A Site of Struggle

American Art against Anti-Black Violence

August 12 through November 6, 2022

On view in the Atrium, Blackmon, Goldman, Richard, Rushton Stakely, and Weil Galleries

Overview

A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence explores how artists have grappled with the reality of anti-black violence and its accompanying challenges of representation. From the horrors of slavery and lynching, to the violent suppression of civil rights struggles, to recent acts of police brutality, targeted violence has been an ever-present fact of Black lives in the United States, and images of African American suffering and death have constituted an enduring part of the nation’s cultural landscape.

The exhibition and its companion publication will investigate the conceptual and aesthetic strategies artists and activists use to engage with the issue of anti-black violence, highlighting diverse works of art and ephemera from the late nineteenth century to the present day. A Site of Struggle includes artworks in modes from realism to abstraction, and in a range of mediums including photography, painting, sculpture, video, and sound and focuses, primarily, on the underexposed period between the beginning of anti-lynching campaigns in the 1890s and Emmett Till’s murder in 1955, as well as on works made between the 1970s and the founding of Black Lives Matter in 2013. This framing shows that grappling with anti-Black violence has been a consistent, not isolated, feature of American art. Works in the exhibition made after 2013 engage with historical events that happened prior to that date.

Above: Darryl Cowherd, Stop White Police from Killing Us — St. Louis, MO, about 1966–1967, gelatin silver print, 15×19 inches, (c) Darryl Cowherd image courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Photography

The exhibition and its companion publication will investigate the conceptual and aesthetic strategies artists and activists use to engage with the issue of anti-black violence, highlighting diverse works of art and ephemera from the late nineteenth century to the present day.

Organizer

A Site of Struggle is organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, and is curated by Janet Dees, Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Block Museum of Art, with the assistance of Alisa Swindell, Curatorial Research Associate.

Sponsor

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, and by Lynne Jacobs. The related publication is co-published by The Block Museum of Art and Princeton University Press and is supported by Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Sandra L. Riggs Publication Fund.

Local support for this exhibition was provided by sponsors Mr. Will Hill Tankersley and Dr. Kristin Tankersley with additional support from co-sponsors AmeriFirst Bank; Balch & Bingham, LLP; River Bank & Trust, and Valley Bank.

Related Publication

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

Edited by Janet Dees
$39.95


Investigating the conceptual and aesthetic strategies artists have used to engage with the issue of anti-Black violence, A Site of Struggle highlights diverse works of art and ephemera from the post-Reconstruction period of the late nineteenth century to the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement. Foregrounding the perspectives of African American cultural producers, this book examines three major questions: How are graphic portrayals of violence enlisted to protest horrors like lynchings? How have artists employed conceptual strategies and varying degrees of abstraction to avoid literal representations of violence? And how do artists explore violence through subtler engagements with the Black body? Ultimately, A Site of Struggle highlights the ubiquity and impact of anti-Black violence by focusing on its depictions; by examining how art has been used to protest, process, mourn, and memorialize this violence; and by providing the historical context for contemporary debates about its representation.

The book’s essays offer new perspectives from established and emerging scholars working in the fields of African American studies, art history, communications, and history. Contributors include Sampada Aranke, Courtney Baker, Huey Copeland, Janet Dees, Leslie Harris, and LaCharles Ward.

Published by Princeton University Press in association with the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University.

Hardcover
ISBN: 9780691209272
Published (US): January 25, 2022
Pages: 160 | Size: 11×9 inches | Illus: 60 color illustrations

Scroll to Top