We Reign Supreme

During ICP’s temporary closure, Community Day will continue to take place online through virtual programming for all ages including workshops, storytimes, curated reading lists, and digital educational resources. Visitors can also access audio guides of ICP’s current exhibitions in up to 10 languages through Gesso, and see more ways they can engage with ICP from anywhere.  Register here: Community Day, March 28 

Al Pereira, Queen Latifah on the set of Fly Girl, New York City, 1991.

In honor of Women’s Herstory Month, visitors of all ages are welcome to join us for We Reign Supreme: Crown-making & Self-honoring Workshop inspired by Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop. Participants will look at the symbolic use of crowns across cultures and artistic disciplines and design their own paper crown to be photographed in using Fuji Instax cameras. Feel free to come in your own crown—it can be anything from your hair or a headwrap to a special hat; you decide!

March “We Reign Supreme” Recommendations: 

Byzantine Contempo by Tawny Chatmon

byzantine contempo | tawnychatmon

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Tawny Chatmon, from Byzantine Contempo

In this body of work, Tawny Chatmon examines issues of race and rethinks African American portraiture by shifting the focus from oppression to the wealth of memories, beliefs, and traditions black children can inherit. Chatmon uses a multilayered approach, embellishing her regal portraits of black children and women with paint, 24-karat gold leaf, collage, and digital illustrations.

Tawny Chatmon, Beloved, from The Awakening, 2018

In these interventions, Chatmon often places a crown or headpiece on her subjects, which serves as a reference to both ancient Byzantine portraiture and modern, natural hairstyles adopted by many Black individuals – afros, twists, locks, and barbershop cuts all appear in Chatmon’s portraits.

Inheritance feels very relevant in Chatmon’s work – her commentary on the politics of blackness, specifically the meaning and implications of raising a black child in America, are always at the forefront of her portraiture.

Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry

Crowns: A Brief History of Church Hats – Photo Essays

Michael Cunningham, From Crowns, 2000

For many religious individuals, God is King and is to be honored and respected in the way one lives their personal and spiritual life. Among various denominations, there is a long-standing tradition that women should not enter a house of worship without their heads covered, a tradition has been adopted and come into its own within the African-American community. 


Released in 2000, Cunningham and Marberry’s Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats showcases the glamour, history and social status of the church hat through personal stories and images. The book makes clear that a church hat’s purpose is not a simple head covering, but rather a statement – a status symbol – to be worn with pride and adorned with eye-catching fabrics and materials. A crown can give the wearer an added boost in confidence or, sometimes, evoke in others the less-sanctified feeling of envy. ([New York, NY]: Doubleday, 2000)


Anonymous, John Edmonds

John Edmonds: Anonymous

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John Edmonds, Phantom, 2017.

In his 2017 Light Work show, “Anonymous,” John Edmonds displays photographs of figures in hoodies and du-rags facing away from his camera. In the first series of images, Edmonds uses the anonymity granted by the hood as a vector to explore questions of otherness and preconceptions of the viewer. As summed up by Light Work, “We can quickly read this suite of images as a statement on the unjust death of Trayvon Martin and how individuals of color face issues of racism, safety, and injustice in systemic ways.”

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John Edmonds, Untitled (Hood 11), 2016



These images are taken outdoors in public places with Edmonds’s own hoodies. Edmonds’s du-rag photographs show the ascension into a powerful and beautiful kind of divinity that can come from a shared cultural form. Similarly faceless, this second set of images reimagines the anonymity of headwear to become a form of shared, positive identity that can stand in opposition to depersonalization. 


King of Arms  by Rashaad Newsome


This 2015 film is presented as a video with a custom frame that includes a hand-carved wooden crown. The piece focuses on a parade-like procession led by a marching band and second-line dancers. The film encompasses and synthesizes seemingly disparate cultural touchstones such as ballroom voguing, icons of heraldry, Mardi Gras imagery, and hip-hop iconography.

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Rashaad Newsome, still from King of Arms, 2015

The procession takes place on the streets of New Orleans and culminates at the New Orleans Museum of Art, where Newsome arrives in an adorned Lamborgini, outfitted in a Baroque costume and is crowned before all. This was the first in an ongoing series, with future Balls held in Miami and Bushwick.


