Gordon Parks came home to the prairie in 1984, and a current Beach Museum of Art exhibit is commemorating his visit.
Parks, a Fort Scott native, was a photographer, writer, musician and director. He is most famous for his photo essays in Life magazine and for directing the 1971 movie “Shaft.” Parks took the photos while in Manhattan as an artist-in-residence for The Manhattan Mercury. His photos of life in the area were published in an insert in The Mercury in 1984.
It also includes images Parks donated to K-State. Those were the first images Parks donated to a public institution.
“Gordon Parks: Homeward to the Prairie I Come” is part of the Gordon Parks Project, a collaboration between the Beach Museum of Art and the K-State Department of English. The project’s website, The Learning Tree: A Gordon Parks Digital Archive, launches this fall. The virtual exhibition launches Thursday. “Homeward to the Prairie I Come” will be open at the Beach until May 28.
Aileen June Wang, one of the curators of the exhibit, said Parks was interested not only in creating art but also in transforming American culture.
“Parks wanted to show his audience the breadth of his artistic concerns, beyond his photojournalist work exposing social issues in America and the world,” Wang said. “His selection of photographs challenged his audience to imagine a more inclusive culture than the current one they knew: a world where Black skin represented ideal beauty, where an African American athlete can be the face of the modern hero in the tradition established by ancient Greek and Roman cultures, and where an African American artist has a place in the lineage of excellent artists in Western art history.”
Here, we feature some of Parks’ photographs from that 1984 visit.