“Free as they want to be”: Artists Committed to Memory

'Free as they want to be': Artists Committed to Memory
'Free as they want to be':
Artists Committed to Memory

Reckoning with legacy. Marching toward freedom.

September 30, 2022 - March 5, 2023

Inspired by the words of James Baldwin, ‘Free as they want to be’ considers the historic and contemporary role photography and film have played in remembering legacies of slavery and its aftermath. The exhibition examines the social lives of Black and white Americans within the context of the land, at home, photographic albums, at historic sites and in public memory. ‘Free as they want to be’ presents an opportunity to reflect upon the past, to mark significant defining moments – both triumphs and tragedies – that characterize a people and their experiences in the present and to propose future possibilities.

The exhibition features more than 20 artists on the frontlines of the events that have shaped our world over the past several years. Working in photography, video, silkscreen, projection and mixed media installations, the artists’ works reflect defining moments of our past in the struggle for racial justice and equality. Each artist offers images that advance a different sense of empowerment, becoming an integral part of strong narratives as they commemorate endurance, longevity and accomplishment.

‘Free as they want to be’ is curated by Deborah Willis, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imagine at the Tisch School of the Arts, and Cheryl Finley, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Art History at Cornell University.

‘Free as they want to be’: Artists Committed to Memory is a curated exhibition for the 2022 FotoFocus Biennial: World Record. Now in its sixth iteration, the 2022 FotoFocus Biennial activates over 100 projects at participating venues across Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Dayton and Columbus, and features more than 600 artists, curators and participants – the largest of its kind in America. The World Record theme considers photography’s extensive record of life on earth, humankind’s impact on the natural world and the choices we now face as a global community.


Skirball gallery, third floor
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202


Included with general admission.
Free for Members and on Fifth Third Community Days.