New partnership explores art collections of Tougaloo College and Mississippi Museum of Art
The Mississippi Museum of Art and Tougaloo College are presenting Now: The Call and Look of Freedom, the inaugural exhibition of the Art and Civil Rights Initiative through May 15, 2018. The Initiative, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and launched in December 2017, is a multi-layered, multi-year partnership that leverages the art collections of both institutions to foster community dialogue and interpretation about civil rights issues, past and present.
Now: The Call and Look of Freedom is on view at the Tougaloo College Art Gallery in The Bennie G. Thompson Academic & Civil Rights Research Center. It is the first in a series of four exhibitions over two years drawing from the collections of the College and the Museum to be mounted alternatively at both institutions. The exhibition is curated by LaTanya Autry, Curator of Art & Civil Rights, a joint position she holds with the College and the Museum.
"When many people think of black freedom, they recall documentary-style photography of black people at marches or black people being victimized by police or dogs,” said Autry. "Now challenges these typical conceptions by highlighting a range of visual representations. Protest imagery is important, of course, but freedom also involves people enjoying their lives. We must always also consider images of black people living and thriving when we discuss freedom."
In commemoration of the 1960s rally cry “Freedom Now” and the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Now: The Call and Look of Freedom spotlights the urgency, self-determination, and hope of the African American liberation movement through the visual arts. The exhibition underscores the interrelationship of past and current civil and human rights struggles. Now features works of art by leading figures whose careers have centered on the African American experience, such as Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Betye Saar, and Ernest Withers, as well as expressions by younger artists.
“The Now exhibition provides a more holistic perspective of freedom, using a wide range of visual images,” said Dr. Beverly Wade Hogan, President of Tougaloo College. “It causes one to think deeply about the simple quest – not only of African Americans but of all people – to live freely in their reach for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Artworks from the Tougaloo Art Collection include Like I Am, a pen drawing by Benny Andrews from the 1967 publication I Am the Darker Brother; a Tracy Sugarman linocut depicting newly registered voters and protest signage in Cleveland, Mississippi in 1964; and an abstract expressionist painting by Alma Thomas titled Red Atmosphere. In conversation with these works are pieces from the collection of the Museum, including quilts by Gwendolyn Magee from 2001 and Hystercine Rankin from 1992; an Ernest Withers gelatin silver print of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. at the Lorraine Motel, 1966; and a contemporary portrait of Myrlie Evers, the widow of slain Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers, painted by Jason Bouldin in 2013 to coincide with the 50-year commemoration of Evers’ assassination. Depictions of activist Fannie Lou Hamer, author Margaret Walker Alexander, and unnamed African Americans engaged in everyday activities offer further depth to the exhibition’s thesis.
As the exhibition explores the abrupt yet protracted nature of this “now,” it highlights issues of identity, power, and the profound desire to live freely. The exhibition wall text reads, in part, “These artists reveal how many of us have and continue to negotiate moments of crisis in order to, as author James Baldwin charged, ‘make freedom real.’”
“This exhibition echoes the 1960s calls for ‘Freedom Now’ with an immediacy that reverberates into our contemporary moment,” said Betsy Bradley, Director of the Mississippi Museum of Art. “And these artworks remind us that the pursuit of freedom is not only about collective protest, but about enduring self-discovery and self-expression. It is a fitting inauguration of the Art & Civil Rights Initiative, a partnership that embraces courageousness of the past to inspire collaboration for the future.”
Now: The Call and Look of Freedom is free and open to the public.
For more information about the Mississippi Museum of Art's exhibitions, programs, and special events, call 601-960-1515 or visit www.msmuseumart.org.