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How do artists address anti-Black violence? How have artists navigated decisions to include – or refuse – literal representations of this violence in their work? Held in conjunction with A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence, artists Laylah Ali and Bethany Collins will explore these questions as they discuss their art and practice, and broader considerations presented when making work that explores historical and contemporary incidences of racial trauma and violence.
Conversation moderated by LaCharles Ward, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
This program is generously supported by The Alumnae of Northwestern University’s Academic
Laylah Ali is a visual artist whose main focus over her career has been paintings and drawings, though she has also worked in performance and online media. The precision with which Ali creates her small, figurative paintings on paper is such that it takes her many months to complete a single work. She has described her work as dealing “with the amalgam of race, power, gendering, ambition, human frailty, murky politics, and the other complex combinations that we so often treat as separate entities.” Her most recent series of acrylic and gouache paintings is “The Acephalous series.” Ali’s works are included in the permanent collections of numerous public institutions, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis among many others. Ali has been the recipient of numerous honors including the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant, United States Artists Fellowship, William H. Johnson Prize, and Institute of Contemporary Art Boston Artist Prize. Her work and process were highlighted in season 3 of the acclaimed PBS Art21 series.
BETHANY COLLINS (b. 1984 Montgomery, AL) lives and works in Chicago, IL. Collins received an MFA from Georgia State University in Atlanta, GA and a BA from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Upcoming and recent solo museum exhibitions include presentations at the Frist Art Museum, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, CAM St. Louis, The University of Kentucky Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. Upcoming and recent group exhibitions include presentations at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Speed Art Museum, Zimmerli Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, The Renaissance Society, Peabody Essex Museum, Seattle Art Museum, The Phillips Collection and the Smart Museum, among many others. Her work is included in the public collections of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Block Museum of Art, Morgan Library & Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Peabody Essex Museum, The Smart Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Davidson College, University of Chicago, University of Virginia Special Collections Library and Yale University Library. Collins has received numerous awards including: Artadia Award: Chicago; Public Humanities Practitioner-in-Residence at Davidson College; Artist Fellowship Award, Illinois Arts Council Agency; The Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and the Hudgens Prize. Collins was also an artist residence at The MacDowell Colony and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Photo Credit: Images courtesy of the artist and PATRON Gallery, Chicago. Photography by Chris Edward.
LaCharles Ward, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. He is a cultural theorist whose research spans the areas of Black visual culture as theory and method, art and aesthetic practices, film and media, history and theories of photography, and law. Ward’s book project, Black Forensis: Evidence, Visuality, and the Aesthetics of Black Life, examines the seemingly fixed but mercurial notion of “evidence” as it is brought into relation with anti-Blackness, Black death, and Black life. He received his PhD in Rhetoric and Public Culture from Northwestern University.
About the Exhibition
How has art been used to protest, process, mourn, and memorialize anti-Black violence within the United States?
Originating at Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art A Site of Struggle explores how artists have engaged with the reality of anti-Black violence and its accompanying challenges of representation in the United States over a 100 + year period.
Images of African American suffering and death have constituted an enduring part of the nation’s cultural landscape, and the development of creative counterpoints to these images has been an ongoing concern for American artists. A Site of Struggle takes a new approach to looking at the intersection of race, violence, and art by investigating the varied strategies American artists have used to grapple with anti-Black violence, ranging from representation to abstraction and from literal to metaphorical. The exhibition focuses on works created between the 1890s and 2013—situating contemporary artistic practice within a longer history of American art and visual culture. It foregrounds African Americans as active shapers of visual culture and highlights how art has been used to protest, process, mourn, and memorialize anti-Black violence.