The African American Museum in Philadelphia has created an exhibition of work by contemporary artists and installed it somewhere else. The temporary show is across Independence Mall from the museum, at Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City.
“Outcry!” features responses to police killings of unarmed African-Americans, people including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
“We believe artists play a critical role in social change,” said curator Leslie Guy. “We asked artists to respond to the unacceptable killing of African-American men, women, and children.”
Thirteen artists contributed 50 objects to the show, including documentary photographs of street protests, assemblage wall pieces of wood scraps and imagery, paintings, sculpture, and textiles.
Many works in the show deal directly with violence, becoming visually violent themselves. Some of the work puts recent incidents in historical context, collaging imagery from last year with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr. Janet Braun-Reinitz, a Freedom Rider from the 1960s, made silkscreened banners of mass uprising and violence.
“Other artists said, ‘This is too much for me to deal with right now. I want to create a safe, magical, futuristic space for people of the African diaspora,'” said Guy, referring to a printed pattern on textile by Josh Graupera of an imagined galactic, Afrofuturistic nirvana.
“I’ve created structures to protect us, characters to inform us, and resurrected earthlings as docents to show us the way,” he wrote in a statement.
There are three portraits by Willis Humphrey — a young man in a hoodie, a middle-aged man, and an older man in a rumpled fedora — all painted on wood. Humphrey interviewed all three subjects and worked faint imagery from their respective lives into their facial features.
Another artist, William Wallace, painted abstract portraits resembling nobody.
“My work is trying to give form to the idea that everyone exists as Other, in someone else’s context,” the artist wrote in a statement. “I paint portraits of no one in particular, who may or may not be you.”
“Outcry!” is installed on the second floor of Christ Church Neighborhood House, a performance venue currently used by the First Person Arts Festival for its annual showcase of standup storytelling. The pop-up exhibition was created in partnership with First Person Arts.
“Violence towards African-Americans is something we deal with as an institution on an ongoing basis, but we wanted to find a way to take out message and bring it forward to a wider, more diverse audience,” said Guy.
Listen to WHYY’s “The Remix with Dr. James Peterson,” in which he discusses the immediacy of the pop-up exhibit with artist Theodore Harris, curator Leslie Guy and photographer April Martin.