Forthcoming Photography Exhibition: 'Time to Get Ready: Maria Varela and the Civil Rights Movement'

St John’s College and the Rothermere American Institute are proud to announce their collaboration with the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) to host a remarkable exhibition featuring the powerful works of Maria Varela. As the inaugural site for this profound showcase, Oxford will unveil the powerful imagery captured by Varela during her organising and activism during the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1963, Maria Varela travelled to Atlanta, Georgia to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as an office worker. However, within three weeks she was assigned to work as a literacy program worker in dangerous Selma, Alabama, amidst the palpable polarization of the Civil Rights Movement. It was not until 1966 that, dissatisfied with representations of Black people in the Movement, Varela picked up a camera.

Through her lens, she not only captured the outward manifestations of protest but also delved into the intricate tapestry of everyday efforts that fuelled the Movement, from voter registration drives to the establishment of communal vegetable cooperatives. For Varela, photography transcended mere technical proficiency; it became a conduit for creative expression and a powerful tool for social change. Each frame serves as a testament to the resilience, determination, and collective spirit of those who fought tirelessly for justice and equality. From events such as the Meredith March Against Fear, to profiling leaders such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Varela’s photography offers an important perspective on one of the most significant periods of reckoning in American history.

Join us at the Kendrew Barn, St John’s College from Monday 29 April to Saturday 18 May 2024, as we immerse ourselves in Maria Varela’s extraordinary visual narrative. There will be a public talk featuring Maria Varela herself at the Rothermere American Institute on 30 April. For more information please visit:

This exhibition is made possible through the generous support of St John’s College, the Rothermere American Institute, Christ Church, The British Association of American Studies, the Oxford Festival of the Arts, and the National Museum of Mexican Art.

For more information and to discuss interviews or features, please email Dr Emily Brady:

Children framed by sharp-shooter, by Maria Varela