July 26–October 8, 2017
Why is this called a playset?
This work by Kara Walker shows us scenes associated with the Civil War-era South, and deals with gender, race, and sexual dynamics of the time.
The play set aspect is a focus, it creates a work that shows us the possibility of many different narratives. The work presents these possible stories while critiquing stereotypical and racist imagery, and the effect it can have from a very young age. The use of the term “play set” can also be seen as ironic. There are no happy endings to the many narratives that can be created from the set. They all end in tragedy.
Tell me more.
Johnson is a sculptor who works with a wide range of materials to create work that deals with issues of personal, cultural, and racial identity.
What's happening in this scene?
This is "The '20's... The Migrants Cast Their Ballots," by Jacob Lawrence. It shows people exercising their right to vote. This work, like his most famous series, "The Migration Series," to which it belongs, focuses on the everyday lives of people during the 20's and 30's, especially black Americans migrating to the North.
This print was also made after the prompt "what does independence mean to you?," a question posed to artists as part of the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio, made for the American Bicentennial in 1976.
I've left the Legacy of Lynching exhibit, but I can't stop thinking about the Dread Scott images on display. Can you tell me more about that performance with the firehose?
As you probably know, the use of the firehoses in the performance are a direct reference to firehoses being turned on demonstrators during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Scott's use of them reminds viewers that minorities are still fighting for their rights decades later. He uses the imagery of a single event as a metaphor for the larger and ongoing struggle against racism in the United States.
The stream of water is such visceral image. Maybe it's so shocking because I'm used to seeing archival video—grainy, black and white—so the photos being at this scale and so contemporary is incredibly confrontational in a powerful way.
That's a really interesting and important point. The reenactment brings the event to our own time, makes it familiar and accessible. It also drives home how shocking it really is that firehoses would be used against human beings.
Where was this created?
This was photograph was taken when Scott performed in Brooklyn. It was actually under the Manhattan bridge in DUMBO.
Tell me more about Elizabeth Catlett and her connection to the subject of this print.
Catlett was the daughter of former slaves. After studying art in the United States, she moved to Mexico and spent the rest of her career there. She worked into her 90s! She was concerned above all with the social dimension of her art.
This print alludes to the segregation experienced by African Americans in the United States in the mid-20th century; this woman is riding a bus with separate seating for white and black passengers.
I think the sharp and jagged lines of her printmaking also express the tension of her subject.
For performance art like this, is it staged and watched in the moment by an audience, or is the intention to document it and put that version on display?
The answer to your question is, it depends. On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide, specifically, was performed for a live audience AND captured photographically.
Incredible. Thank you for this information and for the conversation!
I would like to know more about this artwork.
This work by Glenn Ligon features black coal crystals spelling out the phrase "What will happen to all that beauty?" in front of a photo from the Million Man March in DC in 1995. The innumerable individual coal crystals used in this work signify the massive crowd of people who attended the march. The words come from a James Baldwin essay written in 1962 and printed in 1963 in the volume "The Fire Next Time."
Tell me more.
This work by Rashid Johnson features the artist himself dressed as Thurgood Marshall, overlaid with cross-hairs, questioning the notion of judicial progress for present-day (2009) African Americans.
For an eerily similar work, I would recommend visiting Elizabeth Catlett's "Target" on the 4th floor which was made in 1970 and addresses similar themes.
I saw that. I definitely see the similarities.
The artist is addressing the idea of progress over time from the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 to 2009. Similarly, Catlett's “Target” can act as a kind of interlude in 1970, forcing us to question how much things have really changed when you see this continuity of imagery through time.
Can you tell me more about Dread Scott?
He was born in Chicago in 1965 as Scott Tyler. He assumed the name Dread Scott in reference to the Dred Scott Decision, a court case known officially as Scott v. Sanford and widely known as the worst supreme court decision in US history, including that African Americans could never be citizens. All of its precedents have since been overturned.
Scott works in a wide range of media including performance and photography, like we see here, as well as video, installation, printmaking, and painting.