In honor of Black History Month, we’ll be sharing staff reflections, artist highlights, and more in a Black History Month blog series. The museum is also hosting programs, gallery conversations, and film screenings through the month of February. With these offerings, we’re aligning with the museum’s commitment of inclusion and expanding the understanding of American history through the lens of the Black experience.
The artwork seen above is Our Town (1995, acrylic and collage on canvas) by Kerry James Marshall. Marshall’s work often explores themes of racial identity, community, and belonging. Our Town is part of his Garden Project series, in which low-income housing projects are ironically rendered as idyllic places. The carefully painted houses, manicured lawn, and bright sky coexist uneasily with graffiti scribbles and trees tied with yellow ribbons, suggesting war or tragedy.
Marshall contrasts the tidy scene, dominated by red, white, and blue, with deep black paint and minimal shading on the figures. Here, he emphasizes the blackness of his subjects in an art world that notably lacks images of African Americans. Our Town further evokes Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play of the same title, posing the question: for whom does this American ideal really exist? The work is on view now in our Contemporary Art Gallery.
Marshall is one of the most widely known and respected American artists of the twenty-first century. He uses painting, sculptural installations, collage, video, and photography to comment on the history of black identity both in the United States and in Western art. He is well known for paintings that focus on African American subjects and has explored issues of race and history through imagery ranging from abstraction to comics. Hear from the artist as he talks art and community, and about playing an important role as a mentor to the next generation of artists, in this Keynote Lecture video.
See all of the upcoming Black History Month programs below, and stay tuned for more artist highlights and reflections here on our blog.
Men of Steel, Women of Wonder is a new exhibition organized by Crystal Bridges that is on view February 9 through April 22. Offering fresh perspectives on these cultural icons and tapping into our current national love for superheroes, the artists in Men of Steel, Women of Wonder use Superman and Wonder Woman to explore national identity, American values, social politics, representation, and the concept of humanity in an exciting, thought-provoking, unforgettable exhibition.
This exciting opening lecture celebrating the exhibition will feature artists Fahamu Pecou and Aphrodite Navab in conversation with Assistant Curator Alejo Benedetti.
Fahamu Pecou is an interdisciplinary artist and scholar whose works combine observations on hip-hop, fine art and popular culture. Pecou’s paintings, performance art, and academic work addresses concerns around contemporary representations of Black masculinity and how these images impact both the reading and performance of Black masculinity.
Aphrodite Navab is an artist based in New York City of Iranian and Greek descent (b. Isfahan, Iran). In 2004, she completed an Ed.D doctorate in Art Education at Columbia University. She received her BA magna cum laude in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard College in 1993. Navab’s art has been featured in over one hundred exhibitions and is included in a number of permanent museum collections.
The Cotton Pickers
Saturday, February 9, 1 to 2 pm
Museum Educator Raven Cook will discuss Black identity in America and the mobility of Black women throughout history through the lens of Winslow Homer’s The Cotton Pickers. Homer depicts two Black women in a seemingly endless field of cotton. Their stature suggests power and perseverance. How do depictions of Blackness in art aid or hinder the perception of Blackness in America? This question and more will be discussed in our gallery conversation.
NWA Racial Justice Memorial Project
Saturday, February 23, 1 to 2 pm
Join us in the galleries near George Inness’s An Old Roadway for a conversation with members of the NWA Racial Justice Memorial Project about the creation of a new local initiative to honor lynching victims in Northwest Arkansas. Hear how they worked with Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative to create awareness for the project and the steps they are taking to memorialize these moments in our own community. Expand your understanding of racial disparity in America and learn how you can assist our local community in recognizing these victims.
What’s New: Njideka Akunyili Crosby
Thursday, February 28, 1 to 2 pm
Meet Curatorial Assistant Jayson Overby, as he shares about Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s work Mama, Mummy and Mamma (Predecessors #2). Njideka is a Nigerian-born visual artist working in Los Angeles. Her art negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, creating collage and photo transfer-based paintings that expose the challenges of occupying these two worlds. Hear from Jayson as he shares more about this fascinating artist and work.
Friday, February 15, 7 to 9:30 pm
Join us for a film screening and post-discussion on the film, Free Men, by Anne-Frédérique Widmann. This film program is in collaboration with the University of Arkansas Black Alumni Society and the Black culture preservation platform, Visionairi. This documentary shares the story of Kenneth Reams who, at age 18, was convicted for capital murder without firing a bullet. He became the youngest inmate on Arkansas death row. Art and love have freed Kenneth from his mental chains and this film has aided in the push to free him from his physical chains as well. Sentenced to death, he was able to survive decades of imprisonment in complete isolation through the creation of art. As the narrator, Kenneth shares intimate stories of how he found a purpose in life when all signs of hope seemed lost. Following the film stick around for a post discussion with Kenneth Reams and Anne-Frédérique Widmann who will be available electronically as well as Garbo Hearne of Hearne Fine Art in Little Rock and Ashley Edwards, the programming manager for Bentonville Film Festival.
Aretha Franklin, Amazing Grace
Sunday, February 24, 4 to 6 pm
In this film screening, we’ll view the recently released documentary, Amazing Grace, which presents Aretha Franklin with the choir at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles in January 1972. This program is in collaboration with the Northwest Arkansas Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, who will guide us in a post-film discussion around Franklin’s legacy and social change in America.