Exhibition

Truths and Reckonings: The Art of Transformative Racial Justice

February 7, 2020 - April 19, 2020
Teaching Gallery

Truths and Reckonings: The Art of Transformative Racial Justice explores how art and art institutions contribute to transitional justice by confronting histories of racist violence and their legacies today. Transitional justice aims to free political culture from the trappings of the past, but requires that aggressors and aggrieved confront each other, joining in recognition, reparation, and reconciliation. As a source of constructed racial meanings and related identities and behaviors, art can be implicated in racist violence (cultural, institutional, and interpersonal), but can also promote norms of anti-racism and related social change. Truths and Reckonings is an exploratory intervention into public memory, where artworks and objects on display grapple with difficult truths—relating to colonialism, enslavement, lynching, and their legacies—bearing witness to their harms and facilitating the processing of traumas we embody and reproduce. 

The installation brings a selection of artworks that address racism from the Kemper Art Museum’s collection—including Rashid Johnson’s Thurgood in the Hour of Chaos (2009) and Kara Walker and Klaus Bürgel’s Golddigger (2003)—into conversation with selected objects from the Washington University Libraries, such as Thomas Nast’s 1864 political cartoon “Compromise with the South” and the Documenting Ferguson digital archive. Drawing on the Museum’s ability to shape understandings of history, including relations between time and place, this installation considers how critical artworks and their presentation facilitate reckoning with the presence of the past and contribute to repair.

Truths and Reckonings: The Art of Transformative Racial Justice is curated by Geoff Ward, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of African and African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences, in conjunction with his seminar and practicum “Histories of Racial Violence, Legacies, and Reckonings” in spring and fall 2019. 

Image credit

Rashid Johnson (American, b. 1977), Thurgood in the Hour of Chaos, from the portfolio America America, 2009. Photolithograph, 29 5/8 x 22". Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. Gift of Exit Art, 2013. 

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