A new exhibit will explore the different ways that American artists have battled anti-black violence over the past 100 years.
“A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence,” curated and presented by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, will premiere on January 26, 2022 and run until July 10, 2022. Entrance is free and open to the public.
A historic new approach to examining the intersection of race, violence and art, “A Site of Struggle,” will take an in-depth look at how art has been used to protest, process, mourn and commemorate anti-violence. -black in America for over a century.
The exhibit features approximately 65 works in a wide range of media from collections across the United States. “A Struggle Site” will examine the works of artists spanning over 100 years, from the anti-lynching campaigns of the 1890s to the founding of Black Lives Matter. movement in 2013. Conceived in 2016, the project continues to build on the current national record of racial violence.
Among the artists included in the exhibition are Laylah Ali (b.1968), George Bellows (1882-1925), Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), Darryl Cowherd (b. 1940), Ernest Crichlow (1914-2005), Melvin Edwards (born 1937), Theaster Gates (born 1973), Ken Gonzales-Day (born 1964), Norman Lewis (1909-1979), Kerry James Marshall (born 1955), Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), Howardena Pindell (born 1943), Carl and Karen Pope (born 1961), Paul Rucker (born 1968), Alison Saar (born 1956), Lorna Simpson (born 1960), Dox Thrash (1893-1965), Carrie Mae Weems (born 1953), Pat Ward Williams (born 1948) and Hale Woodruff (1900-1980).
Following its debut at The Block, the exhibit will travel to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama (August 12 to November 6, 2022), a city with a deep history of civil rights and which currently acts as a national and international forum on racial injustice through the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Heritage Museum, among other institutions.
“A Site of Struggle” is curated by Janet Dees, Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Block, with assistance from Alisa Swindell, Associate Curator of Photography at the Hood Museum of Art in Dartmouth College. Swindell was Associate Research Curator at The Block.
“’A Site of Struggle’ uses art history to help us better understand the deep roots of racial violence,” Dees said. “From realism to abstraction, from straightforward to more subtle approaches, American artists have developed a century of creative tools and strategies to oppose lingering images of the suffering and death of African Americans. Contemporary artists who approach this subject do so as part of a long and rich history of American art and visual culture that has sought to address the realities of anti-black violence.
The Block Museum of Art is recognized for the development of exhibitions and projects that embody a collaborative methodology and that have resulted in transformation within the institution and in the field. Reflecting The Block’s vision and values to connect visitors with essential but under-researched art stories and voices, these projects are focused on partnership. “A site of struggle” builds on this heritage and on the Block’s record of generating new scholarships in the field of American art.
“The Block Museum of Art is committed to developing bold, meaningful and empowering projects that challenge the public to reconsider accepted narratives and seek new ways of understanding and active reflection,” said Lisa Corrin, director of the Block Museum Ellen Philips Katz. “In the breadth of its academic and community collaborations and support for the museum’s ongoing social justice initiatives, ‘A Site of Struggle’ is one of the most significant exhibitions the institution has ever undertaken.”
In creating “A Site of Struggle,” Dees convened a national group of academics and professionals from established and emerging museums, including Northwestern faculty, staff, and students, to consult on topics, content. and the format of the exhibition. Critical discussions of the exhibition’s gallery installation focused on how to responsibly present this stimulating material and provide a structure of care for the public. These best practices include limiting the number of works in space to provide visual and psychological rest; control lines of sight to the most graphic works; and offering many opportunities for respite and quiet reflection. A dedicated room for additional resources will provide information on campus and community support and access to social justice agencies.
A key part of “One Control Site” is the creation of an active community advisory group. This cohort of intergenerational leaders working in the fields of social justice, education and the arts in Evanston was formed last year and meets regularly to develop discussion and programming guides related to the exhibit, and to provide guidance, context and commentary on The Block’s exhibit and role. Museum in the community more broadly.
“A site of struggle: American art against anti-black violence” will be accompanied by an accompanying fully illustrated publication of the same title with major contributions from established and emerging scholars in the fields of African American studies, art history, communications, and history. Co-published by the Block Museum of Art and Princeton University Press, the book features a preface by Huey Copeland and original essays by Sampada Aranke, Courtney R. Baker, Janet Dees, Leslie M. Harris, and LaCharles Ward.
The opening program of the exhibition will take place on Saturday, January 29 from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and will include remarks by Robin Means Coleman, professor and vice-president and associate president for diversity and inclusion at Northwestern and Natasha Trethewey, professor and two times former Poet Laureate of the United States. The program will include a discussion between curator Janet Dees and Courtney R. Baker, author of “Humane Insight: Looking at Images of African-American Suffering and Death”; Dino Robinson, founder of the Shorefront Legacy Center in Evanston; and Carl and Karen Pope, artists in the exhibition. A sonic performance by Mendi + artists Keith Obadike sonifies data from Ida B. Wells’ 1895 publication, “The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States”.
Primary support for the exhibition is generously provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Major support is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The project is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bernstein Family Contemporary Art Fund, the Myers Foundations, the Block DEAI Fund and the Block Board of Advisors. Generous support is provided by William Spiegel and Lisa Kadin, alumni of Northwestern University, the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency and by Lynne Jacobs. The related publication is supported by In addition: a program of the JM Kaplan Fund and the Sandra L. Riggs Publication Fund.