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"I had never sat for a picture other than a visit to a Sears photo shoot," she laughs. "Visiting Dawoud's studio made me feel glamorous."
In her dual portrait, Amen wears blue jeans, a red top, a taupe sweater, and a red floral-print silk scarf on her head to keep her flowing dreadlocks in place. She sits next to a monk clad in traditional scarlet and saffron robes. Both stare directly at the viewer with their hands folded, giving the impression of an off-kilter United Colors of Benetton ad.
Throughout the series, Bey places two subjects, usually of different genders, ages, races, and professions, side by side in community settings — such as a library reading room or a long hallway — that give the background a distinct geometric vibe.
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"I consider myself a person of global consciousness with Afro-centric sensibilities. But in the picture Dawoud took of the monk and me, it tells a story of diverse people who make up a community," Amen says. "Both the monk and I practice self-discipline in a way, even though we share the same landscape but don't greet each other."
Bey, who has taught art at Columbia College Chicago since 1998, says taking portraits of multiple subjects poses distinct challenges.
"It is difficult to make a psychologically rich photograph of one individual and even harder to do this with two people simultaneously," he explains.
Rudy Nimocks and Lindsay Atnip are another pair who sat for one of Bey's Strangers/Community portraits. They posed in Hyde Park in Chicago, where Nimocks is director of the University of Chicago's community partnerships and Atnip is a student at the school.
In the picture, an elderly Nimocks, attired in a snazzy navy blue blazer, sits with his hands folded in his lap, while next to him, a college-aged Atnip wears a striped knit top, jeans, and brown boots with her clenched hands tucked under a crossed leg. The odd couple gives the impression of a school principal with a misbehaved charge waiting for her parents after detention.
"I was fascinated with how the artist was attempting to portray the face of a community," Nimocks says. "Here I was sitting next to a student in her early 20s whom I'd never met. You never know what's in the mind of an artist."
For Atnip, the experience was mostly positive, until the photo of her and Nimocks was used to promote one of the Bey's exhibits in Chicago and she found her mug plastered across campus.
"My picture was used for the poster and advertising for one of his shows and appeared all over campus," she says. "It was flattering but also a bit narcissistic and even a bit strange when people I didn't know came up to me and said they recognized my face."