UA Artist Explores Black Father-Son Relationships

a billboard looms high over the freeway in Birmingham
Celestia Morgan, “Come Home Safely,” part of the “Dear Black Son” portrait project.

The newest installment of Celestia Morgan’s Dear Black Son (DBS) portrait project has been posted to a billboard towering over a busy freeway in downtown Birmingham, Alabama’s Southside neighborhood.

Morgan’s monumental work, which displays the bold letters, “COME HOME SAFELY,” and bears the hashtag #dearblacksonproject, appears over the Red Mountain Expressway, officially known as the Elton B. Stephens Expressway or Highway 31 North, at the 3rd and 4th Avenue South exit, in Birmingham.

The idea for the project came to Morgan, who is a College of Arts and Sciences postdoctoral research associate in art and art history and a UA MFA alumna, after the 2020 Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd. “In response to a bystander video that captured an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck,” Morgan said, “my husband and I had a conversation with our 12-year-old-son — the kind of talk white families don’t have to have with their children.”

Celestia Morgan standing with arms folded in an art gallery before her framed photographs.
Celestia Morgan

The project explores relationships between Black fathers and their sons, exemplified in Morgan’s photographic portraits, sometimes coupled with the text of their private discussions and the “necessary moments” between them. Morgan said that she hopes it will “challenge stereotypes and amplify the voices of Black males as fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers…for a subtle but powerful purpose: to increase understanding, empathy, and self-identification, which can transcend differences.”

Morgan was awarded a National Performance Network Artist Engagement Grant for the project with support and collaboration from Space One Eleven in Birmingham. Click here to see more images and find out more about the Dear Black Son project. The current billboard will be up until mid-August, 2021.

Morgan’s photographic work is currently also part of a three-person exhibition, Distances, at Alabama Contemporary Art Center in Mobile, curated by Peter Prinz, CEO and co-founder of Space One Eleven in Birmingham. With artists Tia-Simone Gardner and Stacey Holloway, Morgan exhibits work that “explores different forms of distances that have been enforced throughout history. From the stay-at-home orders and six-feet rules of the COVID-19 pandemic to housing discrimination and systemic racism which has had lasting repercussions for more than a century, the three artists give a visual representation of the variety of challenging social and economical distances we have and are still enduring.” The exhibition runs through August 28, 2021.

A white geometric outline in a blue sky with white puffy clouds.
Celestia Morgan, “Titusville,” from the “Redline” series, 2017, 36 × 36 inches, archival pigment print.

In June, Morgan was awarded a Media/Photography Fellowship by the Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA). The ASCA said that the fellowship awards, given to top Alabama artists, “recognize artistic excellence as well as professional commitment and maturity, contributing to the further development of the artist.”

Morgan’s exhibitions include REDLINE, a solo exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art; the National Public Housing Museum’s Undesign the Redline in Chicago, Illinois; and New Southern Photography curated by Richard McCabe at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. She has exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark.; and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, Ala. Her work has appeared in the New York TimesLenscratchThe Bitter SouthernerArt Papers, the Southern Foodways Alliance journal Gravy; and Burnaway. Morgan received her BFA in photography from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2012 and her MFA in photography from UA in 2017. Her website is here.

For more information about The University of Alabama’s programs in studio art and art history, visit our Degree Programs page.