Hood events explore the civil rights movement through art

by Margarette Nelson and Jessica Zischke | 10/15/14 3:55pm

Artists Jae and Wadsworth Jarrell gave a talk on Wednesday in the Hood Museum's Kim Gallery.

As if an imaginary fist from behind the frame had punched through the foil of Jack Whitten’s “Birmingham 1964” (1964), a hole appears like an artifact of violence, a documentation of the civil rights movement. The hole is a window, offering a view of an old newspaper photo. A stocking mesh prevents a clear view of the image.

“I did all of these works out of necessity,” he wrote in May 2013, in a statement to accompany the piece. “It was getting something out of my system. The pressure was intense. I was in such a rage.”

“Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties” is on display in the Hood Museum through Dec. 14. The exhibit, marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was organized by the Brooklyn Museum and co-curated by Brooklyn Museum’s Teresa Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art, and Columbia University art history and archeology professor Kellie Jones.

On Tuesday, the Hood held the first public event associated with the exhibit, a lecture by African and African-American studies professor Reena Goldthree titled “Black Power’s Global Vision: Decolonization Movements in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Her talk focused on connections between the U.S. Black Power Movement and worldwide black liberation movements.

“I hope that people understand the ways in which artists are really crucial contributors to social movements,” Goldthree said. “Art is not something that is derivative of social movements but actually offers its own expansive vision of what’s possible, and I think the ‘Witness’ exhibition demonstrates that.”

Wednesday’s artist talk featured Jae Jarrell, who has two works displayed in the exhibit, and her husband Wadsworth Jarrell. Both are among the founders of AfriCOBRA, a coalition of black artists formed in Chicago in 1968. The urbanity and graffiti that often characterizes AfriCOBRA’s aesthetic shines through in “Urban Wall Suit” (1969) and “Ebony Family,” Jae Jarrell’s contributions to the exhibit.

Thursday’s “A Raisin in the Sun” reading in the Hood will feature a mix of equity actors, Northern Stage Theater actors, Dartmouth students and a local youth, said director Olivia Scott ’13, who works on Northern Stage’s community engagement team. The slightly abridged script will focus on “the hopes and dreams of the family” and “the heart and the relationships” of the characters, she said.

While a reading does not entail the costumes, set or props of a full-scale production, the performance will produce the “same great emotion,” she said.

“When you have a text like ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ you get lost in the words,” she said.

Overall, the “Witness” exhibit includes more than 100 pieces, including paintings, photos and sculptures. It took about two years to organize, Carbone said.

“We really cast a pretty wide net in terms of media,” Carbone said. “We wanted to include the photography that was so important to the civil rights movement.”

Almost every work is from the 1960s, with the exception of a few pieces from the early ’70s, Carbone said, adding that the curators were “very interested in that moment as an entity.”

At the Brooklyn Museum, where “Witness” ran from March 7 through July 13, the exhibit evoked a thoughtful and emotional response, Carbone said.

“A lot of people were really surprised by how many artists did work supporting racial equality,” Carbone said.

Since the winter, Hood staff members have been working to formulate different programming opportunities with the exhibit. In the winter, deputy director Juliette Bianco ’94 and curatorial assistant Jessica Womack ’14 launched student focus groups to hear what students wanted to see in “Witness” and to discuss possible accompanying events.

“When we were putting together the programming, our goal was to think about multiple paths into the material,” Bianco said. “So thinking about what an exhibition has to say for itself, looking at the artwork, but then looking at people’s interests, from a historical point of view, or a sociological point of view, or from watching a play, to help people connect with it on different levels.”

Bianco and Womack also worked to find connections specific to the College to expand upon the works and ground the exhibit at Dartmouth.

Many of the “Witness” events have been planned as part of a partnership with the Tucker Foundation’s “Conversations That Matter” program. Different campus groups, including Greek houses and students involved in the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, have taken part to discuss the artwork’s themes and how pieces connect to their beliefs and values, Womack said.

These programs often begin with a discussion of the successes and unfinished work of the civil rights movement, pointing to the idea that the civil rights movement is not over, Womack said.

“We’ve been very careful when we’ve been talking about the anniversary that it’s marking the anniversary, not celebrating the anniversary,” Bianco said. “We’ve been careful not to use that word in terms of distancing ourselves from any work that needs to continue.”

For Womack, making a safe, productive space for these conversations to take place on campus has been an important goal of the “Witness” programming.

“Using this exhibition and its themes to provide a space for students who really want to engage in these sorts of conversations and to feel ownership over the space is something that is a really big motivator for me,” Womack said.

On Oct. 24 and 25, Jones and Carbone will come to campus for a special celebration. Other upcoming events associated with the show include workshops, lectures and tours.

The exhibit and the events surrounding it have been planned and thought out with the whole Dartmouth community in mind, Womack said, rather than a particular population.

“I hope that students would see that this isn’t just a black American, black Dartmouth student issue,” Womack said. “These programs are not for a specific subset of the Dartmouth community. They really are for everyone, and everyone has a stake in them.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended (Oct. 16, 2014):

The name of "Ebony Family," a piece by JaeJarrell, was misstated as "Beloved Community." The article has been corrected.