We share the indignation expressed in the peaceful protests happening across our state and our country speaking out against the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. This moment calls on us to listen to African Americans, both in our state and across the country, and to help inspire a conversation about our shared future.

Art is and always has been a refuge, a representation of freedom, whether the art is hanging on a pristine wall in a light-filled gallery or proclaiming truth on a protest sign expressing outrage and grief. Art represents both who we are and who we wish to be. It reveals and instructs, challenges and reassures. We need to pay attention to the lessons it offers.

We believe museums, including ours, should play a meaningful role in combating systemic racism and creating a more just and equitable world. We look forward to welcoming visitors back to the NCMA to visit our collection, summer exhibitions, and Museum Park installations, which prominently feature the work of African and African American artists.

The People’s Collection should reflect all the people of North Carolina. We recommit to our long-held objective of adding more work by black artists and artists of color to our collection. We consider it essential to have their perspectives represented in our collection and exhibitions and to organize programs that amplify the voices of musicians, filmmakers, and creators, sharing their work and spotlighting their contributions to art history and culture. In parallel we must improve staff and board diversity, a long-standing issue at art museums, and our staff and stakeholders will participate in diversity training as outlined in our strategic plan.

In this installment of NCMA Recommends, we examine the historic and current struggles against inequality and racism, and the work that still lies ahead. We hope you will join us.

We cannot and should not be silent.

Director Valerie Hillings
Starting this week, we'll transition our NCMA Recommends newsletter into a biweekly communication. Between issues, we'll alert you to upcoming virtual events, Museum news, and gallery opening information. Explore past NCMA Recommends editions and all NCMA from Home content.

Hank Willis Thomas, Ernest and Ruth

In the Museum Park, Ernest and Ruth (2015)—a pair of sculptures by contemporary artist Hank Willis Thomas shaped like cartoon thought or speech bubbles—offers visitors a place to sit and interact with the work of art and each other. “When viewers occupy the piece,” he says, pointing to our shared responsibility, “they are encouraged to contemplate what it means to inhabit their own speech and beliefs.” Thomas is fascinated, he says, with how “history and culture are framed, who is doing the framing, and how these factors affect our interpretation of reality.” Learn more about this work of art from the artist in the video below.


Poetry Reading: “Oh My Brother” by Jaki Shelton Green

"I wrote 'Oh My Brother' several years ago. A poet in New York invited other poets nationwide to submit poetry for the Poetry of Lamentation Online Anthology created to memorialize the murdered and symbolize solidarity with grieving families across the United States whose loved ones are being murdered by law enforcement. Again, writers, musicians, dancers, sculptors, and all artists are called upon to use our creativity to declare, agitate, and resist. We will not perish as long as we remember the righteous fire and light inside our artistic utterances."
Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina Poet Laureate


Inspired by Interchanges: Hank Willis Thomas and Aaron Douglas

This reflection is inspired by the Museum's Interchanges installations, which pair works of art across time periods and mediums to face challenging histories head on.

Thomas’s large-scale photograph The Cotton Bowl (2011) juxtaposes a football player crouching on a yard line with a mirror image of an enslaved man crouching to pick cotton. By altering and combining familiar images, icons, and logos, the artist raises questions about how history is negotiated, mitigated, and reconciled in the present.

Aaron Douglas’s painting Harriet Tubman (1931), currently on loan from Bennett College in Greensboro, lauds the courageous Underground Railroad conductor. In the picture one man holds a hoe, symbolizing the freedom to farm independently; a young woman reads a book, the freedom to gain education; a third man lies back enjoying his leisure time and staring raptly at a towering city. Though Tubman looks back, her stride is forward, leading people onward. Douglas wrote that he portrayed Tubman “as a heroic leader breaking the shackles of bondage and pressing on toward a new day.”


Black on Black Project Curated Conversation

Thursday, June 11, 7 pm
Image by Jade Wilson

The confluence of recent events has led to more than a week of protests around the country, including in North Carolina. Instead of talking about the protests, Black on Black Project founder Michael S. Williams wants to go deeper and explore why so many citizens are in pain. Williams will lead a conversation and virtual premiere of his short film The Will of the Father. The conversation includes poet Johnny Lee Chapman III, dancer Anthony “Ay-Jaye” Nelson Jr., and photographer Jade Wilson, along with Angela Thorpe, director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission. 

Virtual Slow Art Appreciation: Harriet Tubman

Wednesday, June 17, 7 pm

Join Angela Thorpe, director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, in reflecting on Aaron Douglas’s painting Harriet Tubman. This free virtual program on Wednesday, June 17, from 7 to 8 pm, guides you through centering techniques and a breathing practice followed by an intentional observation of the piece. Discussion is encouraged. For ages 16 and up.


Family Reading Recommendations

Ernest and Ruth makes us think about how families can turn to art and literature to start difficult conversations about race and racism in their lives and community. Here is a selection of books about racism and social justice for all ages. Discover more great titles, curated reading lists, and stories celebrating Black lives at Liberation Station, a Black-owned independent children’s bookstore in Durham, N.C.

Inhabiting Our Speech: Learning and Talking about Race

The North Carolina African American Heritage Commission works to preserve, protect, and promote our state’s African American history, art, and culture, for all people. The AAHC’s initiatives include Freedom Roads and NC Green Book Project. Director Angela Thorpe shares two resources for educating ourselves on racial equity and talking about race with friends, family or children: NMAAHC Talking about Race and Teaching Tolerance,

Hank Willis Thomas, Ernest and Ruth, 2015, painted steel, H. 83 x W. 96 x D. 24 in., Gift of Pat and Tom Gipson

Hank, Willis Thomas, The Cotton Bowl, 2011, digital chromogenic print, 65 x 96 in., Gift of the North Carolina Museum of Art Contemporaries

Aaron Douglas, Harriet Tubman, 1931, oil on canvas, framed 49 3/4 x 73 1/2 in., On loan from Bennett College for Women Collection, Greensboro, North Carolina

Now more than ever we remain committed to our mission: stewarding our world-class collection and prioritizing its care and conservation; curating one of the largest art parks in the world; developing educational outreach and long-distance learning programs across our state; and planning special exhibitions.

If you're able, please consider becoming a member or donating to the NCMArts Fund.


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