Staff Biographies

“Through the African American Lens” Exhibition Biographies

May 1, 2015

Jacquelyn Days Serwer, Chief Curator

Jacquelyn Days Serwer is a curator and art historian who joined the staff of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) as chief curator in May 2006. At NMAAHC, she focuses primarily on building the museum’s foundational collection and developing exhibition projects for the near term, as well as planning for the museum’s new building to open on the National Mall in 2016.

Previously she served for six years as chief curator of the Corcoran Gallery of Art where she coordinated all museum activities. In addition to her own projects, Serwer supervised the museum’s exhibition program and related publications, as well as the in-house and outreach activities of the Education Department.

Before her tenure at the Corcoran, she served as chief curator and curator of contemporary art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Serwer, who taught art history at the École des Beaux Arts in Geneva and at Brooklyn College, received her doctorate from the City University of New York, Master of Arts from the University of Chicago and Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College. Her career as a museum professional began at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

Rhea L. Combs, Curator

Rhea L. Combs is the curator of film and photography at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She also serves as the head of the museum’s Earl W. and Amanda Stafford Center for African American Media Arts.

Before joining the museum, Combs taught visual culture, film, race and gender courses at Chicago State University, Lewis & Clark College and Emory University. In addition, Combs has independently and successfully curated film exhibitions nationally and internationally, including films exhibitions for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. She was also the assistant curator for the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta and a public programs educator at the Chicago Historical Society (now the Chicago Historical Museum).

Combs received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University, a Master of Arts degree from Cornell University and a doctorate from Emory University. Her writings have been featured in anthologies, academic journals and exhibition catalogs on a range of topics, including African American female filmmakers, black popular culture, visual aesthetics, filmmaking and photography. She is the author of Exceeding the Frame: Documentary Filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs as Cultural Agitator.

Combs’ current exhibitions and projects, respectively, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture include “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals at Talladega College,” “Through the African American Lens: Selections from the Permanent Collection” and the museum’s photography books series, Double Exposure, which includes Through the African American Lens: A Survey of NMAAHC’s Photography Collection, Civil Rights and the Struggle for Equality and African American Women.


# # #