WAMU 88.5 : News

Filed Under:

National Gallery Of Art Exhibit Touches On Region's Sordid History With Slavery

Play associated audio
"Bang" (1994) by Kerry James Marshall.
Image courtesy of National Gallery of Art
"Bang" (1994) by Kerry James Marshall.

The National Gallery of Art is running an exhibit connected with this weekend's March on Washington, and it delves into the region's sordid history with slavery.

When you walk into The Tower of the National Gallery, you're confronted with two of Americas most lauded presidents overseeing their sprawling Virginia plantations—dotted with little black specks. Those indistinguishable dots mark the hundreds of slaves George Washington and Thomas Jefferson "owned."

As marchers walk past the gallery this weekend many won't venture inside to remember the struggle for basic freedom that preceded the civil rights movement, but artist Kerry James Marshall says the two can't be separated.

"Yeah, there is a history and that history actually matters because you can see ways in which that history has impacts on the way people are operating in the world today. On some level a lack of knowledge of that history means that you are more vulnerable to being used and/or dismissed and marginalized," he says.

The nation's slave roots are also depicted in Marshall's portrayal of the Middle Passage, where formerly free men were plucked from Africa and herded onto ships that themselves became death chambers for countless men, women and children.

Marshall is the first living African American to have a show at the National Gallery, an honor he's using to stir uncomfortable conversations about topics that often hover just outside of today's discussions about racial politics.

"Looking at a history of a people who have been enslaved always leads to the same sort of outcome, I think, and part of it is shame. And that shameful, sort of, reality is something a lot of black folks don t want to be reminded of, and don t want to be associated with," he explains.

Curator James Meyer says he wanted the exhibit up during the anniversary of the march because Marshall raises the same questions about black economic and political participation raised by civil rights leaders a half century ago.

The exhibit is scheduled to be up until December.


Patti Smith Reveals Her Solitary Soul In The 'M Train'

Smith follows up to her National Book Award-winning memoir, Just Kids, with another memoir, M Train. Critic Maureen Corrigan says it is a haunting story about weathering life's storms.

Sunpreme: The Grape That Could Revolutionize The Raisin Industry

Harvesting grapes usually takes thousands of workers. But a new raisin grape variety bred in Central California could dramatically cut down on the need for labor.
WAMU 88.5

The Realities And Possibilities Of Eating Well On $4 A Day

Some see the so-called "food stamp challenge" as one that builds empathy, others see it as a publicity stunt. We consider the realities -- and possibilities -- of eating well on $4 a day.

WAMU 88.5

Environmental Outlook: Lessons From Israel's Search For Water

For this month's Environmental Outlook: Ten years ago, Israel experienced a prolonged drought that forced the country to come up with a strategy to address water scarcity. What its experience could teach an increasingly water-starved planet.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.