James Baldwin’s 1964 essay “Nothing Personal” critiqued a country divided by suspicion, greed, hatred, fear, violence, oppression, and racism. But it also acknowledged the light in humanity. More than 50 years later, it remains relevant and fresh.
Now through Dec. 30 at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for Visual Arts, a series of photos shines a light on the America the author and social critic was responding to with his words, as well as on the present climate. “Time is Now: Photography and Social Change in James Baldwin’s America” tracks the context of the author’s life and the social unrest that drove his writing. Like Baldwin’s prose, it reflects turbulent times.
“I wanted to do something that would picture in words and objects … Baldwin’s life and also be a space for people to see the actual world that he lived in and the kinds of issues that he was interested in,” said Makeda Best, who curated the show that draws from the permanent collections of the Harvard Art Museums. The exhibit is the Carpenter Center’s response to Teresita Fernández’s October installation in Tercentenary Theatre, “Autumn (… Nothing Personal),” which drew on Baldwin’s writing for inspiration.