Gordon Parks Foundation Essay Prize


Gordon Parks, Emerging Man, Harlem, New York, 1952 courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation
Gordon Parks, Emerging Man, Harlem, New York, 1952 courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation
From 2019-2020 the Gordon Parks Foundation Essay Prize at Harvard offered three $5,000 grants to Harvard undergraduate, graduate students and alumni per academic year for essays that explore the relationship between visual art and justice as it pertains to racial equity. The prize, which honors the legacy of photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks, serves to acknowledge the importance of visual literacy and the nexus of race and citizenship, particularly in the United States. The Gordon Parks Foundation Essay Prize is part of the foundation’s year-round educational and grant-making initiatives to support students. 


Undergraduate, graduate student and alumni essays were eligible for consideration. The award was not restricted to students from any specific concentration or department. For the 2019-20 academic year, a total of three prizes were awarded from all eligible submissions. This prize was available for two Academic years, 2019 and 2020.

Essay length

The essay word limit is 7,500 words including footnotes and references, and may include images with captions. Essays must have been written within the last two academic years for any course at Harvard University (within the academic years 2018-2019 and 2019-2020). Students may also submit a chapter of a thesis. Alternatively, current students may submit essays written expressly for the purpose of applying for the award and not related to academic classwork. Essays previously submitted for consideration by the committee, published, or under contract for publication are ineligible. The essays can but need not focus on photography and films by Gordon Parks so long as the thesis addresses the convergence of visual art, justice, race, and citizenship.


The three selected recipients will receive a prize of $5,000 each.

2020 Prize Recipients:

Panashe Chigumasdzi '24 GSAS Program: African and African American Studies. (Philosophy)

Panashe Chigumasdzi’s “What don’t you see when you look at me? : Black women’s portraiture and the re-revisioning the world in the wake of Western epistemology's crisis of imagination” presents a both powerful and creative narrative on identity and the Black body, framed in part around her native Zulu greeting phrasing and Black women artist-intellectuals. Theoretically grounded in Susan Sonntag, Franz Fanon, Zora Neale Hurston, and Toni Morrison, among others, Chigumasdzi takes up and challenges the use of Black imagery as a foil for Western oppositional identity formation.

Julianna Kardish ’20 joint degree in Art, Film and Visual Studies and Social Anthropology

Julianna Kardish’s “A Counter-Cartography of Cape Town: Tracing the Grounded Realities of Homeless Women in Crises” offers a creative ethnographic account of homeless South African women traversing Cape Town. Framed around on-the-ground research, this narrative examines the legacy of spatial apartheid as it affects homeless women’s access to spaces and places, both real and imagined, and the resources available in these locations as well as the variety of crises that these women face daily, and how each crisis shapes their daily city life experience.

Cecilia Nunez  ’20 History and Literature

Cecilia Nunez’s “Exhibiting Blackness: Museums and Societal Visibility” uses the Mexican Government’s 2015 Inter-census Survey of Afro-descendants to explore not only how those who self-identify in this way “whiten” their background in an act of broad erasure exploring recent public exhibitions of Afro-Mexican photography, and the role that these exhibits have had in educating the public about race and racism in Mexico, and the role of photography in related social justice and activism issues.


Prize jury

The jury is comprised of faculty from the following departments: History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies.