Brooks Museum’s “Black American Portraits” Exhibit Celebrates Black Joy and Power

Black American Portraits” at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art runs now until January 7, 2024.

Brooks Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Baxter Buck
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

I will always be amazed at how talented people are. The way of storytelling through art is one of my favorite things in the world. You’ll feel the exact same way after experiencing Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s new exhibit, “Black American Portraits.”

The collection includes over 100 works drawn primarily from the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Themes of the artwork range from the Harlem Renaissance to Black celebrities to the Black Lives Matter movement, and everything in between. I love the sole purpose of this exhibit– to show and embrace Black joy and abundance.

Brooks Museum Black American Portraits people In gallery
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Kehinde Wiley, Portrait of Nelly Moudime, 2019. Oil on canvas, 84 x 63 inches. © Kehinde Wiley. Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

See, Hear, and Feel This Collection

Memphis-based multimedia artist, Jared “Jay B” Boyd, even curated a 30 track playlist of songs that exemplify Black love, power, and joy. Pop in your earbuds, press play, and stroll around the gallery to see, hear, and feel this collection.

Black American Portraits | Brooks Museum
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Thy Name We Praise | Black American Portraits | Brooks Museum
This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Calida Rawles, United States, b. 1976, Thy Name We Praise, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 108 inches. Terra Foundation for American Art and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art co-acquisition in honor of Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., 10th President of Spelma

Thy Name We Praise

My favorite piece of art is a beautiful acrylic painting by Calida Rawles titled Thy Name We Praise. It was originally part of Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. Just looking at the art in person made me feel so light. Seeing this woman floating effortlessly brought up so many positive and happy emotions. This painting and the photo of Grace Jones gives off the same energy to me. 

Grace Jones | Black American Portraits | Brooks Museum
This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Ming Smith, Grace Jones, Studio 54 II, 1979, gelatin silver print, 12 × 18 in., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, promised gift of Janine Sherman Barrois and Lyndon J. Barrois, Sr., © Ming Smith, digital image courtesy of the artist

Memphis-based and Black-owned Art in the Collection

Of course, there has to be a little bit of Memphis flair in this collection. Featured in this exhibit are a selection of powerful portraits from the Hook Brothers. They owned a self-named photography studio here in Memphis from 1907-1979. The exhibit includes photographs of Black, middle-class life in Memphis during the twentieth century.

woman in bright dress looking at artwork Black American Portraits | Brooks Museum
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
Gallery view of Black American Portraits | Brooks Museum
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

A Moment to Reflect

Another thing I love about this exhibit is an interactive room with mirrors and props. It’s a way to finally self reflect after seeing all the telling artwork. You can dress yourself up if that makes you happy. Stare at yourself in the mirror and smile. Do all the things to emanate joy!

woman dancing in mirror
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

There are many events surrounding the exhibit such as gallery talks, workshops, and more. Be sure to follow Brooks Museums social media to stay up-to-date on upcoming events.

Go There:

“Black American Portraits” 

Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
1934 Poplar Ave
Memphis, TN 38104


Wednesday: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Monday: Closed
Tuesday: Closed


Purchase tickets ahead online or in person at the museum. Every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, admission to the museum is completely free! 

Here’s the price breakdown:
Adult: $15
Adult (55+): $12
Students: $8
Youth (7-17): $8
Children: Free

man looking at painting in a museum
Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

About the Author

Hey there! I’m Tyra Johnson, writer and content creator for the I Love Memphis Blog. I'm a Memphis native and after a few years away, I'm back home. I love art, good eats, and live music. Join me in reclaiming my passion for Memphis, mane.

Why do you love Memphis:

Memphis has so much personality-- the people, food, music-- it just all feels good! We have so much to be proud of when speaking about the city. Also, I'm big on memories, and most of my core memories involve Memphis.

What's on your Memphis playlist?

Stay Fly by Three 6 Mafia. It's the PERFECT hype song!

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