The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) is the first institution dedicated to showcasing the work and history of African Americans to be built by a major American city.
Now, the newest fall exhibition at AAMP retells parts of American slavery through a nontraditional lens: cotton. John E. Dowell is a Philadelphia-based visual artist who, through photographs, installations and altarpieces, created Cotton: The Soft, Dangerous Beauty of the Past.
“These works are a visual exploration of the role of cotton in shaping that past, as well as our present,” said Dowell.
- Cotton: The Soft, Dangerous Beauty of the Past runs at the African American Museum in Philadelphia September 14-January 21.
- The exhibit features 35 medium to large-scale photographs, installations and altarpieces.
- Artist John E. Dowell is a professor emeritus of Tyler School of Art at Temple University.
The latest fall exhibition at the African American Museum in Philadelphia is an art installation that came to artist John E. Dowell in a dream.
“I knew there was a story to tell, and not quite sure what it was, I felt compelled to uncover it,” the artist said. “I began to photograph cotton, and its floating, near-spiritual beauty came to represent lost souls and our relationship to our past. We can only learn from our past if we remember it.”
Dowell created different ways to experience the vastness of cotton fields, which allows visitors to walk through an installation that mimics a field. One part of the exhibit showcases a maze of long, cotton-printed curtains. Photographs as large as 13-feet long help tell the story of cotton and its relationship to American history.
The exhibition especially highlights lesser-known and oft-forgotten histories of slavery, like the prevalence of slavery in the North. Dowell’s work references slavery and slave auctions in the mid-1700s on New York City’s Wall Street and in Seneca Village, a Black community that existed where Central Park now stands.
About The Artist
The creator of Cotton: The Soft, Dangerous Beauty of the Past is a 77-year-old master printmaker, painter and photographer.
Dowell is a professor emeritus at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. His work has been featured in 50 one-person exhibitions and belongs to the collections of 70 permanent museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Boston Museum and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France.
Don’t miss this compelling fall exhibition in Philadelphia.