January 10, 2022

A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence

Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University

Melvin Edwards, Selections from Lynch Fragments, Ida W.B., 1990. Welded Steel, 13 x 14 x 10 in. © 2021 Melvin Edwards/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Gallery.

Opening January 26, Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art will present A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence, which deeply considers how art has been used to protest, process, mourn and memorialize anti-Black violence. Organized by The Block, the exhibition includes approximately 65 works in a wide range of media from collections around the nation. A Site of Struggle takes a new approach to considering the intersection of race, violence and art by examining how American artists have grappled with anti-Black violence over a 100+ year period, from the anti-lynching campaigns of the 1890s to the founding of Black Lives Matter in 2013. Conceived in 2016, the project continues to be informed by the current national reckoning on racial violence.

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

“How can art history help inform our understanding of the deep roots of racial violence?” asks exhibition curator Janet Dees. “From realism to abstraction, from direct to more subtle approaches, American artists have developed a century of tools and creative strategies to stand against enduring images of African American suffering and death. Contemporary artists taking on this subject are doing so within a long and rich history of American art and visual culture that has sought to contend with the realities of anti-Black violence.”

After its debut at The Block, the exhibition travels to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama (August 12–November 6, 2022). The exhibition will be accompanied by a robust series of programs, including a January 29, 2022 online opening conversation.

Exhibition visitors guide / Exhibition frequently asked questions

Core partnerships
A Site of Struggle, five years in development, builds on The Block's legacy of collaboration and commitment to generating new scholarship in the field of American art. In the creation of A Site of Struggle, The Block convened a national group of scholars to consult on the themes, content, and format of the exhibition. A key component is also the establishment of an active community advisory group in Evanston, Illinois, the home of Northwestern University and the first city in the U.S. to establish paid reparations. This cohort of intergenerational leaders working in social justice, art, and education provides ongoing counsel, context, and feedback on the exhibition and the role of The Block Museum in the community more broadly.

Exhibition publication
A Site of Struggle is accompanied by a fully illustrated companion publication with major contributions by established and emerging scholars from the fields of African American studies, art history, communications and history. Co-published by The Block Museum of Art and Princeton University Press, the book features a foreword by Huey Copeland, and original essays by Sampada Aranke, Courtney R. Baker, Janet Dees, Leslie M. Harris and LaCharles Ward.

Exhibition credits
A Site of Struggle is curated by Janet Dees, the Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Block, with the assistance of Alisa Swindell, former Curatorial Research Associate. Lead 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, the Bernstein Family Contemporary Art Fund, the Myers Foundations, The Block DEAI Fund and The Block Board of Advisors. Generous support is contributed by William Spiegel and Lisa Kadin, the Alumnae of Northwestern University, 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 Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Sandra L. Riggs Publication Fund.

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