Posts filed under ‘Visual Culture’

From Planning to Doing: The Art of Black Dissent

Time for catch-up!

Back in January I blogged about my excitement for my upcoming museum program The Art of Black Dissent. At that point I was in the planning stages. Well this spring after careful study of historical contexts, objects, artists, contemporary issues, and engagement techniques we launched our project. From April to May, my collaborator Gabriella Svenningsen and I held a public event and several sessions for classes at Yale University Art Gallery.  Our pop-up exhibition/dialogue program centered on protest visual culture of the African-American liberation struggle gained strong support. Participants who ranged from museum visitors and staff, high school students, undergraduates, K-12 teachers, and college professors responded well. As we expected, people  were eager to discuss this timely topic in relation to our nation’s challenging contemporary moment. On our project blog we share more information about the initiative and ongoing plans to bring the pop-up to local area public schools and libraries. 20160429_173738

The Art of Black Dissent welds together various elements of my scholarly background and personal ethos as it involves social justice, studies of race and racialized visual culture and social practice art, collaboration, critical pedagogy, engaged citizenship, and community engagement. It’s energizing to develop an idea into work that creates spaces for dialogue about contemporary pressing social issues. I envision coordinating more projects like The Art of Black Dissent as I shape my career of publicly-centered work in the arts.



August 14, 2016 at 8:36 pm Leave a comment

Actualizing Plans- My Program on Black Protest Art Comes to Life


Leigh Raiford, Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2011

These days I’m happily aligning my academic research of visual culture, race, memory, and public space with my museum work and commitment to social justice.

In December 2014 my involvement with the #museumsrespondtoferguson initiative on Twitter encouraged me to brainstorm actions that art museums could institute to engage issues of racial inequities in the U.S. One of my ideas centers on designing programming that highlights the role of visual culture in the African-American liberation struggle. Fortunately this proposal is coming to life. On April 29th along with my colleague Gabriella Svenningsen Omonte, I will co-lead The Art of Black Dissent at Yale University Art Gallery. This program spotlights black protest art in the Gallery’s collection and current images circulating on the streets and via social media platforms in concert with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. For this summer we’re designing a walking tour that features black art and protest sites in New Haven, Connecticut.


To prepare I’m brushing up on favorite references such as Amy Helene Kirschke’s Art in Crisis: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Struggle for African American Identity and Memory. Additionally, my resources are growing as I’m diving into many other critical resources on graphic arts, photography, the black liberation movement, and studies of New Haven’s local history and grassroots organizing. As our work progresses, I’ll share updates on these projects.


January 31, 2016 at 7:48 pm Leave a comment

Strategies for Remembering Trauma

Trees at City Hall, Los Angeles. Photo by author, March 2013.

Trees at City Hall, Los Angeles. Photo by author, March 2013.

When I was in Los Angeles a few of weeks ago, I explored Ken Gonzales-Day’s Lynching Walking Tour from his Erased Lynching series, 2002-2011. While journeying on this path through the El Pueblo and Civic Center areas with a print-out of the tour instructions, I was often struck by the lack of physical markers on the landscape.  This brutal yet significant history involves multiple bodies. But the tour sites mask those bodies.

This experience made me return to my ruminations on how people memorialize trauma. Art about devastating historical events and other violent ordeals engages difficult issues of representation. How does one express the effects of suffering on the body? Is figurative art too literal? Is it too revealing? Does depicting a person’s body in pain remove her/his subjectivity? Is abstraction a more responsible choice? Or is abstraction insensitive? Does it use form to mask human feelings? What is the most appropriate way to represent trauma experienced by individuals versus groups? Is absence a more ethical strategy when dealing with violence involving spectacle and fetishization? What are the sociopolitical repercussions of these choices?
These are difficult questions to confront. Artists make personal choices here that sometimes become more complex when working for commissions. When the work is for outdoor public art, the stakes are even higher because the decision-making process involves more voices and a greater number of people will interact with the work.

This conundrum is central to the memorials of lynching violence that I study. For example, in Duluth, Minnesota, artists Carla Stetson and Anthony Peyton Porter, and memorial board members of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial opted to include naturalistic figurative reliefs that restore the victims’ bodies to an intact state. Sculptor Carla Stetson even elevated the social status of each man by dressing the figures in middle-class attire instead of clothing resembling those of itinerant laborers. In contrast, in Waco, which is located in Central Texas, an area with an extremely high number of lynchings, residents have had trouble building consensus about commemorating this aspect of their history. While they haven’t established any outdoor artworks or markers to memorialize the lynchings, they did produce three resolution statements. Community members presented two of these at outdoor public gatherings.

The lack of physical forms commemorating lynching violence in the U.S. contrasts greatly with how we memorialize the Holocaust in our built environments. Artists memorializing the Holocaust sometimes employ abstraction as Joel Shapiro did in his Loss and Regeneration, 1993, Washington, D.C. However, many employ figurative art that depicts effects of pain on the body like Nathan Rapoport’s 1964 Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs in downtown Philadelphia or Elbert Weinberg’s Holocaust Memorial, 1979 in Wilmington, Delaware. While these works highlight anguish, the figures aren’t personalized. Instead of depicting particular individuals, these memorials present anonymous, stylized stand-ins to represent an ethnic group.

