Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties

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Political Wardrobe by: Joe Jerrell

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Brooklyn Museum brings “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties” to New York. The exhibition, which features the work of 66 artists, exposes visitors to a mix of graphics, painting, sculpture, photography, music and documentary pieces from the era’s movement and serves up a diverse mix of culture, from Latin America to Africa.

black bathroom

Photo: Jim Dine ( Black Bathroom #2)

Among the many standout pieces featured in the exhibit is Jim Dine’s “Black Bathroom #2” (1962).  In this work, Dine creates a play on segregated bathrooms, which at the time were labeled “White” or “Colored.” Blurring these lines, he poses a white porcelain sink on a white canvas, with black paint scribbled all around the sink. He didn’t care about “black,” “white” or segregation he thought of people as humans that just wanted to use the bathroom. Another work worth noting is a powerful abstraction that represents the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., Sam Gilliam’s “Red April”.  This work on canvas walks us through the day that King was assassinated. The ivory canvas, reveals splatters of smothered yellows, blues, and greens in the background. On the top is the red. The red is symbolic of the blood shed on the day of his death. The mustard-y, tarnished hues behind it embody the life that King lived on this earth and the peace that he encouraged all of us to grasp; explained by Professor Kellie Jones.   Traveling around the corner we are met with the “Black is Beautiful” compilation. Barkley L. Hendricks created “Lawdy Mama” in the 70s. This piece inspired is depiction of Angela Davis; robust afro blooming from her scalp, stoic expression that reads security and un-yielding strength. However, this oil on gold leaf canvas was meant to represent the everyday black women that radiated virtue and agility during this time.

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Photo via: Studio museum

These artist, told real life stories through a multitude of visuals such as, the L.A. Watts Rebellion of 1965,  New Jemima freedom movement, and  the Nina Simone multi media video player billowing “Mississippi God Damn.” At the tail-end of the expo are displays of political garments that activist and artist Joe Jerrell constructed in Chicago during the Civil Rights movement. She decided to wear her freedom and relinquish oppression. Fashion propelled Jerrell forward and helped her get the word out.

The exhibition ended on July 13, 2014  and I have yet to find what state it will grace next. In case you find it before I do, grab a friend and absorb American History through the lens of the  Museum chroniclers.

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**More political wardrobe: Joe Jerrell**



by: JoBell


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