Museums Exhibit African American Art To Engage With Communities

Often, creative works are used to make statements on certain social perspectives, and one of those has certainly been the state of African American communities in America today.

Hyperallergic has a report on three museums in Michigan who have come together to form a collective statement that focuses on showing more African American art, which includes the Flint Institute of Arts (FIA), whose community feels they’ve been targeted by the government with the water crisis, an incident which has been covered by The Inquisitr.

The Muskegon Museum of Art (MMA) has collected works from FIA and Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) with works from their own collection for a show called Common Ground at the MMA.

The article says that the works represent predominantly African American communities, which have remained “low profile” and have been gradually collected over time, by those museums, curators, collectors. The works were submitted by artists who have received modest attention, as they don’t get the same funding as some of the more prestigious institutions in better known and larger cities like New York.

African American art collected from surrounding Michigan communities.
The sentiment of African American culture that is at the center of these works — especially as mentioned in the Hyperallergic piece — is said to be about conversation in a community.

The piece refers to another article by The New York Times, which quotes the painter Norman Lewis, who says that someday his work will speak for itself, rather than letting the narrative be that the works are of interest because he’s black.

Much of this sentiment, as it points out, is that most museums of art are focused on more European works than American, and many of these institutions are trying to showcase more African American work.

New York artist Peter “Souleo” Wright was recently in a panel discussion to defend the button as a high art form in order to tell the story of the African American experience. This was covered by NBC News refering to a show by the artist centered around the button as his selection for mixed media, a show that he curated with other artists.

The article quotes Souleo to how he connects the button with the African American experience.

“That idea of taking nothing and making something of it is really the story of African American people… We’ve always found the scraps and the bottom of the barrel stuff and we’ve repurposed it into art.”

Shows like these, where local communities have used African American art to bringing them together, appear to be his point.

In much the same way, The New York Times has also published an article about artists like Rodney McMillan, who take discarded items and turn them into art to talk about race issues in America.

African American artist Rodney McMillian's installation
The piece talks about an African American artist who makes a distinction between simple yet confrontational works that talk about the race issues and those with a more complex message.

The Cincinnati Herald is also reporting on a large African American exhibit it has planned, which will run until August, representing African American artists from over the decades, both alive and dead.

Basquiat is one of them, an African American artist who reached his peak in the 80s before he died from a heroin overdose.

Due to the fact that a message from each artist could either be broad or specific using their own interpretations, most of these exhibits are retained within the perspective of African American culture. In the case of the Cincinnati art museum, the inclusion of other cultures still plays a part, as Latino artists are also included, but the interpretation is largely still left to that artist.

It is in these cases where African American art can be displayed as a statement of the community, allowing the conversation to continue and remain open-ended.

[Featured image by Elvert Barnes via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0]