Tamir Williams Joins the Smithsonian American Art Museum as Curatorial Fellow for African American Photography 

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has appointed Tamir Williams as a curatorial fellow for African American photography. Williams will play a key role in the museum's initiative to expand its representation of African American photography, working with the recently acquired L.J. West Collection of early American photography and the Dr. Robert L. Drapkin Collection. Their appointment began April 22.

Williams is a doctoral candidate in the history of art department at the University of Pennsylvania where they specialize in the fields of American and contemporary art, with a focus on print media, performance art, film and video art, photography, and issues of race, gender and time. Their dissertation is titled “Scenes of Stamina: Endurance and Post-Plantation Geographies in Black Contemporary Video and Performance Art, 2003-2022.” They have been the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards at the University of Pennsylvania, including the Center for Teaching and Learning’s Graduate Fellowship for Teaching Excellence, and the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation Student Arts Innovation Grant.

Williams’ previous curatorial and arts programming experience includes working as an Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Summer Fellow for the exhibition “Elegy: Lament in the 20th Century” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2022). Most recently, they curated “A Space to Appear, A Space to Tarry: Michael Abramson’s Black Nightclubs of Chicago’s South Side Series,” at AUTOMAT in Philadelphia (2023).  

Williams will work directly with John Jacob, the McEvoy Family Curator for Photography at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The museum’s curatorial department currently is comprised of 14 curators and curatorial fellows, led by Randall Griffey, head curator.

Generous support for research, conservation and study of the museum's early African American photography collection has been provided by the Mellon Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation. A 2024 Bank of America Art Conservation Project grant supports the assessment and treatment of approximately 250 objects in the collection.  

In 2021, the museum acquired the L.J. West Collection of early American photography, which transformed the museum’s photography holdings with the addition of works by early African American daguerreotypists James P. Ball, Glenalvin Goodridge and Augustus Washington. The museum holds the world’s largest collection of daguerreotypes by these three early photographers. This collection was enhanced by the purchase in 2023 of the Dr. Robert L. Drapkin Collection, a wide-ranging collection of photographs that represent African Americans from the medium’s early years to the near present—roughly the 1840s to the 1970s. These new collections of early American photography feature nearly 700 objects with 450 made by or of African Americans. The collection demonstrates that, as both makers and as consumers of images, photography has always been central to the self-representation of African Americans.  

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant collections of African American art in the world. It is a longstanding area of strength of the museum’s holdings, distinguished by its depth and range with works in all media from the early 19th century to today. Other important holdings in photography at the museum include works by Dawoud Bey, Roy DeCarava, Roland Freeman, Tony Gleaton, Robert McNeill, Marilyn Nance, Gordon Parks, Carrie Mae Weems and James Van Der Zee. 

About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the flagship museum in the United States for American art and craft. It is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. The museum’s main building, located at Eighth and G streets N.W., is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The museum’s Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Check online for current hours and admission information. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.

Press Images

A person stands inside an arched structure. A large, gothic-style building is in the background.
Press - Tamir Williams

Tamir Williams; Photo by Eric Sucar. University of Pennsylvania.