Truths and Reckonings: The Art of Transformative Racial Justice

In Truths and Reckonings, a Teaching Gallery opening in Spring 2020 at Kemper Art Museum, AFAS professor Geoff Ward creates a "pop-up" memorial museum to explore the roles of art works and art spaces in addressing histories of racial violence, their legacies, and the need for repair.

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.

The gallery is designed as a memorial museum. Exemplified by museums addressing histories of the holocaust, enslavement, genocide, and other atrocities, memorial museums aim to “translate the suffering of the past into ethical commitments to creating a better future through education and commemoration” (Sodaro, 2018. Exhibiting Atrocity, p. 4). Truths and Reckonings is thus an 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 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 objects accessed through Special Collections at Washington University Library, 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 first-year seminar “Monumental Anti-Racism.”  The exhibition is open to the public and will include a public lecture and panel discussion. 

The exhibition will open February 7, 2020 and run through April 19, 2020. Admission is free and open to the public. Contact Dr. Ward via email about the possibility of a gallery tour.

Image credits:

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. 

Kara Walker (American, b. 1969), The Bush, Skinny, De-boning (Edition No. 19), 2002. Stainless steel, painted black, 29/100.  Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. Peter Norton Collection, 2015.

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