Art as a way to protest, process, mourn, and commemorate anti-Black violence in America


A new exhibition explores the different ways American artists have fought against anti-black violence over the past 100 years.

“A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence,” curated and presented by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, will premiere Jan. 26 and run through July 10.

A new historical approach to the intersection of race, violence, and art, “A Site of Struggle,” will take an in-depth look at how art has been used to protest, address, mourn, and commemorate anti-terrorism violence. black in America for more than a century.

The exhibition features approximately 65 works in a wide range of media from collections across the United States “A Site of Struggle” will examine works by artists spanning over 100 years, from the anti-lynching campaigns of the 1890s to the founding of Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. Conceived in 2016, the project continues to be informed by the current national judgment on racial violence.

Among the artists included in the exhibition are Laylah Ali (b. 1968), George Bellows (1882-1925), Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012), Darryl Cowherd (b. 1940), Ernest Crichlow (1914-2005), Melvin Edwards (born in 1937), Theaster Gates (born in 1973), Ken Gonzales-Day (born in 1964), Norman Lewis (1909-1979), Kerry James Marshall (born in 1955), Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), Howardena Pindell (born in 1943), Carl and Karen Pope (born in 1961), Paul Rucker (born in 1968), Alison Saar (born in 1956), Lorna Simpson (born in 1960), Dox Thrash (1893-1965), Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1953), Pat Ward Williams (b. 1948) and Hale Woodruff (1900-1980).

After debuting at The Block, the exhibit will travel to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama (August 12-November 6, 2022), a city with a deep civil rights history and which currently acts as a national and forum on racial injustice through the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Heritage Museum, among other institutions.

“A Site of Struggle” is curated by Janet Dees, Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Block, with assistance from Alisa Swindell, Associate Curator of Photography at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. Swindell was a conservation research associate at The Block.

Understanding the Deep Roots of Racial Violence

“‘A Site of Struggle’ uses art history to help illuminate our understanding of the deep roots of racial violence,” Dees said. “From realism to abstraction, from direct to more subtle approaches, American artists have developed a century of creative tools and strategies to challenge persistent images of African American suffering and death. Contemporary artists who engage with this subject do so within a long and storied history of American art and visual culture that has sought to confront the realities of anti-Black violence.

The Block Museum of Art is recognized for developing exhibitions and projects that embody a collaborative methodology and that have driven transformation within the institution and within the field. Reflecting The Block’s vision and values ​​for connecting visitors with essential but understudied stories and voices in art, these projects are built on partnership. “A Site of Struggle” builds on that legacy and the Block’s record of creating new scholarship in American art.

“The Block Museum of Art is committed to developing bold, meaningful and thought-provoking projects that ask audiences to reconsider accepted narratives and seek new ways of understanding and active reflection,” said Block Director Lisa Corrin. Ellen Phillips Katz Museum. “In the scope of its academic and community collaborations and its support of the museum’s ongoing social justice initiatives, ‘A Site of Struggle’ is one of the most significant exhibitions the institution has ever undertaken.”

In creating “A Site of Struggle”, Dees brought together a national group of established and emerging scholars and museum professionals, including faculty, staff and students from across the North West to consult on the themes , content and format of the exhibition. Critical discussions of the installation of the exhibition in the gallery focused on how to responsibly present this difficult material and offer a structure of attention to the public. These best practices include limiting the number of works in the space to provide visual and psychological rest; master the lines of sight of the most graphic works; and offering plenty of opportunities for respite and quiet reflection. A room dedicated to additional resources will provide information on campus and community support and access to social justice organizations.

Role of The Block in the community

A key part of “A Site of Struggle” is the creation of an active community advisory group in Evanston, the first city in the United States to establish paid repairs. This cohort of intergenerational leaders working in social justice, education and the arts in Evanston was formed last year and meets regularly to develop programming and discussion guides related to the exhibition, and to provide guidance, context and commentary on the exhibit and The Block Museum’s role in the wider community.

“A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence” will be accompanied by a fully illustrated companion publication of the same title with major contributions from established and emerging scholars in the fields of African American studies, the history of art, communications and history. Co-published by The Block Museum of Art and Princeton University Press, the book includes a foreword by Huey Copeland and original essays by Sampada Aranke, Courtney R. Baker, Janet Dees, Leslie M. Harris and LaCharles Ward.

Opening program

The expo’s opening program will take place virtually on Saturday, January 29 from 2-3:30 p.m. and will include remarks from Robin Means Coleman, professor and vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion at Northwestern and Natasha Trethewey, professor and two-time former Poet Laureate of the United States. The program will include a discussion between curator Janet Dees and Courtney R. Baker, author of “Humane Insight: Looking at Images of African-American Suffering and Death”; Dino Robinson, founder of the Shorefront Legacy Center in Evanston; and Carl and Karen Pope, exhibit artists.

Exhibition support

Main support for the exhibition is generously provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Major support is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The project is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, Bernstein Family Contemporary Art Fund, Myers Foundations, Block DEAI Fund and Block Board of Advisors. Generous support is provided by Northwestern University alumni William Spiegel and Lisa Kadin, the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, and by Lynne Jacobs. The related publication is supported by In addition: a program of the JM Kaplan Fund and the Sandra L. Riggs Publishing Fund.

Lindsay Bosch is senior director of marketing and communications at the Block Museum of Art.

About the Block Museum of Art

The Block Museum of Art believes deeply in the ability of artistic encounters to catalyze reflection on what is at stake for us in our lives today. The museum dynamically serves its Northwest, Evanston, and Chicago-area audiences through exhibits and programs that connect perspectives, examine assumptions, and serve as springboards for urgent dialogue.

With 6,000 works of art in its growing collection – primarily works on paper and global modern and contemporary art in all media – The Block fosters innovative interdisciplinary teaching and learning experiences. The museum is home to one of the most innovative cinemas in the region and reaches national and international audiences through its traveling exhibitions, scholarly publications and digital projects.

The Block has gained national acclaim for its exhibits that focus on overlooked, understudied, or suppressed narratives and histories.


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