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Sligh, Clarissafree

American, 20th century, female.

Born 30 August 1939, in Washington DC.

Photographer, book artist. Contemporary Art, identity, politics, race, gender.

As a child, Sligh attended segregated schools in predominantly white areas of Virginia County. When she was 15 years old, she was the lead plaintiff in the 1955 court case Clarissa Thompson et. al. vs. Arlington County School Board, which sought to desegregate public schools across the state of Virginia.

As a student, Sligh had a wide range of academic interests. In 1961, she earned a bachelor’s of science degree in mathematics at Hampton University (Virginia). She received her bachelor’s degree in visual arts from Howard University in Washington, DC, and studied painting at The Skowhegan School of Art in Maine in 1972. The following year, Sligh earned her master’s in business administration from the esteemed Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Before becoming an artist, Sligh worked for NASA’s manned space flight programme, as well as in the field of business in New York. In 1999, she completed her academic marathon by earning her Master’s of Fine Arts back at Howard University.

Sligh and the artist Faith Ringgold co-founded the Coast-to-Coast National Women Artists of Color Project in 1988. The organisation was responsible for organising numerous nationwide exhibitions that featured the work of African American women artists until 1996. Sligh also worked with other artist organisations such as the National Women’s Caucus for Art (1985–1994), The Artist’s Federal Credit Union, New York (1986–1987), Printed Matter (1992–1996), and the artists’ advisory board of the Women’s Studio Workshop (2004–2007).

Sligh has received numerous awards and honours for her work including a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1988) and the Leeway Foundation’s Art and Change grant (2006). She was an artist in residence at the Women’s Studio Workshop in 1988 and 2004.

Sligh’s work is multidisciplinary and often combines materials and techniques such as photography, book making, collage, paper sculpture, and installation. Since 2007, Sligh has been working on a collaborative project called Transforming Hate. In this ongoing installation, she synthesises origami cranes, photographs, installations text and image-based narratives, and workshops in tandem with local communities, into an ongoing and open-ended artwork that explores the roots and evolution of our collective human identity. Sligh’s origami cranes, which have become a poignant motif in her recent work, were first created for an installation for the Montana Human Rights Network in collaboration with the Holter Museum of Art in 2007. The cranes are folded from the pages of books published by white supremacists. Her work addresses many issues such as social justice, the history and continuity of racism, gender politics and sex, identity, and the environment, which are expressed through bodies of works including Mississippi Is America: We Knew They Might Be Killed (1990), History of U.S. Slave Trade (1992), Jake in Transition (1996–1999), and Sunflowers (2010).

Group Exhibitions

1992, Bridges & Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews, The Jewish Museum at the New-York Historical Society, New York

1993, Personal Narratives: Women Photographers of Colour, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem

1994, Imagining Families: Images and Voices, National African American Museum Project, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

1994, Malcolm X: Mane, Ideal, Icon, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

1996, Thinking Print: Books to Billboards, 1980–1995, Museum of Modern Art, New York

1997, Crossing Over/Changing Places, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

1998, The Next Word: Text and/as Image and/as Design and/as Meaning, Neuberger Museum, SUNY Purchase, Purchase

2000, Picturing the Modern Amazon, The New Museum, New York

2001, The Past Is Still Here, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, New York

2005, Glorious Harvest: Photographs from the Michael E. Hoffman Tribute Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

2008, Speaking Volumes: Transforming Hate, Holter Museum of Art, Helena, MT

2009, Double Exposure: African Americans Before and Behind the Camera, DePaul University Museum, Chicago

2009, Mostly Local: Recent Acquisitions by the Print and Picture Collection, Philadelphia Free Library, Philadelphia

2009, Out of the Incubator: Collaborations from Women’s Studio Workshop, Islip Art Museum, Islip

2010, Hand, Voice & Vision: Artists’ Books from Women’s Studio Workshop, Grolier Club, New York

