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Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe

Photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe was born on July 9, 1951 in Chicago, Illinois. Art has been a life-long pursuit for Moutoussamy-Ashe. Her mother, Elizabeth Moutousammy, an interior designer and father, John Moutoussamy, an architect, encouraged her artistic side. Taking advantage of the opportunities available to them in Chicago, she began her formal training at age eight when her parents enrolled her in classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. When it was time for undergraduate studies, Moutoussamy-Ashe moved east to New York and received a B.F.A. degree in photography from The Cooper Union School of Art. After graduating in 1975, she worked as a graphic artist and photojournalist for WNBC-TV. In October 1976, Moutoussamy-Ashe was hired to take photographs at the United Negro College Fund tennis event, where she met tennis great, Arthur Ashe. The two married on February 20, 1977.

Throughout her career, Moutoussamy-Ashe has had frequent group and solo exhibitions at museums and galleries around the world including the Leica Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York; the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.; Galerie Herve Odermat in Paris and The Excelsior in Florence among others. Publications such as Life Magazine, The New York Times, People and the Associated Press have also featured her photography, disseminating it to a wider audience. In 2001, she hosted the documentary Crucible of the Millennium, which PBS broadcast nationwide.

Moutoussamy-Ashe also taught photography courses at the high school and college levels and continues to lecture about this subject matter at many educational and cultural institutions. Outside of the field of photography, she has been actively engaged in philanthropic efforts involving social, health, and community-based issues. As an activist and civic leader, she has served as the director of the Arthur Ashe Endowment for the Defeat of AIDS, a former trustee of her alma mater, The Cooper Union, and a one-time Alternate Representative of the United States to the United Nations, a presidential appointment.

Her photographs contain strong narrative and documentary elements. Moutoussamy-Ashe has displayed a proclivity towards African and African American art. This is evident in the three full collections documenting her travels in West Africa or her book about the Gullah community of South Carolina, Daufuskie Island: A Photographic Essay. She reveals her immediate personal experience in Daddy and Me, which features photos of her late husband, Arthur Ashe, and her daughter, Camera. She has published numerous books featuring not only her own work, but also that of unknown black photographers of the past. In 2001, her fourth book of photographs was published, titled The African Flower: The Singing of Angels. The narrative of her photographs extends beyond a picture or a series of pictures to create a greater context for the artist herself within photography, womanhood and the African American experience.

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on January 15, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.008

Sex

Female

Interview Date

1/15/2007 |and| 4/15/2007

Last Name

Moutoussamy-Ashe

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widow

Schools

Burnside Elementary Scholastic Academy

Chicago International Charter - Bucktown Campus

The College of New Rochelle

Cooper Union

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Jeanne

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

MOU01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anguilla

Favorite Quote

If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/9/1951

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chocolate

Short Description

Photographer and civic activist Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe (1951 - ) had many exhibitions and publications that captured the African and African American experience through photography. Wife of the late tennis star Arthur Ashe, she served as the director of the Arthur Ashe Endowment for the Defeat of AIDS.

Employment

Marshall Field

Johnson Publishing Company

NBC

Favorite Color

Sage Green

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and her aunt list their favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls her paternal grandfather's move from Guadeloupe to New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her aunt's home

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls her paternal grandfather's move from New Orleans to Chicago

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Jeanne Ashe-Moutoussamy describes her father's childhood in Chicago

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her father's education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls her father's relationship with John F. White

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her father's architectural work in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her father's architectural work in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe's aunt describes her teaching career in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe's aunt reflects upon her teaching career

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her aunt's interest in dancing

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe's aunt remembers her upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe's aunt reflects upon her life

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her mother's family background

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe remembers her mother's talent for singing

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her maternal grandmother

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her mother's childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe remembers her parents' marriage

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls visiting the Art Institute of Chicago

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe remembers becoming interested in photography

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls her schools in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls her favorite school subjects

