Co-organized by the David Winton Bell Gallery and Brown Arts Initiative
On Protest, Art and Activism explores differing ways artists engage the political and social issues of their time. Part 1—on view October 1–28— features works by Ja’Tovia Gary, Theaster Gates, Josephine Meckseper and Dread Scott. Part 2—on view November 2–December 19— features works by Hermine Freed, Guerrilla Girls, Suzanne Lacy, Howardena Pindell and Martha Rosler. Concurrent with Part 2, a site-specific installation of New No’s by Paul Chan and Badlands Unlimited is on view in the lobby of List Art Building.
Part 1 examines how artists use histories of protest to create artworks in response to contemporary activism and ongoing struggles. The works included here collapse temporal distance, finding solidarity and continuity between past and present civil rights and anti-war activism.
Exploring historical materials and forms, sculptural works by Theaster Gates and Dread Scott address past and present civil rights movements. In Minority Majority (2012), Gates uses decommissioned firehoses to create a wall-mounted sculpture of vertical canvas stripes. Fixed together edge to edge, the canvas firehoses appear innocuous but instead are a reference their use to suppress civil rights demonstrators in the past as well as today. Echoing this historical continuity, Dread Scott’s A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday (2015) is a direct response to the police shooting of Walter Scott—an unarmed black man in North Charleston, South Carolina who had been stopped by an officer for a broken brake light on April 4, 2015. Conceived as an update of a flag flown by the NAACP the day after a person was lynched in the 1920s and 30s, Scott’s flag declares solidarity between the national anti-lynching campaigns of the early 20th century and the ongoing civil rights activism of Black Lives Matter.
In March on Washington to End the War on Iraq, 9/24/05 (2005), Josephine Meckseper explores the aesthetics of the historic image of protest. Using a Super 8mm camera, Meckseper documented anti-war demonstrators protesting against the second war in Iraq. Invented in 1965, the grainy texture of the Super 8 film is reminiscent of footage of 1960s demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. The format lends a historical aura to the contemporary images of early 21st century anti-war activism. Altering the aura of historic film, An Ecstatic Experience (2015) by Ja’Tovia Gary engages the physicality of film and digital video production. Black and white footage of a 1950s church service gives way to a theatrical performance of the slave narrative of Fannie Moore by actress Ruby Dee. Gary editorializes the footage of Dee with drawings and animations made by scratching the celluloid of the film itself. She cuts back and forth between the historic footage and contemporary news coverage of conflicts between militarized police and Black Lives Matter activists. The editorial montage ruptures the continuity of the found footage, prompting viewers to reckon with not only aesthetic and narrative dissonance but also the conflicting roles and unresolved issues in the civil rights movement.
Part 2 examines the ongoing impact of women artists on the feminist movements of the last four decades. Revising historical narratives, confronting the construction of gender roles, exploring the intersectionality of race and gender and calling for structural change, the works included use video, performance and posters to address labor and the role of women in the workplace as well as the home.
Works by Hermine Freed, Suzanne Lacy and Martha Rosler interrogate and critique the constructed roles of women within art history and popular culture through humor and absurdity. In Art Herstory (1974), Freed used the, then cutting-edge, technique of blue screening to allow herself and other performers to assume the role of figures in art historical works from the Renaissance through to Modernism. Giving the figures voices, the narrative voiced by Freed ranges from comical critique to existential reflection on her relationship to the depictions of women throughout art history. Lacy and Rosler both explore and critique the role of women as cooks and housewives through parodies of televised cooking shows like “The French Chef” by Julia Child. Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) presents a class on kitchen tools and cooking implements in the style of a remedial alphabet lesson. Pointed gestures with knives and rolling pints punctuate the absurd exercise with frustration and rage. Continuing the interrogation of the subjugation of women in modern consumer society, Lacy’s performance in Learn Where the Meat Comes From (1976), oscillates between a butchering lesson and an anatomy lesson, indicating the proper cuts on her own body. Transforming from gourmet cook into an animal-like figure with pronounced teeth, Lacy blurs the boundary between the consumer and the consumed.
Howardena Pindell’s Free, White and 21 (1980) extends the feminist declaration “the personal is political” to address race. Recounting her experiences of racism and sexism in the workplace as well as within the feminist movement itself, Pindell reveals the complex intersections between race and gender and the added emotional labor people of color confront within predominantly white spaces. Fighting to reveal injustices and iniquities experienced by women and minorities within the art world, recent and historic posters by the Guerrilla Girls testify to the unfinished work of structural change and gender equality. The graphic slogans and messages echo the feminist statements and critiques found in earlier works on display, and they call for the protests to continue.
A Message from For Freedoms
For Freedoms was founded by artists in 2016 as a platform for civic engagement, discourse, and direct action in the United States. Inspired by Norman Rockwell’s 1943 paintings of the four universal freedoms articulated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—For Freedoms uses art to deepen public discussions of civic issues and core values, and to clarify that citizenship in American society is dependent on participation, not ideology.
The artwork included in this exhibition share For Freedoms conviction that people shape the cultural systems that shape their lives—from politics to art, from advertising to civic life. We believe that citizenship is defined by the creative use of one’s voice, one’s body, one’s mind, and, ultimately, one’s vote.
The 50 State Initiative is the largest creative collaboration in the history of this country, and we want everyone to get involved. For Freedoms’ 200+ institutional partners are bringing together artists and communities leaders across the country through exhibitions and town hall meetings, and public billboard projects. These collective activities inject creativity, critical thinking, and lift a multiplicity of voices into our public conversation. Together, we can blur the line between artistic and political discourse, and create an open, nuanced national dialogue in a partisan climate. To learn more, visit www.forfreedoms.org.
Join us. #ForFreedoms. For us all.