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Arts / Museums

Black Lives Matter Gets a Foothold in Houston

Racism, the Police and Stereotypes Spotlighted By Fearless Museum

BY Shreya Muchimilli // 01.25.16

“The Abolitionists: Different Eyes Seeing the Same Reality,” on exhibit now at the Houston Museum of African American Culture, probes one of the most powerful and troubling topics of today from the art-world perspective. Coupled with “As Small As A Giant,” the shows at HMAAC explore racial discord and violence sparked by history and current events.

“The Abolitionists” has three major components. A highlight is the series by Ti-Rock Moore, who went public with her multimedia protest works on racism in 2014. The second portion comes courtesy of Clay Bennett’s racially charged political cartoons. The last element screens a video of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s political discourse on racial inequality, sampled from her website.  

Ti-Rock Moore is a white activist whose criticism of oppression drives her work. Her first solo show, “Confronting Truths: Wake Up!,” debuted in Chicago in 2015; the 50-piece exhibit gained national and international attention. Much of her work employs images of the American flag, Christ or a cross, the shackles of slavery, and the Ku Klux Klan. One of Moore’s artistic influences is Andy Warhol: She used saltine crackers as a metaphor for a play on words involving an offensive term that refers to Caucasians. 

Clay Bennett, a white cartoonist, adds a media component to “The Abolitionists” exhibit. Seemingly light and playful, the work investigates the effects of racism in modern American society. Consider his take on a chessboard: The white queen, wearing what seems to be a police officer’s hat, has defeated the black pawns, who lay on the ground around her. Works such as this earned Bennett a Pulitzer Prize in 2002.

Social and racial unrest continues to plague America, and the Black Lives Matter movement is responding to both. The HMAAC’s second-story galleries offer an homage to the movement with an exhibition entitled “As Small As A Giant.” On display are various artists who offer us a better understanding of African-American culture. Thuggee Life, a piece by Dominic R. Clay, the curator of the show and assistant curator of the museum, investigates stereotypes of African-Americans.

“This show is the only place where the national Black Lives Matter conversation has been had in Houston over a two-month period, not the sporadic programs and events that have dotted here and there our local public landscape,” says art collector, filmmaker, and activist John Guess Jr. 

 The Abolitionists: Different Eyes Seeing the Same Reality” and “As Small As A Giant” run through January 30, 2016.

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