Seeing Harlem

The Harlem Art Collection exemplifies some of the significant eyes and voices that chronicle a community in Seeing Harlem.
Photography Exhibition Details
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building
163 West 125th Street, Harlem, New York
2nd Floor Art Gallery and Community Room
November 5, 2021 through January 2, 2022



The residential boom of the Great Migration made way for a new collective creativity, ripening a neighborhood for the most unprecedented cultural explosion in American History and solidifying Harlem as an icon of inspiration. To this day, artists pay homage to Harlem with their extraordinary vision, creating undisputed contributions to American Art.

From the 1920s through the mid-1970s, the social and historical documentation of the neighborhood became an art in its own right, depicting not only a very personal experience and the evolution of the artistic community, but also the community at large. Still, in a time of rampant racism and inequality, the artists were largely underrepresented and even unseen. This, in part, became a catalyst for some artists to seek empowerment and agency within artist collectives: Kamoinge (a Kikuyu word meaning “group effort”) focused on “...challenging one another to higher photographic attainment…in the face of a largely hostile and at best indifferent photographic community”; EnFoco aimed to “...challenge mainstream representations of its community and at the same time support its members’ artistic development”; and Collective Black Photographers, a group of professional and non-professional photographers dedicated to exchanging ideas and experiences, committed to being a “...functioning part of the community through rendering services and sharing skills” to support the neighborhood.

From the crafted poses in studio portraiture to candid street photography, New York State’s Harlem Art Collection exemplifies some of the significant eyes and voices that chronicle a community in Seeing Harlem.

Artists on view include Anthony Barboza, Dawoud Bey, Roger Cabán, Adger Cowans, Roy DeCarava, Louis Draper, Jimmie Mannas, Ted Pontiflet, George L. Robinson, Ed Sherman, Coreen Simpson, James Van Der Zee, and Shawn Walker.

About The Harlem Art Collection


New York State’s Harlem Art Collection was conceived in 1976 to draw public attention to and celebrate the Harlem art community. The pieces, created by Black and Hispanic artists, were submitted for consideration to, and subsequently selected by, the Harlem State Office Building Committee on Arts and Culture. The committee was created and organized in 1975 by then Senator H. Carl McCall with representation from state and city governments and the Harlem business community.

The resulting collection is comprised of more than 100 works of art, including painting, sculpture, photography, prints, and mixed-media, by 65 artists. Several of these artists are now considered major contributors to the history of American art, and to one of the most important art movements of the 20th century.

The works in the collection cover a span of over 100 years and include works by artists from the Harlem Renaissance up to the mid-1970s. The collection is graced by distinguished artists like Jacob Lawrence, Hale Woodruff, Norman Lewis, Elizabeth Catlett, Palmer Hayden, Howardena Pindell, David Hammons, and more.

The use of the Harlem Art Collection, in art institutions across the nation and by scholars and art historians, is testimony of its potential as a resource that enriches the lives of individuals in New York and beyond.