Art that grows out of uprisings is important

by Mary Ann McGivern

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"Visualizing Life: Social Justice in Real Time" was exhibited in the art gallery of the Urban League this spring. The Dance St. Louis artistic director asked artist and curator Frieda L. Wheaton to prepare an exhibit at the big performance hall at the University of Missouri St. Louis, the Touhill Center. You can see some of the pictures here and in this 15-minute slide video.

Wheaton is black, and she had just finished curating "Hand Up Don't Shoot," an exhibit that appeared in 18 different St. Louis venues. This time she invited 16 artists and gave them sheets of paper 9 feet by 3 feet to fill the exhibit space. The art is bold and bright -- shocking bullets through the stars of a flag; children dancing; children in gas masks; facing silhouettes; fathers with their children. When the exhibit closed at the university, it moved to the Urban League.

I was going to ask during Wheaton's presentation how the arts community was able to raise funds for two such ambitious displays within the year of Mike Brown's death when Ms. Wheaton said she had received no money for either project. Nor did the artists. Nor did the photographer of the catalogues. A donor printed the catalogues and they are beautiful, but these exhibits were produced out of passion.

In early June Ms. Wheaton was a member of a panel at the Smithsonian Museums in Washington along with curators from the Ukraine and Egypt to talk about the role of museums in exhibiting art that grows out of uprisings. I tell you that to underline that this is important work, fostering and lifting up black artists to tell the truth as they see it. It is as important as passing anti-bias policing legislation.

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