Somnyama Ngonyama– Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi

Somnyama Ngonyama – Hail the Dark Lioness




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Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama– Hail the Dark Lioness; Aperture, 2018


Through a series of black and white performative self-portraits, Zanele Muholi addresses the politics of race and representation of black women throughout the history of photography. In Somnyama Ngonyama– Hail the Dark Lioness, published by Aperture in 2018, she covers herself with black paint, further accentuating her blackness; in her own words: “I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other.”

Muholi commands respect to herself and black women in history, in part by making herself a crown out of elements surrounding her, some of which are laden with meaning about domestic work and servitude, like clothespins, brillo pads, and rags. Other times she makes her crown out of fibers akin to animal hair, blonde hair or a white bedsheet reminiscent of a veil, questioning how these visual elements intersect with the attitudes towards black women and their position in contemporary photography.

TR140 .M841 2018

Collages by Lorna Simpson  

Lorna Simpson Studio, Collages


Lorna Simpson’s collage series began in 2011, with each series describing the magazine from which the images were sourced.

Lorna Simpson, Like a Rock, 2014, detail

The first of this series, Ebony, decontextualizes individual faces from the African American fashion magazine, situating them amidst a background of hair, crows, and other images from nature created with expressive watercolors that almost resemble galaxies.

Lorna Simpson, Riunite & Ice #23, 2018

In other collages, Simpson creates headdresses from geological formations, clouds, and other naturally-occurring phenomena. Simpson’s series continues with other vintage magazines including Jet and Aspen, with some of the later series also incorporating fragments of text and experimentation with different scales. (Chronical Books, 2018)


Couple, Harlem by James Van Der Zee

James Van Der Zee. Couple, Harlem. 1932

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James Van Der Zee, Couple, Harlem, 1932

The Harlem Renaissance is remembered at least in part by the impeccable personal style of some of its key figures, two of which can be seen above in James Van Der Zee’s 1932 portrait of an elegant, upper-class couple. 

Herman Leonard, Duke Ellington, Paris, 1958

Edward Ellington would embody this sense of regal formality from a young age, having received his moniker and title of “Duke” as a child in Washington D.C., long before he moved to New York City and become associated with the Renaissance.

Ellington would compose many tunes about Harlem, notably “Echoes of Harlem” as a showcase for trumpeter Charles Melvin “Cootie” Williams. 

Miles Davis, who is sometimes referred to as “The Prince of Darkness”, composed 1974’s “He Loved Him Madly” as a tribute to Ellington just one month after he passed away.



Lester “Prez” Young, NYC by Herman Leonard

Lester “Prez” Young, NYC

Herman Leonard, Lester “Prez” Young, NYC, 1948

Although quite different in personality from the understated and suave Ellington, the fiery Charles “Baron” Mingus would come to be seen by many as Ellington’s successor due to their shared use of large ensembles and flirtation with classical composition.


One of Mingus’s most well-known tunes is Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, an elegy to then-recently deceased saxophonist Lester “Prez” Young, who was known for his distinctive broad-brimmed version of the hat, and whose nickname was given to him by Billie Holiday.

Both Mingus and Young are among the musicians seen in Art Kane’s 1958 “A Great Day In Harlem” one year before Young’s death. Check out this page, where you can explore who all the musicians are.


New York Stories: Great Day In Harlem
Art Kane’s famous photo of jazz greats, titled “Harlem 1958”; approved for one-time use only. MUST CREDIT: Photograph by Art Kane – courtesy Art Kane Archive NOTE: this is a downsized low-res photo for web use


Queens Ann. P.S. Belly Cut Off  by Mariken Wessels 

Mariken Wessels: Queen Ann. P.S. Belly cut out

anybody’s image could become everybody’s image: an interview with Mariken Wessels


In her book Queen Ann. P.S. Belly Cut Off, Wessels explores the collection of photographs of a friend’s mother, Ann. Ann often makes interventions with her portraits by painting scarves or headwraps that conceal her chin, implying that she isn’t pleased with her appearance in the photographs and has adjusted them accordingly.

However, body image issues aside, Ann’s interventions in her portraits are beautiful; Ann has a recognizable style, and is extremely funny. She writes in a caption of a particularly elaborate painted headwrap: “Zeker ergens voel ik mij een “Koningin” (“In a way, I really feel like a “Queen”).  (Amsterdam, The Netherlands.: Alauda Publications, 2010) 

TR179.5.W47 .Q44 2010


Compiled by the ICP Library on the occasion of
March Reading (and watching and listening!) Recommendations

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