In Memoriam: Camille Billops, An Avant-garde Artist to be Recognized and Reckoned With

Every creative, cultural and racial experience has to do with my work.  I sift and look and taste. Camille Billops (1977)

Camille Billops, cat, and one of her sculptures, 1971.

The passing of Camille Billops (1933-2019) comes as a shock to the system.  She will forever be remembered as a force in the art world, especially as an advocate for the preservation of the papers of African American artists and art historians as an act of resistance from erasure.  As an artist, she used her creativity to express her unique ideas about the world and her purpose in it.  Within the contexts of the 1960s civil rights struggle, New York’s emerging black artists movement, and her personal struggles for affirmation, Billops came into her own.  Without apology, she successfully drew from her education, her observations, and her relationships with artist friends like Jacob Lawrence, Betty Blayton, Norman Lewis, and Vivian Brown As a filmmaker, Billops pushed the boundaries exposing family secrets that were universal and revelatory of black women’s vulnerabilities, passions, and the complicated choices one must make in order to realize one’s potential.

Camille Billops, at the opening of the “Still Raising Hell” exhibition at Emory Libraries.

Jim Hatch and Camille Billops at the opening of the exhibition “Still Raising Hell” at Emory Libraries.

In collaboration with her creative partner and husband, James Hatch, the duo created one of the most important archives documenting African American history and life related to the visual arts, theater, dance, poetry, and literature.  In 2002, the Camille BillopsJames V. Hatch Collection was established at Emory University to house the more than 6000 books; 1,200 scripts written by African American playwrights; 10,000 slides; and manuscripts materials, posters, broadsides, ephemera, and photographs.  The collections also include original prints and works on paper produced by Billops, and original play scripts and manuscripts written by Hatch. Like their work, the Billops-Hatch collection is unique in every way imaginable.

Pellom McDaniels III, PhD, Curator for African American Collections

In 2016, the Emory Libraries celebrated Camille’s work in the exhibition, “Still Raising Hell.” To learn more, please visit the online exhibition.