Gantt Center Exhibition Puts Resiliency On Display
A new exhibition at the Harvey B. Gantt Center For African-American Arts + Culture wants to show just how important resilience is to Black history.
“Vision & Spirit,” which formally opened to the public Friday, has works by creatives with high profiles, like groundbreaking photographer Gordon Parks and artist Romare Bearden, who grew up in Charlotte. And there are photographs and depictions of giants of American history, too, like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and Muhammad Ali.
But the exhibit, composed of pieces from the Bank of America Collection, is much broader, featuring works from artists and creatives both well-established and emerging.
“Vision & Spirit” has more than 100 pieces from 48 African American artists, including works acquired specifically for the exhibition from Dewey Crumpler, Chelle Barbour, Murray DePillars, Mike Henderson, David Huffman, Corey Pemberton and Raelis Vasquez.
Throughout it all, the theme of “resiliency” shines.
“It’s the idea that if something happens to you, you’re able to get back up and keep moving forward,” Tia Warren, a visitor experience associate, told WFAE on Thursday during a virtual tour of the exhibit. “That is a huge theme in reference to the history of the Black experience in this country. But there’s also another theme of the journey, so the journey that Black people have experienced in this country, whether it be voluntary or involuntary.”
The exhibit features work from artists born in the 19th and 20th centuries, but the images and concepts depicted span an even greater time period. There are pieces that depict the middle passage — the taking of enslaved Africans by boat across the Atlantic — the Underground Railroad and the Great Migration of Black Americans from the South during the Jim Crow era.
“Then we get into that idea of resilience: The Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, and then it kind of ends with the Black arts movement before going into contemporary artists,” Warren said.
The exhibition’s curator, Dexter Wimberly, wrote in an essay about “Vision & Spirit” that he was “inspired by the countless examples of resilience” he found while researching the featured artists.
“While no one knows what the future holds, as a curator I am committed to providing a platform for artists whose work looks forward, contributes to our progress, and guides us toward greater equity and understanding,” Wimberly wrote. “The theme of this exhibition is resilience and how African-American artists have shown this through their work. But what does resilience mean in this context? Is it perseverance? Is it staying power, or is it something much deeper? I think resilience reflects our strength and our humanity.”
People can actually see the exhibit for free — and socially distanced — through March 13. The Gantt is still waiving admission so that anyone can see a first-floor exhibit showcasing images of the Black Lives Matter mural on South Tryon Street from this summer as well as local images and video from the 2020 protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
“As we witness seismic shifts in American life that will undoubtedly have an impact on future art-making, ‘Vision & Spirit’ gives us a peek into the seminal events of the past that led us to where we are today,” Gantt President and CEO David Taylor wrote. “To see these moments in time from our present day vantage point gives me hope that our current challenges will one day seem just as evidential of how far we have come.”
You can learn more at ganttcenter.org.