jr., provides viewers with unusual insight into the African Diaspora through a series of portraits that reflect both the personal and collective emotions, experience and expression of the women whose legacy it is. Landscapes of the Soul: Women of the African Diaspora presents sixty-seven grandly sensitive images of African and African American women, from childhood to elderhood. Taken over the course of thirty years during travels in the United States, the Caribbean, Europe and the African continent, the photographs capture both the universality of womanhood and the uniqueness of each individual. Through the intense and personal medium of portraiture, these images become powerful conveyers of the monumental global experience of the Diaspora.



Weekend/Fine Arts
Friday, March 5, 1999Chester Higgins Jr.
‘Landscapes of the Soul’
Museum for African Art
593 Broadway, near Houston Street

Through March 28
By Kay Larson

A long double strand of dreadlock swings meditatively in midair at the toss of a young black woman’s head in this elegant and pensive exhibition of photographs from the 30-year wanderings of the photojournalist Chester Higgins Jr. The flight of two chopstick-thin black vectors in the white radiance flooding from a New York window epitomizes the mood of bittersweet release that Mr. Higgins finds in the faces of women of the African diaspora.

In the Bronx and Puerto Rico, Brazil, Ghana, Paris, Ohio and Alabama, Mr. Higgins evidently watched for those moments of dignity and inwardness that flit like a hint of revelation through the dust and chaos of migration. The sense of physical gravity, of soul silence and self-collection, is palpable; it applies equally to women of stunning, effortless beauty and to those whose faces are seamed with wisdom they would rather not have had to acquire.

Mr. Higgins’s viewpoint is classical: the subject is the eternal female, seen from the outside, shrouded in natural grace and mystery, impenetrable to male eyes. One imagines that the women might characterize their
own lives differently. A photographer, however, has the right to editorialize. Mr. Higgins, who is a staff photographer for The New York Times, does so subtly, and — particularly in a sequence of images of black women dressed entirely in white — to powerful effect.

In the absolute nonmixing of opposites lies a metaphor about the diaspora itself, one that is sustained throughout the exhibition. No matter where they drift, Mr. Higgins suggests, black women do not give themselves up; they remain who they are in all circumstances. He notes that fact with admiration, respect and more than a little love.



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