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Sat, 08.12.1933

Camille Billops, Artist born

Camille Billops

*Camille Billops was born on this date in 1933. She was a Black artist.

From Los Angeles in 1960, Billops graduated from Los Angeles State College (California State University, Los Angeles), where she majored in education for physically handicapped children. She collaborated with photographer James Van Der Zee and poet, scholar, and playwright Owen Dodson on the Harlem Book of the Dead, published in 1978 with an introduction by Toni Morrison. Her primary medium was sculpture, and she turned her eye to filmmaking.

In 1959, her sister, Josie, introduced Billops to James V. Hatch, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her sister had been his student.  At the time, Hatch was married with two children. Billops eventually insisted that Hatch leave his family to start a new life with her, which he eventually did in the early 1960s.  In 1987, Billops married James V. Hatch, a playwright and theater producer.  They lived in New York City.

In 1960, Billops decided to give her daughter, Christa, up for adoption. Billops had refused to allow her family to take the child. She drove her daughter to the Los Angeles Children’s Home Society of California, an orphanage.  At the time, Christa was four years old. Billops asked Christa to go inside to the bathroom and drove away. A jazz singer in Oakland later adopted Christa.

In the 1960s, she directed and produced "Suzanne, Suzanne, " "Older Women and Love," "Finding Christa" and "The KKK Boutique Ain't Just Rednecks." Billops' awards include a Fellowship from The Huntington Hartford Foundation in 1963, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship in 1975, The International Women's Year Award for 1975-6, and The James Van Der Zee Award, Brandywine Graphic Workshop in 1994.  Her works are in the permanent collections of the Studio Museum of Harlem, Photographers Gallery, London, and The Museum of Drawers, Bern, Switzerland. She has exhibited in one-woman and group exhibitions worldwide since 1965, including Gallerie Akhenaton, Cairo, Egypt; Hamburg, Germany; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer Gallery and The New Museum of Contemporary Art, N.Y.; and El Museo de Arte Moderno La Tertulia, Cali, Columbia.

Billops and her husband, a Professor of English at CCNY, cofounded the Hatch-Billops Archives of Black American Cultural History. The archives, housed in New York City, are a collection of visual materials, oral histories, and thousands of books chronicling Black artists in the visual and performing arts.

When Christa was grown, Camille allowed her into her life, only to become jealous and spiteful of Christa.  Her 1991 film Finding Christa is about meeting her adult daughter.  In 2016, Christa died from heart failure at 59 years old. She had refused a necessary operation and was found alone in her Bronx apartment.  Camille Billops died in Manhattan, New York on June 1, 2019.

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