Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

02/26/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/26/2021 09:07

Black History Art and Book Pairings

Emma Amos painted The Reader, like so many of us at one time or another, curled up with a book to read. Amos painted this self-portrait during the 1960s with bright blocks of color and loose brushstrokes. The Reader is one of a suite of works she referred to as her 'attitude paintings,' foregrounding her interest in abstraction and color as it relates to the Black female body.

This painting inspired our Curatorial and Education teams to reflect and pair books that are meaningful to them with artwork by Black artists at Crystal Bridges. What have you been reading to stay grounded but also feel pleasure?

(left) Jacob Lawrence, People in Other Rooms (Harlem Street Scene), 1975, 24 1/2 x 18 1/2 in., screen print on paper, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2010.54; (right) Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, Vintage Random House, 2011.

Wilkerson's book drew me in immediately. This non-fiction book reads like a novel, telling the story of Ida Mae, George, and Robert Pershing on their epic journey from the South to new lives in the North and West.

In the 1940s, Jacob Lawrence painted his epic 60-panels series of The Great Migration (collection of MoMA and Phillips Collection). Lawrence's family had moved from the rural South to the North as part of the Great Migration. He was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and when he was 13, his family moved to Harlem. People in Other Rooms shows the traditionally black neighborhood of Harlem, where we see glimpses of men, women, and children going about their daily lives against the familiar backdrop of an American street.

-Mindy N. Besaw, curator, American art and director of fellowships and research

2. Frederick Douglass / Arthur Ashe Urn by Roberto Lugo

(left) Roberto Lugo, Frederick Douglass / Arthur Ashe Urn, 2017, porcelain, china paint, and gold luster, 18 x 11 x 11 in., Collection of Mark McDonald and Dwayne Resnick. Image by KeneK. Photography courtesy of Wexler Gallery. ; (right) Barack Obama, A Promised Land, Crown Random House, 2020.

This vase, created by Roberto Lugo, is not in the collection but is currently on view in the museum's temporary exhibition Crafting America. Looking at this depiction of Frederick Douglass, one of the most soaring and gifted memoirists of the nineteenth century, I think of the sense of hope and depth of humanity I feel as I read former President Barack Obama's latest memoir A Promised Land. Both men agitated the American conscience through the power of the written and spoken word.

-Danielle Hatch, museum educator, public programs

3. Ourlando by Jordan Casteel

(left) Jordan Casteel, Ourlando, 2018, 90 in. × 78 1/8 in. × 1 1/2 in., oil on canvas, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2019.16; (right) bell hooks, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity, Routledge, 2003.

bell hooks found a way to talk to me early on through her literature about art and being Black. Over the years I've returned to this book, and others by her as well, to remind myself how far I've come and how much further I have to go. I have a similar feeling looking at Jordan Casteel's Ourlando.

This painting by Jordan Casteel, which centers a suit shop owner on 125th Street in Harlem, reminds me to 'resist stereotypes and false narratives about Black men in the United States,' as Casteel does the same in her work. I'm reminded that Black men are not a monolith.

-Jayson Overby, Jr., curatorial assistant, contemporary art

Pair it with: How to Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes

(left) Diedrick Brackens, a year of negotiations, 2019, 52 1/2 in. × 53 in. × 5/8 in., woven cotton and acrylic yarn, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2020.13; (right) Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn, Penguin Random House, 2015.

Terrance Hayes meditates on blind contour drawing and blind heroism in his collection of poems How to Be Drawn. His suspenseful poem 'How to Draw a Perfect Circle' reminds me of the ambiguous human and serpent-like silhouettes in Diedrick Brackens's work, a year of negotiations. Similar to how Hayes uses words to abstract the artist's body in his poem, Diedrick Brackens weaves tapestries that exist between figuration and abstraction, often engaging with histories that resonate with his experience as a gay Black man in the United States.

-Larissa Randall, curatorial assistant, American art

(left) Deborah Roberts, He looks like me, 2019, 59 7/8 × 48 in., mixed media on panel, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2019.31; (right) Chelsea Clinton, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, Penguin Random House, 2017.

'Each child has character and agency to find their own way amidst the complicated narratives of American, African American, and art history.' - Deborah Roberts

For me, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton highlights the importance of showing children the impact they can make in the world. Children shape the future and help create a more inclusive world for all people, regardless of their experiences.

He looks like me by Deborah Roberts inspired my book selection (and vice versa). At first, it was the two children in the artwork that intrigued me to think about our young readers. But as I explored Roberts's work more and discussed it with my colleagues, we learned that He looks like me, is a departure from the artist's typical subject matter. In the work, Roberts depicts George Stinney Jr., an African American 14-year-old wrongfully convicted and executed for the murder of two white girls in 1944 in Alcolu, South Carolina. Roberts used his mugshot, the only documented image of Stinney Jr., and renders him standing alongside a duplicate of himself. Our conversations about He looks like me make me think of She Persisted and how, as an adult, it is so important to speak up for oneself and stay in touch with one's inner child.

-Nupur Sachdeva, associate museum educator, guide programs

This is the first of many virtual moments developed in collaboration between the Curatorial and Education teams. We are working together in a fun and casual way to bring new content and opinions to our audiences, and help you get to know the people behind the museum's labels, tours, and programs a bit better. They are, in my opinion, some of the most creative and knowledgeable people you'll ever meet! -Mindy Besaw