“Show me an archive of language and text from a time – and there is something to be learned about ourselves.”

Bethany Collins (b. 1984) is a multidisciplinary artist using language to explore American history and the nuance of racial and national identities. This exhibition explores America as a place where disparate viewpoints are brought together: America as both longed for and greatly revered.

Previously on view in the context of PEM’s 2019 Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle exhibition, Bethany Collins, America: A Hymnal presents a solo exhibition of Collins’ art as an immersive experience. Explore 100 different versions of the popular patriotic anthem “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” rewritten between the 18th and 20th centuries in support of various American causes. Versions of the lyrics are bound together chronologically in Collins’ artist book, where she burns away the musical notes with a laser — chronicling an idea of America through the history of one song’s varied verses. A range of these powerful voices and expressions are heard throughout the gallery in a sound piece, what Collins calls, “a familiar chaos of dissenting versions of what it means to be …. American bound together.” The gallery is wallpapered with a newly commissioned work of flocked flower silhouettes. Each flower contains a meaning as the artist uses floriography, the symbolic language of flowers, to relay messages of hope, longing and loss to further illustrate the evolution and complexity of American experiences.

In addition to the artwork on view, a study center offers deeper dives into Collins’ artistic approaches and historical sources. Through interactive, PEM collection objects and media components, Bethany Collins, America: A Hymnal inspires us to activate our own civic mindset.

Bethany Collins, America: A Hymnal is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. This exhibition is made possible by the generosity of Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation. We thank James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Chip and Susan Robie and Timothy T. Hilton as supporters of the Exhibition Innovation Fund. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.