BAIA BITS: Camille Billops

BAIA BITS

Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art

The late Camille Billops was an internationally known artist. Born August 12, 1933 in Los Angeles to Luscious Billops, a cook, and Alma Billops, a domestic and seamstress, Billops attended the University of Southern California to study art and, later, California State University in Los Angeles before receiving recognition as a sculptor, painter, and filmmaker. 

Billops accomplishments were many; her awards too numerous to list. Her sculptures, paintings, and printworks were exhibited at venues both domestic and abroad. Billops taught art at Rutgers University and the City University of New York; added printmaking to her varied skillset at Robert Blackburn’s studio in 1973 under the tutelage of Romare Bearden and Krishna Reddy; and contributed to several prominent collections including 1978’s “The Harlem Book of the Dead” which depicted funerary portraits by photographer James Van Der Zee and opened with a foreword by Toni Morrison. She and her husband, James Hatch, were active in the civil rights and Black art movements, hosting popular salons with Black artists, celebrities, and musicians while amassing a collection of thousands of books, photographs and documents on Black culture. Upon receiving a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, the couple recorded over 1200 relevant oral histories, publishing them in an annual journal called Artist and Influence. This collection has since been housed at Emory University as the Hatch-Billops Collection. 

As an artist, Billops drew additional inspiration from her travels throughout the world, including such destinations as Ghana, Egypt, and Morocco. While in Asilah, Morocco, in 1978, she assisted  the master printmaker Blackburn in establishing his Moroccan printmaking workshop. 

In the 1980s, Billops shifted her focus to film, debuting with Suzanne, Suzanne, a 1982 short documentary based on a relative coming to terms with personal and familial challenges. Along with her husband and their film company, Mom and Pop Productions, she would go on to produce and direct Finding Christa in 1991, an autobiographical work based on her reunion with the daughter she gave up for adoption. The film would win the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival and subsequently be televised on the Public Broadcasting Station. Additional films include Older Women and LoveThe KKK Boutique Ain’t Just RednecksTake Your Bags, and A String of Pearls

Camille Billops’ earthly journey ended on June 1, 2019, in Manhattan, NY. Her varied works can be found in collections across the country.

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