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her college education, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her college education, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe remembers the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her style of photography

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe talks about the types of cameras

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Jeanne Ashe-Moutoussamy talks about the significance of visual images

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe remembers her first exhibition of photographs

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls Arthur Ashe's victory at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes Arthur Ashe's reception at West Point

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe remembers meeting Arthur Ashe for the first time

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe talks about Arthur Ashe's congenital heart condition

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls traveling to South Africa with Arthur Ashe in 1977

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes Arthur Ashe's views on apartheid

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls a lesson from Arthur Ashe

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her first book project, 'Daufuskie Island,' pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe talks about preserving the Gullah culture

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her second book project, 'Viewfinders'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Slating of Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe's interview, session 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her first book project, 'Daufuskie Island,' pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes the impact of development on Daufuskie Island

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe talks about republishing her book, 'Daufuskie Island'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her research on African American female photographers, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her research on African American female photographers, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls the impact of her second book, 'Viewfinders'

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her family life in the 1980s

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe remembers Arthur Ashe's HIV diagnosis

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes how Arthur Ashe contracted AIDS

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls Arthur Ashe's decision not to disclose his AIDS diagnosis

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls Arthur Ashe's announcement of his AIDS diagnosis

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her children's book, 'Daddy and Me'

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her life after Arthur Ashe's death in 1996

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe talks about her grieving process

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe remembers publishing her book, 'The African Flower'

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes how Arthur Ashe might have responded to Don Imus' racist comments

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe talks about the Arthur Ashe Endowment for the Defeat of AIDS

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls creating a website in memory of Arthur Ashe

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center and Library in Soweto, South Africa

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her enjoyment of film photography

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe reflects upon her life

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes her future projects

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe talks about her daughter, Camera Ashe

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe talks about the death of her aunt

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe describes how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

