“Reminding us that the past does matter: it reverberates in our present”
The first stop on the national tour of the landmark exhibition Whitfield Lovell: Passages is in South Florida at the Boca Raton Museum of Art (February 15 – May 21), and will continue across six states throughout the American South and the Midwest.
This is the largest exhibition ever presented of Lovell’s work that focuses on lost African American history, and raises universal questions about America’s collective heritage.
Organized by the American Federation of Arts (AFA) in collaboration with the artist, the exhibition is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Terra Foundation for American Art, and encompasses the entire first floor galleries of the Boca Raton Museum of Art (7,500 square feet). This is the first time these multi-sensory installations by Lovell are presented together in a museum-wide show of this monumental size and scope.
“These installations create a profound immersive experience that enables visitors to become participants in, not just observers of, the experience of these ancestors who were lost to time,” says Pauline Forlenza, the Director and CEO of American Federation of Arts. “Together, these works convey passages between bondage, freedom, and socioeconomic independence, promoting a deeper connection with African American histories through art.
An exhibition of this magnitude would not be possible without the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the six museums selected for this tour.”
Lovell is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Genius Grant, and is recognized as one of the world’s leading artistic interpreters of lost African American history. The internationally acclaimed artist is celebrated for his exquisitely hand-drawn, portraits (many are life-sized), drawn with Conté crayons, from historic photos he finds of anonymous individuals), which the artist combines with his intuitive assemblage of time-worn objects to raise universal questions about memory, American life, and reclaiming lost history that had been erased.
The works in this exhibition are anchored by images of everyday African Americans, from the 1860s to the 1950s (between the Emancipation Proclamation and the start of the Civil Rights Movement), a period of time the artist feels has been overlooked by the art world. “I see the so-called ‘anonymous’ people in these vintage photographs as being stand-ins for the ancestors I will never know,” says Whitfield Lovell. “I see history as being very much alive. One day, 100 years from now, people will be talking about us as history. The way I think about time is very different – I don’t think it really was very long ago that these things happened, it wasn’t that long ago that my grandmother’s grandmother was a slave,” adds Lovell. “The ancient Native American principles say it takes seven generations to overcome a tragedy, so in this context of generations we can begin to grasp why we are at this point we are living in now,” adds Lovell. This passage of time, with its love, loss, despair, danger, and freedom, comes to life via Lovell’s otherworldly, ghostly realms – demonstrating ongoing reverberations in our contemporary existence.