Rhea L. Combs

Rhea L. Combs


CCL/SMH 2021-2023


National Portrait Gallery


Director of Curatorial Affairs

Institution at time of Fellowship

National Portrait Gallery

Rhea L. Combs is a curator, writer, and public scholar. She is the Director of Curatorial Affairs at the National Portrait Gallery. As the supervisory museum curator of photography and film, and director of the Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), Combs’s work intersected her interests in African American Studies, film and photography, gender and sexuality studies. She has curated and co-curated several nationally recognized exhibitions and most recently worked on two exhibitions: Politics of Style (2021) and Regeneration: Black Cinema, 1898–1971 (2022)––a co-curated project with the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Combs has delivered lectures nationally and internationally on a range of topics including: the power of the image, African American image-makers, and Black cinema. Her writings have appeared in the Smithsonian’s photography book series, Double Exposure, the Public Historian, Aperture, as well numerous anthologies, academic journals, and exhibition catalogues. Combs has previously held positions at the Chicago Historical Museum and Spelman Museum of Fine Art. She has a BA from Howard University, MA from Cornell University, and PhD from Emory University. In 2019 Time Magazine listed her as one of the top cultural leaders helping to change the field.

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CCL/Studio Museum in Harlem Curators' Forum With generous support from the Ford and Mellon Foundations, the Center for Curatorial Leadership and the Studio Museum in Harlem partnered in 2021-2023 to establish the CCL/Studio Museum in Harlem Curators’ Forum, a pilot program founded in recognition of the profound contributions that curators of ... Read More >