8$3

DATitle
Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe recalls visiting the Art Institute of Chicago
Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe remembers meeting Arthur Ashe for the first time
Transcript
(Simultaneous) Do you have any interest in taking photographs in those days? I mean when you were little (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) No, I was definitely into art though and my father [John Warren Moutoussamy, Sr.] recognized that early on. On Saturday morning since I was eight years old my dad had me going to the Art Institute of Chicago [Chicago, Illinois] for the early Saturday morning classes. And I remember going with my mom [Elizabeth Hunt Moutoussamy] who would take me on the--on the bus that stopped on 89th Street and King Drive [Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive], or South Park [South Parkway], and would stop right in front of the Art Institute and what I thought was fifty stairs leading up--because when you're really young it seems like this mammoth you know accomplishment to get up all these stairs to get into this gigantic museum--I was completely awed by it. Of course I was there about five years ago and I counted every step and there were eleven (laughter) even though it felt like eleven hundred. I would go to art classes and--so he really encouraged my love of art very early on and eventually my mom would just walk me to the bus stop on 89th Street and South Park and put me on the bus. I'd have the same bus driver every Saturday and he'd make me sit right up front and we'd get to the Art Institute. He'd say, "Have a good day." It was just great. And I'd get off the bus--I was maybe you know eight or nine years old and walk up the stairs and when I'd come out I would be escorted to the bus and put back on Chicago public transportation and it would stop right at the bus stop where my mom would meet me. It was very much timed. I remember that and I remember walking through the Art Institute as a little kid, just being completely awed by the magnitude of this place and the arts. And there was one room that I particularly liked. There was a--remember going through the museum, of course it's a completely different place now, to get to the classrooms. There was a hallway that veered off to the right, and there was a miniature furniture room. And it was a--everything was dark in the room. And to look at the miniature furniture you had to look in these little boxes that were lit like little rooms. But the entire room itself was dark and I thought that was the most incredible, mysterious room--to go in there and look at all those little images. They were like little rooms unto themselves and I would escape in that and inevitably be late for my class but that was sort of my sidetrack that I would do and then walk through and see the--the real images of the posters that my parents had. Picassos [Pablo Picasso] and Van Goghs [Vincent Van Gogh] that they had prints that they had on the walls in my home growing up. To actually see the original work in the museum and the connection that that was very much a part of my life and very much encouraged.$Now you met him in 1976?$$I did.$$What happened?$$Good question, what happened (laughter)?$$(Laughter) See how skilled I am here (laughter).$$We met in October of 1976 at a United Negro College Fund [UNCF] tennis event that he actually hosted in his name to raise money for United Negro College Fund. I was still working at NBC [WNBC-TV, New York, New York] at the time having graduated from Cooper Union [Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, New York] and I stayed on at NBC in the graphics department and was doing more and more photography and [HistoryMaker] Gordon Parks was playing in this United Negro College Fund event. And Gordon said, "You know--," he called me Moutoussamy [HistoryMaker Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe]--, "you know, Moutoussamy, you should come and photograph this event because there's going to be you know all of these people there and I think you should come and photograph this event." I said, "Great." So I went to the sports department at NBC and asked for a press credential and I went to Madison Square Garden [New York, New York] and I photographed the United Negro College Fund Arthur Ashe tennis event. And I don't know--I took--I was taking pictures of everyone there and--and I went out to get a bite to eat or a drink or something and I was walking back into the stadium and I tripped over somebody's foot. It was Arthur [Arthur Ashe]. And I said, "Oh, I'm sorry." Then I looked up and I said, "Oh," and he said, "That's okay, I have another one." (Laughter) I said, "Oh, okay, thanks." I was so embarrassed. But you know saw him--it was a weekend event and I saw him the next day and he came over and asked me my name and could he call me and I said, "Well, sure," he said, "What's your name?" and I said, "Jeanne Moutoussamy." He said, "What?" (Laughter) I said, "Moutoussamy." He said, "Moutoussamy." "Well just--I'm at NBC," and I didn't give him the number, I just told him I worked in the graphics department at NBC and I told him that--he knew another woman photographer who worked at NBC because he mentioned her name and I knew her, Jess- Jessica Burstein. And he asked me if I knew her and I said, "Yes, I know her," and he said, "Okay." So the next day Arthur called NBC and asked me if I would like to go out to dinner with him. And he said, "I've got a--," I thought this was interesting, he said I've got to fly to St. Louis [Missouri] or someplace and I'm coming back and I'll pick you up at such and such a time. And I thought hm, fly to St. Louis and take me out to dinner. This was new (laughter). And he did. He was right on time. And it's a very sweet--it was a very sweet thing because when I came down from the sixth floor, from the graphics department, maybe it was the seventh floor graphics department because that was the news room for the NBC local news channel, and I walked out of the elevator bank and sitting at the bottom of the escalator on the--sitting on the escalator ledge was Arthur with one red rose. And I came out and there he was and I said, "Oh, how are you?" And that was our first date and he gave me this red rose. (Laughter) It was very romantic and he was very sweet and what can I tell you except that four months later, having endured Arthur traveling to Australia and various places around the world and we had a--basically a telephone--we dated when he was in New York [New York] and we kind of fell in love on the telephone. And he said, "Well, why don't you come and travel with me on the tour?" And I said, "Because I have a job and I can't do that," you know. So he said, "Well, why don't we get married?" (Laughter) And I said, "Okay," to make a long story short. And he had a bone spur in his left heel that he wanted to have operated on. And Arthur being very methodical, decided in February of 19- February 10, 1977 he was going to have his heel operated on and on February 20, 1977 we were going to get married. So come February 20, 2007, it will have been our thirtieth year. Yeah, it was thirty years so--that's how I met Arthur and I fast forwarded you all the way up to February of 2007 (laughter). Not fair but that's the way my artistic brain works (laughter).$$Yeah, well that's keeping things in perspective also.$$Trying to.$$Well that's the way to solve the problem of a long distance relationship.