Exploring the Power of Language: Black Writing Exhibition at Spencer Museum of Art Showcases the Intersection of Visual Art and Literature

Sugarcane Magazine / May 11, 2023 / by Elaine Gonzalez / Go to Original

The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas is set to open a new exhibition titled “Black Writing” on August 19th. The exhibit will showcase the power, politics, and complexities of language in contemporary Black culture through new and recent works by artists like Paul Stephen Benjamin, Bethany Collins, Jamal Cyrus, Stephanie Dinkins, Carrie Schneider, Dread Scott, and a new commission by Fahamu Pecou. The exhibition will be on view until January 7th, 2024, and is curated by Ayesha Hardison and Joey Orr.

The exhibition is developed in partnership with the History of Black Writing (HBW), a significant research project on KU’s campus that supports the recovery, preservation, study, and circulation of literature by Black writers. The exhibit will also include a reading room featuring works by Langston Hughes, live readings, and speaking programs, and documentary media capturing and exploring the development of HBW. Another gallery at the Spencer will include works from its collection by artists whose practices engage with related themes, including Aaron Douglas, Glenn Ligon, Adrian Piper, and Betye Saar.

Black Writing aims to showcase the dynamic relationship between visual and literary arts and the ways in which artists leverage language to empower, heal, question, resist, and create moments of meaning and care. The exhibit reflects the Spencer’s commitment to amplifying underrepresented voices and embedding the visual arts within cross-disciplinary research practices to encourage different ways of learning and connecting with the public.

The exhibition is set to include a large-scale installation by artist Paul Stephen Benjamin titled “Black is Beautiful,” which features two monumental, black-painted walls with the phrase “Black is Beautiful” applied in black vinyl across several rows on each wall. The exhibit also features Stephanie Dinkins’s “Not The Only One,” an ongoing experiment that creates a multi-generational memoir of a Black family, as told through Artificial Intelligence (AI). Fahamu Pecou will also be presenting his large-scale paintings that embrace and interpret passages from Octavia Butler’s book “Parable of the Sower” through the lens of his artistic practice.

The Spencer Museum of Art hopes that this exhibition will bring together educational, research, and community values in the space of the Museum, and enable visitors to connect with lesser-known works of Langston Hughes and the Black writing community. The exhibition is a celebration of HBW’s 40th anniversary, and it aims to examine the power of language in visual culture and its relationship to the world of writing.