Current Exhibits

1865: Out of the Ashes
Assassination, Reconstruction, and Healing the Nation


January 19 – July 31, 2015

Join us for our fifth and final exhibition in our series commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This exhibition focuses on the aftermath of President Lincoln’s assassination, the rehabilitation and restoration of the South and efforts twoard moving the coountry into a unified whole.

More information (PDF)

Kara Walker: Juxtaposition
Contemporary Specters and Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War


January 19 – July 31, 2015

A collection of images on loan from Mount Holyoke College.

In choosing Kara Walker’s series, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) as a partner exhibition to the fifth and final exhibition commemorating the Civil War, our objective was to pose questions to our audience about the legacy of the Civil War, its continued effects and how we view them today.

Kara Walker’s work has been controversial creating dialogue among historians, artists, scholars and audiences where ever it has been on exhibition. John R. Stomberg, Director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum writes in the introduction to the exhibition catalogue:

“To some extent, the volatility of the critical responses to Walker’s art derives from her unwillingness to allow viewers a pass on taking responsibility for the world she depicts. In her work, she places oppositional forces-Union and confederate, black and white, armed and unarmed, slave and plantation owner, man and woman-in close proximity where they wait on the viewer for activation. She invokes stereotypes at every turn, resurrecting imagery long buried for many viewers. For every stereotype, there must be a viewer capable of recognizing that stereotype. The viewer is implicated not just in the viewing process but in the system that propagates the stereotype. …She is concerned with the productive-if oblique-juxtaposing of images. Like the silhouette itself, she gives viewers the outlines, but counts on their imaginations to fill in the details.”

Professor Elizabeth Young from Mount Holyoke College contributed to the exhibition catalogue with her insights:

“In a recent interview, Walker noted, ‘Making work that connects to Gone with the Wind or The Clansman (the novel that formed the basis for Birth of a Nation) is a matter of weaving fictions around other fictions-trying, by subversive means, to approach another truth.’ So too with her annotations to Harper’s: the emphasis is not on creating a factual counter-narrative of war, but on weaving an alternate ‘pictorial history,’ one that includes the original along with the new work, and exposes it as another kind of fiction-incomplete, disembodied, and restrained. In Walker’s interwoven ‘annotations,’ the war is reanimated, made messy and strange, by the bold shapes of black silhouette bodies in motion. …Indeed, the ultimate Civil War in Walker’s series may be the internal conflict within these works, between harper’s scenes and her own silhouettes. This possibility is most vividly realized in those works whose silhouettes have internal cut-outs that allow some of the Harper’s image to show through, such as Foote’s Gun Boats, Pack Mules in the Mountains, and especially Exodus of Confederates from Atlanta. In Exodus, the silhouette imposes the portrait of a child’s head, facing right, over the Harper’s image, but that silhouette is then opened up to a left-facing second portrait of an adult man, through which the Harper’s image also appears. In addition to transforming the Civil War military portrait, these works generate internal tensions-symbolic civil wars-between Walker’s ‘annotations’ and Harper’s original. The Harper’s image operates as both background landscape and interior portrait; at the same time, its content-white Confederates fleeing Atlanta as the Union Army arrives -provides an historical template of conflict and inversion, actions that symbolically characterize this work as a whole. Here as elsewhere, Walker’s ‘annotated’ Harper’s series creates civil wars whose reverberations-like that of the Civil War upon which she draws-continue to respond.”

We invite you to participate in this exhibition by sharing your thoughts and questions which arise from viewing the content of “Out of the Ashes” and Kara Walker’s “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated). Please visit the kiosk in the center of the gallery to pose a question, make a statement or share a thought.

Read more about our exhibits in Museum News.

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