Majestic portraits of Ethiopians

A passer-by engages with the images of Ethiopians on exhibition at NYU Kimmel Center. Here is Amhara Man, 2010. A portrait by Chester Higgins Jr.
Photos by Tequila Minsky
Photo by Tequila Minsky

On LaGuardia Place and W. 3rd St. in Manhattan, the windows of NYU’s student center frame 13 majestic and iconic portraits of “Stars of Ethiopia,” photographs created by Chester Higgins Jr. These large-scale portraits are on exhibit until May 1.

In 1973, Higgins fell in love with the Ethiopian people, the land and their culture; he traveled there more than 30 times. Five years ago, Higgins visited different villages in Ethiopia with a portable studio creating these intimate portraits. He trained local facilitators to be studio assistants.

From his travels in the different regions he came to appreciate “dramatic differences in traditions, dress, worship and even languages between the various people of Ethiopia.”

Higgins writes: All the expressions of beauty presented in the “Stars of Ethiopia” exhibition are the product of one people bound together in one nation, living under the starry floor of heaven.

These images are so dramatic and breathtaking that passers-by stop to look and engage. Curator Lydie Diakhate, an adjunct curator at Grey Art Gallery, says, “With his singular gaze and spiritual insights, Higgins introduces us to people of Ethiopia we are not used to see in the usual representation of the emblematic country. Each person portrayed becomes an icon.”

Chester Higgins Jr. has been a New York Times photographer since 1975. His work is in the collection of many museums. He has five books of photography to his credit, all celebrating African and African-American heritage. He also wrote “Sometime Ago, A Historical Portrait of Black Americans 1850-1950,” the result of four years of research through museums, libraries and private homes.

Higgins’s art/photographic career is characterized in his pursuit in presenting more realistic images of Blacks.

Among his many exhibitions in museums and universities around the country, he had two major one-man shows; “Feeling the Spirit” followed the book’s publication at the International Center of Photography in New York; the other, organized by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, was titled “Invoking the Spirit: Worship Traditions in the African World.”

The exhibition in the windows of the NYU Kimmel Center is coordinated with the Institute of African American Affairs at NYU.

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