The Davidsonian

Endia Beal Draws From Student Experiences Photographer Artist-in-Residence Aims to Capture Davidson

Bianca Hassan ’26 (she/her)

Endia Beal is an artist, curator, and author of the monograph, ‘Performance Review’ with a background in art and art history from UNC Chapel Hill and MFA in photography from Yale University. She exposes personal experiences of marginalized communities and individuals, using them to paint a bigger picture that portrays the scale and deep-rooted nature of social and racial injustices. Her work focuses on questioning, challenging and confronting the idea of conformity, gender roles and social injustices, especially of women of color in corporate spaces.The stories of black women are largely absent in the history of art. Knowing this, it fueled her to share those everyday narratives through art and photojournalism. 

Using experiences from Davidson College students, Endia Beal, the Visual Arts Center Practitioner in Residence, is curating a collection of photographs. This body of work will be commissioned from Beal with the support of the Graham Foundation. Beal has invited 30 students from all classes and all disciplines to participate in the project. Beginning in August of this year, the project is set to conclude in March of 2023.

The inspiration came from an idea of building connections. Students can sign up for listening sessions with Beal to share  places on campus where they feel a sense of belonging, or places of  personal liberty, and spaces they don’t frequent because of silent forces that make them choose not to go. 

Beal wondered, “how do I create work that connects and brings people with different perspectives, backgrounds and races together.” She came up with the idea that after the listening sessions are completed around mid November, students will be paired with a participant they don’t know. Paired students will be photographed in their selected spaces by Beal. Following that Beal plans to have them write their thoughts about embodying spaces that have a personal connection to someone else. 

Beal’s is no stranger to collaboration with students. She was professor of art and director of the Diggs Gallery at Winston-Salem State University. Many of her students who were starting their careers were having the same experiences she did. She began collaborating with her students in projects such as ‘Am I What You’re Looking For?’ where young professional women of color are photographed in their homes against artificial backdrops of a corporate environment. 

The main purpose of the project is to get to know someone in familiar or unfamiliar settings through your own lenses. Beal wants to give them “a sense of reimagining places on campus” and at the same time have  “audience members question who belongs in those spaces.” 

Why might some things feel strange or out of the norm, especially in photographs? “I’m having the students trade places, because I want them to not only learn about the other person, but learn about themselves in the process,” said Beal… 

Beal’s project at Davidson traces an enduring theme in her work: role reversal. Past work’s such as ‘Mock Interview’ or ‘Can I touch It?” continue the motif. The film, ‘Mock Interview’, which was featured in Van Every/Smith Galleries in 2020, depicted young white men being asked discriminatory questions that women of color were asked in real job interviews. It illuminated the racism and misogyny rampant in the workplace. In ‘Can I touch it?’, traditional portraits of young women whose hair wore hairstyles of black women. It prompted audiences to grapple with these uncomfortable experiences. Beal believes participants of the projects gained a different perspective. For the people being photographed, they might feel discomfort in being immersed in someone else’s environment but we can be “comfortable being uncomfortable”. “The relationships we build in the process,” she says “is the most important part of my practice.”

The students trading places with each other feeds into the act of role reversal. Portraying human connections in this way allows us to see how similar or different we are. The feeling of empathy that emerges when we connect to something that we feel does not belong to us is powerful. When it comes to social advocacy, Beal explains that “we have to see each other as human beings and understand that we are connected and that we have similarities as much as we have differences. And those differences are the ones that really help us to grow in a lot of ways.”

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