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Meditations: Chester Higgins, Jr., and Leslie King-Hammond

The spirit confers vision, insight, and a deep connection to heritage on the artist paying attention when “the moment takes a corner.”   

Release date: Aug. 22, 2023

“Meditations: Black Expression, Abstraction, and the Spirit,” explores the intersection of spirituality and the artistic practice of Black creatives encountering ideas within the wide lexicon of abstraction. The series takes inspiration from the final panel in artist Frederick J. Brown’s five-painting work "The Life of Christ Altarpiece." Brown’s portrayal of "The Descent into Hell" is an abstracted meditation on the spiritual and emotional sublime within lived experience. 

Listen to the Intro Episode for a Series Overview

This episode features renowned photographer and author Chester Higgins in conversation with art historian, curator and educator Leslie King-Hammond. Higgins shares stories from his past, including a formative visionary experience, his education at Tuskegee University, and the profound impact of his travels in Africa. He speaks about discerning the spirit “when the moment takes a corner” and how his camera becomes the means of noticing and expressing that instant. Together, King-Hammond and Higgins discuss the indispensable role of elders in the transmission of knowledge and heritage within the African-American community, as well as the images and themes in Higgins’ latest book, Sacred Nile.


Producer: David Brinker
Creative Director: Bentley Brown
Videographer: Sean Gilchrist

Featured Presenters

Photographer Chester Higgins dons a white shawl and a low-profile hat with sapphire-blue silk in a pagoda motif

Chester Higgins

Photographer and author Chester Higgins was born in Alabama in 1946 and was formally educated at Tuskegee University, graduating in 1970. Experiences with his family’s church community, as well as with college campus student protest, were formative in developing the direction of Higgins' artistic practice. Higgins' oeuvre portrays the dignity of the African American and African diasporic communities, and this work has brought Higgins all over the world, and to Africa in particular, many times. Higgins worked as a staff photographer for The New York Times from 1975 until 2014, and is the author of several publications, including Black Woman (1970); Drums of Life (1974); Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa (1994); Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging (2000); Echo of the Spirit: A Photographer’s Journey (2004); and most recently, Sacred Nile (2021). Higgins’ work has been the subject of many international exhibitions, and is held in notable collections, such as The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, and The Brooklyn Museum of Art. Higgins lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Visit Chester Higgins' Website

Curator and art historian Leslie King-Hammond, wearing large silver hoop earrings, sits in an office with books and a small painting in the background

Leslie King-Hammond

Leslie King Hammond, Ph.D., is the graduate dean emerita and founding director of the Center for Race and Culture at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Baltimore. She is also the chair of the board of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture, and an internationally recognized artist, curator, author, and scholar. She is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships, and was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Alain Locke International Prize from the Detroit Institute of Arts. She is a frequent presenter on arts and culture. Her most recent exhibitions include the highly acclaimed Global Africa Project and Ashe to Amen: African Americans and Biblical Imagery.

Learn more about Leslie King-Hammond

Art historian Bentley Brown gazes directly at the viewer while sitting in front of a brown and beige swath of fabric with an abstract design.

Bentley Brown

Bentley Brown is a multidisciplinary artist, curator and doctoral candidate at The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and is based in the Bronx, New York, and Phoenix. His research at the institute explores the pioneering role of Black artists and Black creative spaces within New York City’s contemporary art movements of the late 1960s through the mid-1980s. In his artistic practice, inspired by African American cultural production, abstract and figurative expressionist approaches to the artistic process and the desert landscape of his native Phoenix, Brown uses the mediums of canvas, found objects, photo-collage and film to explore themes of Black identity, cosmology and American interculturalism.