Shadows of LIberty, 2016, Titus Kaphar
Featuring work by Black artists who embrace and challenge art history, the 'Currents and Constellations: Black Art in Focus'
exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art is on display through June 26.
It explores established and mid-career Black artists such as Sanford Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Richard Hunt, Dawoud Bey, Lorna Simpson, Jack Whitten, Darius Steward, Kenturah Davis, Mario Moore and Torkwase Dyson, among others.
The exhibition, curated by Key Jo Lee, shows how Black artists have participated in and responded to Western art over time.
In the 2016 piece “Shadows of Liberty,” Titus Kaphar uses layers and multiplicity to examine silenced Black voices. Kaphar feels merging art and history can effect social change. “Shadows of Liberty” is a rendition of John Faed’s portrait of George Washington on a horse with a sword, but this ones features strips adorned with the names of slaves owned by Washington. The piece demonstrates how when we look back at celebrated figures, we do so from specific vantage points, and oftentimes incomplete ones.
“Currents and Constellations features a series of thematic vignettes that emphasize how Black artists have drawn from conventional art historical narratives to generate new ones,” said William M. Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “The exhibition creates conversations among contemporary art and historical objects in our encyclopedic collection, inviting visitors to bring their own interpretations to these multifaceted objects.”
The exhibition features nine thematic groupings, all of which the CMA says illuminate some of the ways that Black artists address essential perspectives, questions and ideas.
“Through multiple, overlapping themes, visitors are encouraged to consider the vast network of relations borne of a single artwork, to experience the ways that Blackness, broadly speaking, may impact an artist’s process or content and to see challenging artworks as an invitation to delve more deeply,” said Lee.
CMA adds that the thematic groupings in the focus gallery include Black Cartographies, where each artwork uniquely maps Black experiences and histories; Turning Away and Turning Toward, both of which engage the history of portraiture; The Sacred Mundane, featuring works by artists who show how what they cherish might seem common or mundane; and Resistance in Black & White, where artists address different forms of oppression.
This exhibition wants to examine works that have histories which were suppressed or even erased from conventional narratives. These works can represent research indicating indirect connections missing from an archive or account and can illuminate ways in which Black artists address essential perspectives, questions and ideas.