In 1926, Langston Hughes published “I, too,” an inspiring work of poetry that follows a black servant’s rise to equality. At the poem’s conclusion, the narrator proclaims “I, too, am America,” indicating perhaps that this is not just an anthem for African-Americans, but for all minorities. Taking its title from Hughes’ poem, the exhibition presents work ranging from 1939 to 2001 by a diverse group of artists who have challenged and responded to political and social conditions of their time.
Featuring works on paper, sculpture, and photography, the artworks tackle issues that include the Civil Rights Movement, feminism, and LGBT rights, respectively. A telling suite of prints by Ben Shahn, for example, depict three civil rights martyrs, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan for registering black voters in 1964. Nancy Spero’s unapologetic We are Pro-Choice employs empowered female protagonists to advocate for women’s choice. And, on view for the first time, Iowa artist Tilly Woodward’s captivating large-scale pastel drawings tribute local Iowans affected by HIV/AIDS during the mid-1990s.
At a moment when our country’s position is fraught with uncertainty, this exhibition reminds us how artists have responded to turbulent times in the past, utilizing art to spark dialogue leading to change.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website