Sunday, December 30, 2012

Empathy…Quilting a Collective Future

Today is the fifth day of Kwanzaa, the seven-day African American cultural celebration which recognizes the living practices that inspired African ancestors in America's racially-rigid social and economic structure. Each day, Kwanzaa observers act within one principle that ranges from unity to collective empowerment to faith. The fifth principle is "nia" or purpose. This is a fitting context to present our final blog post for the Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America exhibit.

This community response quilt has grown throughout the exhibition
and features comments from visitors about how they will make a
difference in Charlotte and beyond.
When we began working toward bringing Without Sanctuary, we wanted to include perspectives and suggestions from the community at large. To do so, we gathered a diverse set of participants from a range of backgrounds and organizations in several community listening sessions over a two month period. Our purpose: to get input on how they wanted us to help present this hard history of lynching and connect it to issues that still resonate today.

Afterward, the education team reviewed the transcripts and input from these listening sessions.

Three over-arching themes and many programmatic suggestions emerged from the sessions. In particular:

1.) Present the historic racial landscapes. As we acted on this purpose, it included partnering with UNC Charlotte's Center for the Study of the New South which held its Conference on Lynching in October.
2.) Acknowledge the emotional echoes. The museum used this theme as a way to bring in the artistic and personal connections to the history of lynching. We began with the artistic interpretations of John Love (featured in the exhibit) as well as the opening ceremony comprised with the help of Donell Stines, the band A Sign of the Times, dancer Donald Colson and spoken word artist/producer Quentin "Q" Talley who each brought a unique point of view to the public reception.
3.) Connect with other institutions and organizations exploring current social sanctuary such as the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture and the Mint Museum of Art, both of which joined us to coordinate the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring students and the community to see Without Sanctuary, the Gantt's America: I AM and the Mint's Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial exhibits the only weekend all three exhibits were still up. Mecklenburg Ministries and Theatre Charlotte were also identified as early partners.

For months leading up to and throughout the Without Sanctuary exhibit, we used the three themes to inform our programmatic scope. Ultimately, we collaborated with many more entities in the Charlotte community from educational groups to media outlets, social clubs and nonprofit organizations to large corporate sponsors.
In the end, the themes have allowed the exhibit to generate in our community a collective sense of purpose and wide-ranging call to action that hit at both the personal and organizational levels.
Today, Sunday, Dec. 30, at 4 p.m. the museum will host a closing ceremony for Without Sanctuary. The Sycamore Project will present "Blood on the Field" an artistic closing featuring dancers, drummers as well as candle-lighting ceremony.

Join us this afternoon as we make one final addition to our Without Sanctuary offerings and conclude in a way that links back to our original purpose and reminds the community to consider its own purpose going forward.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Southern Tradition: Honor, Integrity, and Courage to Call Ourselves Southerners

A Painful Chapter in Southern and American History

This historic collection of postcards and photos, painstakingly gathered over the course of many years by James Allen and John Littlefield, demonstrates a cultural awareness and acceptance of the practice of lynching from the 1890s to 1950s that is hard to fathom today. Images--most of them extremely graphic in content--were captured, and then traded as souvenirs. Lives lost during this era were unacknowledged by much of society for quite a long time. Indeed, the silence surrounding these stories is made even more appalling by an unwillingness and resistance to see or name this history as a violation of human dignity. 
Throughout Without Sanctuary, we ask visitors to share their reflections.

When asked "Do the echoes of lynchings still remain in these regions? What personal connection could you have to lynching in your life?", one of our most powerful responses was the following:

Do you agree with this statement?  

Perhaps, the most passionate submissions came in response to the question "Who among us is without sanctuary today?" This question asks us to build our future on the lessons learned from the past. The answer to this question, one of which is shown below, varied greatly from guest to guest.

This is memory made more. This is a call to bear witness and halt the continuing and fatal impact of living without sanctuary. It takes courage to confront history and to learn from it…

How do you connect?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Charlotte...Bound in Yes!

A picture is worth more than a thousand words.

It can elicit a thousand emotions.
A thousand questions.
A thousand connections.

Over the next several days we will use the blog and Facebook to explore how Charlotte has used the pictures in the exhibit Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America to make those connections to history and find relevance for our lives today.  With help from John Love, a multidisciplinary artist, Levine Museum provided an interactive space to connect to each visitor: asking tough questions in the exhibition and in dialogue.

Pictured is opening night for Without Sanctuary and Love’s piece, entitled, “Bound in Yes.”  The instructions were clear, simply tell us what is your "Yes"?
From the Artist Statement:  There is no wrong way to feel however there can be an affirming way to respond.  As we sit in the seat of historical perspective and cozy up to even the prickliest of privileges the passage of time enables, the question of what does one do with all this information, knowledge, and weight looms ominous.  In the face of the human behavior that fueled/fuels the atrocities depicted in WITHOUT SANCTUARY, Bound in Yes asks you to share what this horrifying and resounding expression of “no” inspires you to affirm, do, construct, build, facilitate, and say yes to.  Bound in Yes asks, “What is your Yes?”                          ~ John W. Love, Jr. 

Our guests responded--writing out their affirmations and adding to the white rocking chair tag by tag until…

The final stages of the chair affirm that Charlotte and the community have lots to say "Yes" to, including taking on this difficult history and letting the pictures speak to them.

How did the images inside Without Sanctuary speak to you?
What are you left saying "Yes" to?