Winter Speaker Series 2021: Diedra Harris-Kelley

February 13, 2021 2:00 pm Virtual, Live on Zoom

"Romare Bearden: Artist of the African-American Experience"

Diedra Harris-Kelley, artist, educator, and co-director of the Romare Bearden Foundation will introduce us to the multi-dimensional career of visual artist Romare Bearden. Best known for innovative collages depicting scenes of African American life and culture, his paintings are replete with references to music, literature, religion, and classical artistic periods.

An often-repeated quote by Bearden instructs “An artist needs to be something like a whale swimming with his mouth wide open, absorbing everything until he has what he really needs.” It was this reservoir of experience and knowledge that made Bearden’s art so complex. Bearden was born in North Carolina in 1911, but was primarily raised in a Harlem pulsing with the unmistakable energy of the Harlem Renaissance. His efforts as an activist, author, educator, baseball player, armed serviceman, song writer, and social case worker, provided him with rich sources of inspiration and access to a myriad of perspectives, all of which influenced and impacted his creative work.

The lecture will be followed by audience Q&A with Diedra Harris-Kelley via Zoom chat.

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NEW! Bundle your Ticket with a publication (or two!) on Romare Bearden.

Something Over Something Else: Romare Bearden’s Profile Series, by Stephanie Mayer Heydt, Robert G. O’Meally, Rachael Z. DeLue, and Paul Devlin

In November 1977, The New Yorker published a feature-length biography of artist Romare Bearden by Calvin Tomkins as part of its “Profiles” series. The essay, titled “Profile: Putting Something Over Something Else” (using Bearden’s words to describe the creative process), brought national focus to Bearden, whose rise had seemed meteoric since the late 1960s. The experience of the interview prompted Bearden to launch an autobiographical collection he called Profiles. This landmark volume reassembles and reconsiders Bearden’s Profile series. Beyond providing the opportunity to explore an understudied body of work, the project investigates the roles of narrative and self-presentation for an artist who made a career of creating works based on memory and experience.

$40.00   tax and shipping included, 2020, hardcover, 152 pages, High Museum of Art Atlanta and University of Washington Press


The Romare Bearden Reader, edited by Robert O’Meally

This collection brings together new essays and canonical writings by novelists, poets, historians, critics, and playwrights such as Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, August Wilson, Farah Jasmine Griffin, and Kobena Mercer. They contextualize Bearden’s life and career within the history of modern art, examine the influence of jazz and literature on his work, trace his impact on twentieth-century African American culture, and outline his art’s political dimensions. The Reader also includes Bearden’s most important writings, which grant readers insight into his aesthetic values and practices and share his desire to tell what it means to be black in America.

$30.00  tax and shipping included, 2019, soft cover, 424 pages, Duke University Press


Event banner image: Young Students, by Romare Bearden, 1964 (detail) © Romare Bearden Foundation/Licensed by VAGA at ARS, NY

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About the Speaker

Diedra Harris-Kelley is Co-Director of the Romare Bearden Foundation, the non-profit organization perpetuating the legacy of one of our greatest American visual artists. She offers a unique perspective on Bearden’s work, being a formally trained painter, and niece of the artist’s late wife, Nanette Rohan Bearden. For the last 9 years, she has been part of the team leading the foundation through a successful run of exhibitions, publications, educational and celebratory programs around the life and art of Bearden.

Harris-Kelley earned a BA in Art from California State University, Long Beach, and an MFA from the University of Michigan. She currently teaches a seminar course at Barnard College, and has taught studio art at New York University, Parsons School of Design Studio Program, and for alternative high school and elementary school programs; as well as conducted professional development workshops and lectures on art. She was a member of the curatorial team of Jazz at Lincoln Center from 2009 to 2012; and is the author of “Revisiting Romare Bearden’s Art of Improvisation,” published in Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies (Columbia University, 2004).

Harris-Kelley’s own artwork has been published, and recently shown in a solo exhibition at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Arts, Snug Harbor, Staten Island (2016-17); For the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Winter 2018 Postcard series, her entry “Playhouse Collage with Monk-118th St” highlighted Minton’s jazz club.

As a cultural leader she participated on committees with the Wallach Gallery of Columbia University, the Harlem Semester initiative of Barnard College, and the Harlem Cultural Collaborative that spearheads the Harlem Renaissance 100 initiative. She is also a board member of 5Plus Ensemble, a dance company promoting the work of older dancers.

Thank you to our generous sponsors:

Johanna and Ronald Becker
Santiago Neville
Cynthia Sinclair
Kathleen Shinners
Lockett Ford Ballard, Jr.
Mary Jennings

This event is made possible by your support of the Annual Fund.

Thank you to the Winter Speaker Series Committee

Johanna Becker, Chairwoman
Cristin Searles Bilodeau, Director of Community Engagement
Eleanor Doumato
Anne DuBose Joslin
Susan Kieronski
Santiago Neville
Kathleen Shinners