Critics’ Picks

Barkley L. Hendricks, Self Portrait with Black Hat, 1980, digital C-print, 37 x 27".

Barkley L. Hendricks, Self Portrait with Black Hat, 1980, digital C-print, 37 x 27".


Barkley L. Hendricks

Rose Art Museum
415 South Street Brandeis University
February 10–July 24, 2022

It is not surprising that Barkley L. Hendricks (1945–2017) excelled at photography, or that his pictures were often source material for his flamboyant and intimate paintings of Black life in the years after the civil rights movement. Yet the relationship between the two media across his magnificent and beloved oeuvre has only recently been discussed, sparked by the posthumous discovery of some of his previously unknown photographic work. Hendricks’s exhibition at the Rose Art Museum, “My Mechanical Sketchbook”—a reference to the artist’s name for his camera—presents a focused assortment of photographs (including Polaroids), paintings, and works on paper created between 1966 and 2016. Across his luscious nude self-portraits and images of boys with boom boxes and women in high heels, there emerged a sharp aesthetic approach that blended photographic experimentation with painterly formalism.

The exhibition’s final section is a window on racial terrorism, a sobering counterpart to the stylish depictions Henricks is famous for, such as Self-Portrait with Black Hat, 1980—a selfie avant la lettre in which the handsome artist gazes into a mirror in his studio. He holds aloft a camera in his left hand while he rests his right hand, with Christ-like flair, tenderly on his chest. In 1982, Hendricks and fellow Black artist James “Ari” Montford disguised themselves as members of the press and attended a Ku Klux Klan rally at a baseball field in Norwich, Connecticut. Bravely taking photographs of the secret society’s public rituals, they were surrounded by a crowd of three hundred white people who verbally assaulted the two men with threats and hate speech. One photograph from the resultant “Racesonomic Duncepack Series,” 1982, zeros in on a blond woman dressed in KKK regalia, her tired blank face starkly visible beneath a pointy white hood. Hendricks’s chilling photographs of anti-Blackness offer up powerful insights into artmaking as a tactical means of resistance.