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Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College: Endia Beal – Spaces of Comfort

by | Sep 7, 2023

Spaces of Comfort is the result of a two-year-long residency with internationally  acclaimed artist Endia Beal, commissioned by Davidson College, with the support of the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation. Over the course of the residency, Beal met with more than 100 students, on campus and via Zoom, for group conversations and one-on-one listening sessions. During her individual conversations with students, drawing on her experience as a Black woman attending predominantly white universities, Beal asked students about their occupation of space: What is your space of comfort on campus? Where do you feel seen and heard? Where can you be yourself? Where do you choose not to go on campus?

Beal connected with students from across campus, gaining insight into the social dynamics of student life. The conversations revealed that most students gravitated to individuals who had similar backgrounds and interests. Accordingly, they spent the majority of their time in the same spaces with the same students.

To create Spaces of Comfort—eight photographic diptychs featuring sixteen students—Beal asked participants to reimagine campus life through someone else’s eyes. She paired students who did not know each other and then photographed each student in the other’s space of comfort on campus. The paired students were present for each other’s photo shoots and later wrote about their experiences. In some cases, one person’s space of comfort was the other’s place of discomfort. Despite the discomfort many students experienced while being in another’s space, their exploration of the unfamiliar often led to the realization that we are more similar than we may appear on the surface. Beal often uses her art to bring about awareness, which is the first step toward change.

Endia Beal (American, b. 1985) is a North Carolina-based artist, curator, and author. Her photography and videos merge fine art with social justice, often revealing the overlooked and unappreciated experiences unique to people of color. Beal earned a dual BA in Art History and Studio Art with a concentration in Photography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her MFA in Photography from Yale University School of Art, and certification from the Executive Education in Fostering Inclusion and Diversity Program at Yale School of Management. Her artwork has been exhibited at many prestigious institutions, including the Nasher Museum of Art, Duke University, Durham, NC; the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI; the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC; and Aperture Foundation, New York, NY. Beal’s photographs are in many private and public collections, including the Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College, Chicago, IL; and Portland State University, Portland, OR. Her work has been featured in several online editorials, including the New York Times, NBC, BET, Huffington Post, National Geographic, TIME Magazine, VICE Magazine, Essence, Marie Claire, and Newsweek. Beal is a fellow of the Center for Curatorial Leadership and has completed residencies at Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; the Center for Photography at Woodstock, NY; and McColl Center, Charlotte, NC. Beal has received grants from the Magnum Foundation and the Open Society Foundation, among others.

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