Curator Maggie Adler said she began thinking about the Amon Carter Museum of American Art’s upcoming exhibition “Emancipation” in 2019, but, in some ways, the roots of the exhibit extend back 160 years.
“Emancipation: The Unfinished Project of Liberation” asks seven Black, contemporary artists to consider the state of freedom in the United States and respond to John Quincy Adams Ward’s bronze statuette “The Freedman.”
Measuring 20 inches tall, the sculpture was made in 1863, the same year that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves” in rebel-held states “are, and henceforward shall be free,” according to the National Archives.
The statue depicts a Black man on the verge of freedom, with the remnant of a chain in one hand, and a key that unlocks the remaining manacle, or cuff, on his other wrist.
Adler has been interested in the piece for years, but over time, she’s begun to see the work in a new light. As one colleague pointed out, the shackles are broken, but they’re still there.
“The more conversations I’ve had with colleagues and the more I’ve looked at it, I’ve thought about the fact that it’s not aspirational in every context. It’s aspirational for the 19th century, but could use some unpacking in the 21st century, given all the obstacles people in society are facing. That really was the impetus behind the show,” she said.
If you go
What: “Emancipation: The Unfinished Project of Liberation” exhibit
Times: Noon-5 p.m. Sunday
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday
10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Dates: March 12-July 9
Location: Amon Carter Museum of American Art
3501 Camp Bowie Blvd
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Executive Director of the Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane Maurita Poole co-curated the exhibit with Adler.
When looking at the history of the Civil War, people sometimes take for granted that it wasn’t always clear that the country would stay united, Poole said.
“There have always been questions about citizenship and who belongs. So what these artists are able to do is really look at one of the most challenging and transformative periods of our history — and the dreams and very real difficulties African-Americans have had of being incorporated into the nation state as equal citizens,” she explained. “There’s a lot of power to how people contemplate that visually.”
The featured artists, including Fort Worth’s Letitia Huckaby, work with a variety of media from wood to plaster, fabric and tissue paper.
One of the artists, Hugh Hayden, worked with an aerospace company to get a 3D scan of Ward’s statue, so that he could remake and remix his own version with precise measurements, down to the width of a single hair, Adler said.
His piece is titled “American Dream” and features a man, without shackles, sitting on the edge of an Adirondack chair.
The exhibit opens March 12 and will be on view at The Carter through July 9 before it travels to The Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane in New Orleans and the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
“Art really taps into our emotional core, and some of the work is really difficult and rooted in hurt and things that weigh heavily on the heart,” Adler said. “But there are also moments of transcendence that can happen through not really having to articulate things in words, but to articulate things with imagery that operates on a higher plane… Words fail us in the face of historical oppression and contemporary inequalities.”
Poole agreed. Art offers viewers another avenue for processing the world around them.
“Placing some of the issues that we face everyday onto a work allows you to grapple with it, to be confused by it, and to momentarily allow yourself some distance so that questions can be posed and certain assumptions can be reconsidered,” she said. “It’s really one of the best mechanisms to deal with the complexity of human experience, in my opinion, and also particularly histories that are challenging and traumatic and painful.”
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.