McColl Center for Art + Innovation, Charlotte, NC
January 27–March 25, 2017
The World is a Mirror of My Freedom was organized in response to the increasingly visible violence against Black bodies in the United States. Since 2012, people across the country have protested the killings of Black boys and men—often at the hands of police—and the systems that uphold violence and oppression. The stories of the recently deceased (including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Keith Lamont Scott, to name only a few) have become synonymous with a social movement and the era. Bringing together works from five of McColl Center’s current and alumni artists-in-residence (AIR), this exhibition offers some answers to these questions: How are artists aesthetically addressing these recurring tragedies and the traumatic spectacle of lifeless Black bodies? How are the public outcries for justice and change mirrored in art, now?
This exhibition takes as its starting point Intergalactic Soul, a multimedia project by the Charlottean artist duo Marcus Kiser and Jason Woodberry (2016–17 AIR). Begun in response to the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Intergalactic Soul combines the artists’ mutual love of comic books, science fiction, and hip-hop music with their perspectives on the plight of Black American men. Works by the artists Shaun Leonardo (2010 AIR), Dread Scott (2013 AIR), and Charles E. Williams (2015 AIR) further examine race and power, linking contemporary media and movements to histories of tyranny and resistance.
Artists have long addressed racial injustice, articulating their struggles and hopes as they hold up a mirror to society. “An artist's duty is to reflect the times,” said the singer and civil-rights activist Nina Simone, some fifty years ago. Simone’s words remain relevant, resonating with this exhibition and the political climate: “At this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved . . . We will shape and mold this country, or it will not be molded and shaped at all.” As we cross the threshold into a new presidency, let us remember what artists and art can do when our lives feel endangered or devalued: bear witness to human experience and reassert our full humanity. —Nicole J. Caruth