2021 Artist

Cathleen Campbell

Maintaining the sensibilities of an artist. Like photojournalists, I have populist ambitions—a desire to have my work understood at first glance by most people— while at the same time, creating work that justifies the scrutiny of more demanding spectators.

Biography

Cathleen Campbell is a photographer and filmmaker.  She has been photographing Harlem for decades but only recently began exhibiting. Two of her Black Lives Matter photographs were published in The Nation in 2020. Campbell has been in several group shows: “Women in the Heights: Creating for Change,” “En Foco Apartment Gallery Series: “On Gentrification: Mi Casa Es Su Casa”; “ICONIC: Black Panther”; “Black Creativity; and “Ubuntu,” Harlem Arts Festival. Her first solo exhibit was at the West Harlem Skills Training Center in 2019. Campbell is a Yale graduate— but Academia provided only part of her education.

Artist Statement

Maintaining the sensibilities of an artist. Like photojournalists, I have populist ambitions—a desire to have my work understood at first glance by most people— while at the same time, creating work that justifies the scrutiny of more demanding spectators. 

I don’t describe my work using vocabulary that can only be deciphered by someone who’s an expert in post-structuralist theory. Yes, I believe that art should interrogate our assumptions about society. But at least for me, relying too much on theory stifles the curiosity and courage I need to perceive and create.

I had 27 photographs in my first solo exhibit at the West Harlem Skills Training Center in 2019. The (now former) Executive Director Migdalia Rodriguez literally created a gallery inside the job training classroom. Along with art lovers who frequent galleries, all sorts of people from the surrounding community at 134thand Amsterdam were welcome to wander in. At the opening, nearby residents transformed from being too intimidated to say anything to being confident enough to explain my pictures to me. They realized that the person who created these photos knows and loves the neighborhood. Sublime.

 I’m not photographing uptown to appeal to downtown curators. I do want to share my work with everyone who might be interested. But make no mistake, I’m an uptown artist. Whoever else may appreciate it, I need my uptown community to relate to my work. 

Since it’s so important for my work as an artist to convey (and celebrate) “I see you”—then I need my community to feel “she sees me. Her photographs prove she knows me and my neighborhood.” Even so, something in my photographs should provoke. Sometimes that provocation is simply reminding people of the beauty of Harlem—the people and the place. In my two photographs in this exhibit, I hope you find both comfort and mystery.

Thank you to the Children’s Art Carnival and Centro Civico Cultural Dominicano for including me in this historic WEST HARLEM COMMUNITY ART EXHIBITION.

@cathleencampbellpix

Artist Gallery