UK HealthCare

Ellie Lee Weems Exhibit Displays Mid-Century Black Life

Photo of gallery corridor
Two black and white images of women
two black and white photos from Weems exhibit

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 20, 2020) – UK HealthCare’s Arts in HealthCare unveiled a new exhibit in the Auxiliary Gallery in Chandler Hospital featuring intimate portraits by Ellie Lee Weems, a prominent Black photographer who operated a commercial studio in Florida for more than half a century.

Born in Georgia in 1901, Weems studied photography at the Tuskegee Institute and set up his first commercial studio in Jacksonville in 1929. He ran a successful commercial business and was renowned for his portrait work. Weems was highly technically proficient and he also was a savvy advertiser, distributing his examples of his work on cardboard fans and Christmas cards.

Equal parts fine art, portraiture and commercial work, the exhibit features an extensive series of black and white portraits of his clients in his Florida studio. His subjects included families, couples, students, military officers, athletes and dancers. He captured Black life throughout the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement and integration and worked until his death in 1983.

“Since its inception, our Arts in HealthCare program has sought to establish a permanent collection and rotating exhibits that not only contain a vast number of works but feature an expansive representation of mediums, styles and subject matter,” said Jason Akhtarekhavari, manager for UK Arts in HealthCare. “Art is such a subjective experience. Our varied collection and exhibits help ensure that our facilities are bound to contain one art form or another that pleases even the most critical eye.”

“Although we have presented nearly 50 exhibits over the past ten years, established one of the finest permanent collections in the state of Kentucky and developed a program that is nationally recognized for excellence in the field of arts in health, we still have much to accomplish,” continued Akhtarekhavari. “When I took over management of the program in mid-2018, I immediately knew that one of my top priorities would be to enhance both our permanent collection and exhibits by expanding our efforts towards greater representation of works that are more representative of diversity, equity and inclusion. This exhibit is a prime example of those efforts bearing fruit. We are so proud and fortunate to adorn the walls of the UK Chandler Hospital with these timeless, beautiful and elegant portraits.”

This exhibit was curated by Philip March Jones, contracted curator for the Jacqueline R. Hamilton and the UK Hospital Auxiliary Galleries, and will be on display in Chandler Hospital until January 2021.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.