Contemporary Art Series Tells Story of the Civil Rights Movement


BIRMINGHAM, Ala., March 19, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Nearly fifty years after a bomb blast killed six children on a warm Sunday in Birmingham, the Birmingham Museum of Art plans to memorialize the Civil Rights Movement by showcasing contemporary art as a channel for dialogue surrounding the subjects of race, identity, activism, and equality. The series, Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward will present five different projects, displayed in various media including performance and digital art, photography, painting, and sculpture by world-renowned artists Theaster Gates, Shinique Smith, Jefferson Pinder, Dawoud Bey, and Hank Willis Thomas many others.

"While the landscape has changed, the Civil Rights Movement is forever engrained in the social and cultural identity of our nation. When addressing such an important, but complex reality, art can serve as a transformative channel of communication," says R. Hugh Daniel Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Gail Andrews. "Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward is truly unprecedented, as each of these projects tells vivid stories of the Movement in ways in which it has never been told."

The Birmingham Museum of Art presents Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward in conjunction with a city-wide commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham.

"As a child in the early 1960's, I was only allowed admission to the Birmingham Museum of Art one day a week," says Birmingham Mayor, William A. Bell. "Today, as a result of the progress we have made as a community and as a nation, it fills me with pride to present, as the Mayor of Birmingham, a powerful contemporary art series about history's most commanding catalyst for social change, the Civil Rights Movement, by some of the world's most brilliant artists. It is our hope that these art projects will contribute to the further progress of our society as we continue to understand and accept one another."

The series of projects is the result of a curatorial collaboration between its curator of contemporary art, Ron Platt, and Jeffreen Hayes, PhD, the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow of African American Art.

"We are so fortunate to have this super star roster of contemporary artists coming from around the world to Birmingham to share their reflections of the Movement," continues Andrews. "Each artist has created his or her work within the context of the Birmingham community, which is incredibly poignant. These themes, however, are applicable to modern day human rights across the globe."

Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward Projects:

Theaster Gates Performance: April 25 -- Tis So Sweet Or I Need Sugar Lawd

Performance and visual artist Theaster Gates will imagine for this performance talk a set of musical encounters that examine the relationship between human desire, public ecstasy and artistic practice. With musical support from the Black Monks of Mississippi, Gates will share new stories from the north, old stories from the east, and nearly audible fragments from the eternal. This body of work will be recorded live and will be the basis for Gates' most recent performative endeavor "Songs From the Storefront."

Various Artists : August 18 – November 10 -- Etched In Collective History

Etched in Collective History presents several artists who interrogate, depict, and memorialize the Civil Rights Movement. The Movement inspired a number of artists to participate physically in marches and sit-ins, as well as creatively, through the act of making art. This exhibition acknowledges these artists, the generations that came after, and most importantly, the four young girls— Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley—who died in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

Jefferson Pinder Performance: August 22 – Belly Of The Beast

Artist Jefferson Pinder will orchestrate a vocal duel between a black gospel choir and white bluegrass singers - talking to each other, yet past each other at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham. The Lyric was "integrated," yet the space remained segregated with blacks in the balcony and whites in floor seats. Pinder's performance will not only capture the complexity of segregation but also work as a bridge between communities. It is often stated that music is the great equalizer, and in this performance, the audience will experience the equalizing of "differences." The art performance will acknowledge and celebrate our differences and similarities, serving as a reflection of how far we have come as a society and how far we have to go.

Dawoud Bey Exhibition: September 8 – December 2 – The Birmingham Project

Acclaimed portrait photographer Dawoud Bey presents an exhibition that symbolically commemorates the four young girls whose lives were senselessly lost on September 15, 1963, in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, as well as the two Birmingham boys who lost their lives in the resulting violence that day, Virgil Ware and Johnny Robinson.

To create the portraits, Bey will photograph girls, women, boys and men who presently live in Birmingham. These girls and boys will be the same ages (11, 13, 14, and 16) as the children who lost their lives that day in 1963, and the women and men will be the ages of those boys and girls if they were still alive today. Without specifically referencing these incidents, the project serves as both a memorial to lives lost, and as a message of hope and promise for the future.

Hank Willis Thomas, Chris Johnson, Bayete Ross Smith, Kamal Sinclair Exhibition: October 6 – December 29 – Question Bridge: Black Males

Question Bridge is a trans-media art project that counters established notions of Black masculinity in the United States. The project presents more than three hours of videotaped interviews with several dozen Black men, who are seen on multiple video screens. As a multi-generational and cross-national project, Question Bridge addresses pressing issues that Black men face in the United States. Men from Birmingham are included in this dialogue that encompasses issues of race, class, sexuality, and economic status, asking questions that are political, humorous, painful, and poignant. Visitors are invited to experience an intimate exchange between subjects of the project. The installation creates a platform for participants to represent and redefine Black male identity in America.


Art Speaks: 50 Years Forward is sponsored by Alabama Power Company, Protective Life Foundation, the City of Birmingham Mayor's Office, and Vulcan Materials Company. Additional support for individual exhibitions is provided by Regions Bank and Walter Energy (Etched in Collective History), PNC Bank (The Birmingham Project), and EBSCO Media.

Photos accompanying this release are available at:

CONTACT: Cate McCusker Boehm Director of Marketing and Communications cboehm@artsbma.orgSource:Birmingham Museum of Art