This passed week, I was able to attend the Utah Museum of Fine Arts black exhibition, “Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem.” The exhibition is nearly a century of creative achievements by artists of African descent, featuring one hundred works by nearly eighty artists from the 1920s to the present. The Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah is one of six venues in the United States to host Black Refractions, which is the first exhibition of its kind ever presented in Utah.
Whitney Tassie, senior curator and curator of modern and contemporary art at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts says, “While the included artists are renowned across the world, an exhibition like this has never come to Utah, so it’s a remarkable opportunity for the UMFA to introduce these important artists and highlight their diverse stories, practices, and perspectives. The UMFA has an ongoing commitment to collecting and exhibiting more works by artists of color, whose stories many museums have historically marginalized. This special exhibition is transparent about the barriers that Black artists have faced, including exclusionary practices in cultural institutions, and by celebrating the Studio Museum’s mission and the great work of these artists, it posits new ways of working.”
This amazing multifaceted project is uniquely possible through the use of The Studio Museum in Harlem’s expansive and acclaimed collection. The Studio Museum is internationally known for its catalytic role in promoting the work of artists of African descent. “Over the past fifty years, The Studio Museum in Harlem has played a catalytic role across the United States and the world in advancing the work of visual artists of African descent,” said Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum.
The exhibition displays some of the most creative works by some of my favorite artists like Kehinde Wiley! Kehinde Wiley is a painter known for his distinctive portraits, one notably of President Obama. His works truly inspires me so when I saw the Conspicuous Fraud Series #1 (Eminence), it truly caught hold of me! From the dark cloud, closed eyes, to the red tie with the blue suit, this art depicts so many aspects of the American black man breaking through to be seen as symbolically powerful.
Another favorite is Chakaia Booker, Repugnant Rapunzel (Let Down Your Hair), it’s black rubber tires and metal being sculpted into such a beautiful masterpiece; just as black life. Repugnant Rapunzel (Let Down Your Hair), with its gnarled tire knot leading to a thick rubber braid, puts a dark spin on the classic fairy tale by suggesting that there is hardship interspersed with beauty. For sculptor Chakaia Booker, repurposed rubber tires carry a range of cultural, historical, and visual associations, including textiles, African-American hair culture, physical aging, consumerism, and capitalism. While alluding to the rubber industry’s reliance on exploited African labor, this work also encourages viewers to reflect on their position within a system that renders people and resources expendable.
I’m not going to showcase all of the artwork that is displayed at the “Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem.” The exhibition will be on view Saturday, January 23 through Saturday, April 10, 2021. A special members-only preview is scheduled for Friday, January 22. Be sure to check the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah for more information.
Article Cover Art: Barkley L. Hendricks, Lawdy Mama, 1969, oil and gold leaf on canvas. The Studio Museum in Harlem; gift of Stuart Liebman, in memory of Joseph B. Liebman, 1983.25. © Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks. Courtesy of the artist’s estate, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and American Federation of Arts.
Article written by Editor-In-Chief, Tunisha Brown
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