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Photography is part of artist’s life story
Gantt Center exhibit of Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe
Published Thursday, June 16, 2011 9:44 am
by Ryanne Persinger

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe wouldn’t call her newest work a retrospective, but an anthology.

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe

Fifty of Moutoussamy-Ashe’s photographs will be featured for the first time at the Harvey B. Gantt Center from the end of the month through Aug. 21. The exhibit is titled “An Anthology: Faces, Places and Spaces.”

“The majority of the photographs have never been seen,” said Moutoussamy-Ashe, the widow of tennis great Arthur Ashe.

“This is new and specifically curated for the Gantt Center. I hope that it will travel afterwards.”

David Taylor, Gantt Center president and CEO, said Moutoussamy-Ashe’s exhibition will span the breadth of her career and includes recent photographs that have never been displayed. 

The images are color photographs, a change for Moutoussamy-Ashe, 60, who prefers shooting in black and white.
“Color excites me but I like the process of making black and white photographs,” she said. “There’s so much more mystery and challenge in it because we don’t see in black and white.

“My challenge for color is to stay with the substance of what I’m feeling. The challenge in black and white is that it challenges you to really deal with the substance of what you’re seeing and feeling and not knowing the results.”

Many of the photographs were shot in Nepal, India, and Africa and date back to Moutoussamy-Ashe’s early 20s.

“What I have done in this anthology is look at the aspects of the works,” she said. “I’m not the same person I was in my early 20s. In many ways your work becomes your autobiography.”

Moutoussamy-Ashe has been a serious photographer since she was a 19-year-old college freshman at The Cooper Union in New York City.

“I didn’t think I could draw very well or paint very well, although I love it,” she said. “Then I realized the possibilities of making art out of photographs and expressing one’s art through photography. I’ve been doing it every since.”

Moutoussamy-Ashe’s love of photography led the Ashes to name their daughter Camera.

“I actually have friends that have a daughter named Cameron,” Moutoussamy-Ashe said. “I thought Camera sounded feminine and it means ‘room of light.’ Along with the literal translation and the feminine spin, I just thought Camera was a nice take on it and you can’t deny that it is not a part of my profession as well.”

Since Ashe’s death from AIDS in 1993, Moutoussamy-Ashe does all she can to keep his legacy alive. Ashe contracted the disease from a blood transfusion.

“I have life goals and one of those life goals is finding a vaccine for AIDS and I think we’re getting close,” Moutoussamy-Ashe said. “I believe there are people out there who can do it. There are brilliant scientists who are right on the cusp of a vaccine and I have been fortunate enough to befriend them. That is very significant for me, being that I have been affected directly by this disease.”

She continued: “I think it’s important for me to not let the younger generation today think of (Ashe) as bricks and mortar or a statue, but I want them to understand the significance of his life. Arthur had an incredible story. All people have hardships and I think Arthur is a way of showing that example.”

Moutoussamy-Ashe is director of the Arthur Ashe Endowment for the Defeat of AIDS, which focuses particularly on education, training and clinical treatment trials.

As for photography, Moutoussamy-Ashe still strives to become better at her art.

“I’ve tried to use my resources for my passion and love for what I do not only for Arthur, but also as far as how I feel and think about the world,” she said. “Coming to Charlotte is a great opportunity. These days the arts are not so well supported and to have a sponsorship bring this work to Charlotte is an honor that I’m most appreciative for.”

The unveiling for Gantt Center donors and members is June 24; the public unveiling is June 25. There will be a gallery talk and catalog signing with Moutoussamy-Ashe at 1 and 2 p.m.

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