Detail of Memorial to the Genocide in the Ukraine, Los Angeles. Photo by author, March 2013.

Detail of Memorial to the Genocide in the Ukraine, Los Angeles.
Photo by author, March 2013.

After I finished the Lynching Walking Tour, I walked into a park off N. Grand Avenue in the Civic Center area. I happened upon a memorial to genocide in the Ukraine (see photo at right). The artist and the committee obviously felt that stylized figurative art that features the body in a diminished condition was the most powerful way to communicate their message. Again, we have types instead of individuals. As I was looking at this structure, I felt that it was somewhat ironic to come across this memorial to violence that occurred in Europe after witnessing the lack of material commemorative signs to the violence that occurred on the streets of Los Angeles.

April 15, 2013 at 6:08 pm 3 comments

Falling Back into Art! Exhibitions to Explore

After being buried under heaps of books for a few months, I’ve resurfaced!

George Segal, Three People on Four Benches, 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by author

George Segal, Three People on Four Benches, 1979, Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by author

I’ve passed my comprehensive PhD exams and I’m ready to put away the PowerPoint presentations (for a little while) so I can get out and see some art.
Here’s a list of Northeast coast exhibitions I’d like to see this fall.

Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston

Anthropocene Extinction, ends 12/30
Realistically, I don’t think I’ll be able to travel to Boston because of lack of time and funds. However, I’d love to see this site-specific installation by street artist Swoon. She has combined her hallmark cut paper drawing technique with a large bamboo sculpture.

Museum of Modern Art
New Photography 2011, ends 1/16/12
I’m particularly interested in two of the six artists featured in this show. Moyra Davey’s efforts to re-materialize and re-personalize conceptions of photography by circulating non-digital (film based) images in the mail sounds cool.  And Doug Rickard’s reinterpretations of Google Map images touch on culturally and politically resonant issues of privacy and surveillance.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Romare Bearden: A Centennial Celebration, ends 1/8/11
Although I’m a Bearden fan, I haven’t seen much of his actual work.  This exhibition, which features The Block, a mural sized landscape collage, sounds like the perfect solution to this predicament.

The Noguchi Museum, Queens
Civic Action: A Vision for Long Island City, ends 4/4/12
I haven’t visited this museum yet. However, I’ve frequently checked out their website and other online materials. This community oriented exhibition, a tribute to Isamu Noguchi who worked with other artists on neighborhood revitalization projects, seems like a wonderful impetus to get me over to this museum. Four artists, Natalie Jeremijenko, Mary Miss, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and George Trakas, collaborated to re-envision how the area can better serve residents and businesses.

The Studio Museum of New York
The Bearden Project, 11/10/11 – 3/12/12
Romare Bearden was instrumental to founding The Studio Museum. Accordingly, the institution is honoring him and recognizing his 100th birthday (September 2nd). I look forward to checking out this in-depth and lively exhibition which will continually change over time. It should be interesting to compare the Met’s interpretative stance regarding Bearden’s subject, Harlem streets, with the approach taken by an institution located in that neighborhood.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Isamu Noguchi, sculpture garden installation, ends summer 2012
This exhibition was scheduled to close earlier this year.  Fortunately PMA will continue to feature Noguchi’s work until next summer. Hmm, stars are starting to align. I can imagine having an awesome day in Philly checking out Noguchi’s work and finally going on one of those mural arts tours. Fingers crossed….

Smithsonian National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture, on exhibit at NMAAHC’s gallery in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights, ends 11/27
For some reason, I missed this exhibition when it was at the International Center of Photography in New York last year. Fortunately, it’s a traveling exhibition so there’s still time to see it. After the current venue it will go to Baltimore, Maryland and Andover, Massachusetts (see the webpage for details). I’m very eager to see this exhibition since it relates to my studies in visual culture and it’s curated by Professor Maurice Berger. He has written extensively on issues involving the interplay of race, visual culture, and museums. So this one is on my absolutely must see list!

What about your list? What have you seen or hope to see this autumn?


Google Street View and the Politics of Exploitation, Visual Culture Blog, 10/19/11
Navigating the Puzzle of Google Street View Authorship, Wired, 8/19/11
The Romare Bearden Commemorative Stamps Unveiling, Katherine Finerty, The Studio Museum Blog, 10/6/11
Romare Bearden Honored with US Stamp, Hrag Vartanian, Hyperallergic, 9/28/11

October 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm Leave a comment

Contemplating Bodies & Display

Body art is always to some degree about display. The woman in the window of Philadelphia’s Eddie’s Chinatown Tattoo unabashedly illustrates this point. Seated in the Arch Street window, everyday Rosie* flaunts her multicolored full body tattoo to passers-by. (*The name “Rosie” is marked along the ankle of the mannequin.)
Similar to the store’s bold yellow exterior, her heavily decorated form captures attention. Indeed, Rosie’s colorful graphic form contrasts with the vintage finds accompanying her in the interior display area.

Continue Reading September 10, 2010 at 12:02 am Leave a comment


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