2010, No Translation Required: Artists’ Books in Germany and Georgia, SCAD Museum of Art, Atlanta (travelled to Klingspor Museum, Offenbach)

2011, ICON: Selected Works from The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

2011, Sex Drive, Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, Haverford

2012, African American Art Since 1950, University of Maryland, College Park

2012, Full Spectrum: Prints from the Brandywine Workshop, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

2012, Ideas in Things, George Eastman House, Rochester

2013, 40 Artists/40 Years: Selections from the Light Work Collection, Light Work Robert B Menschel Media Center, Syracuse

2015, Represent: 200 Years of African American Art in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

2015, Seizing the Moment: Social Activism & Policy-Making in the Wake of Ferguson, exhibition for the Woodrow Wilson 19th Annual Students and Alumni of Color Symposium, Princeton

2016, Intersections: Photographs and Videos from The National Gallery of Art and The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

2017, The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America, Brooklyn Museum, New York

Solo Exhibitions

1990, White Columns, New York

1991, Light Work Menschel Gallery, Syracuse University, Syracuse

1992, Art in General, New York

1992, The Center for Photography, New York

1993, The Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum, Philadelphia

1994, Toronto Photographers Workshop, Toronto

1995, Galerie Junge Kunst, Trier

1997, Edward Bannister Gallery, Rhode Island College Art Center, Providence

2000, Rutgers University, New Brunswick

2002, Albin O. Kuhn Gallery, University of Maryland, Baltimore

2004, Women’s Studio Workshop, Rosendale, NY

2006, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH

2007, Clarissa Sligh, Research Institute on Gender, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

2007, 100 Americans, The Rosenbach Museum and Library, Philadelphia

2008, Clarissa Sligh: Photographs, Haverford College, Haverford

2010, Three Wishes: Maps, Cranes and Love, Woodland Pattern, Milwaukee

2012, Jake in Transition from Female to Male, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston

2012–2013, Jake in Transition from Female to Male, Tarble Arts Center, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston

2013, Reading Dick and Jane with Me, University of North Carolina Asheville, Asheville

2017, Am I Safe?, Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Canberra (NGA): Framing the Past (1988–1991, colour collotype on 4 sheets); Reading Dick and Jane with Me (1989, planographic offset photolithograph)

Chicago (Mus. of Contemporary Photography): Passages, Family 3 (2002, inkjet print)

Houston (MFA): Untitled (1988, chromogenic print); Temptation of Eve, Revisited (1998, screenprint with applied colour)

New York (MoMA): Reframing the Past (1988, Van Dyke brown print on 4 sheets)

Philadelphia (MA): Seeking Comfort She Sucked Her Thumb (1989, negative; 2002, print, Cyanotype on cream wove Rives BFK paper); Women Bring the People (2006, colour offset lithograph)


  • Sligh, Clarissa: What’s Happening with Momma?, Women’s Studio Workshop Press, Rosendale (NY), 1988.
  • Roth, Moira/Lockpez, Inverna: Personal Odysseys: The Photography of Celia Alvarez Muñoz, Clarissa T. Sligh, and Maria Martinez-Canas, Intar Gallery, New York, 1989.
  • Sligh, Clarissa: Reading Dick and Jane with Me, Visual Studies Workshop Press, Rochester (NY), 1989.
  • Neumaier, Diane (ed.): Reframings: New American Feminist Photographies, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1995.
  • Jankauskas, Jennifer: ‘Postmodern Phototexts: Political and Social Issues in the Work of John Fekner, Clarissa Sligh, Mitchell Syrop, and Mitra Tabrizian’, MA thesis, School of the Art Institute, Chicago, 1999.
  • Collins, Lisa Gail: The Art of History: African American Women Artists Engage the Past, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick (NJ), 2002.
  • Sligh, Clarissa: Transforming Hate: An Artist’s Book, self-published, Asheville (NC), 2016.