National Museum of African American History and Culture debuts new art exhibit
‘Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience.’ shows the power of Black artists and stories
Humanizing artists and serving as a reminder of the strength and struggles caused by racial injustice, “Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience.” is the newest art collection in the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).
The exhibit, on display in the “Visual Art and the American Experience” wing on the fourth floor, is highly relevant and is an effective examination that elicits personal injustices and the topics of the gallery.
Kevin Young, the director of the NMAAHC, shared that the vision of this exhibition is rooted in “a physical representation of [reckoning].” The exhibit stands to prove how art is used in communicating the strength of African American artists and uniting diverse voices, he said.
The exhibit features a portrait of Breonna Taylor, created by renowned painter Amy Sherald, which will be up through May 2022. The portrait of Taylor seems to emphasize the Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place over the past few years, specifically following the death of George Floyd.
“We also looked at certain kinds of parameters — whether we wanted to cover a long timeline of art and image-making,” said Aaron Bryant, an art curator for the NMAAHC, during a Q&A. “And I think that was really important to show the generational connection [and] the genealogy of knowledge between artists and generations of African Americans.”
Other pieces in the gallery are inspired by the psychological “cages” Black men feel like they are trapped in, the confrontation between white and Black Americans during the 1960s, and the interpretation of modern-day racism. Another piece is titled "I can’t breathe," which was repeated 11 times by Eric Garner, a young Black man who was killed in 2014 after a police officer arrested him using a department prohibited chokehold.
The intersectionality of the contributions of Black female artists is also a key focus of this exhibit. One image by Lava Thomas showcases Euretta Adair, one of 80 people arrested for planning the Montgomery bus boycott. That image is one of many in a series by Thomas entitled “Women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” which contains mugshots of female activists. The exhibit acknowledges the contributions of women who were behind the scenes in conversations about the boycotts.
Creating a dialogue and promoting a conversation and how artists can aid in that goal is important to society and is a highlighted goal of the exhibit, according to Tuliza Fleming, the interim chief of visual arts at the NMAAHC.
“We are all in this struggle together and, as a country, we have bad times and challenging times, but we often have been able to overcome those times and really speak to the future,” Fleming said. “So I would really love visitors to come through and understand what the issues are that artists have been encountering or witnessing in their lives and also participating in. I want people to understand artwork has a pivotal role in our society and why that role is there and how those artists can really impact upon you as a viewer.”