WHEN: On view June 28, 2017–March 18, 2018
WHERE: Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore
The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) presents two compelling works that explore the legacy of slavery in America. The installation brings together Kara Walker’s Salvation, one of the most significant works in the BMA’s contemporary collection, and Hank Willis Thomas’ And I Can’t Run, a recent promised gift to the museum.
“These powerful pieces by Walker and Thomas are among the important works in the BMA’s collection that confront us with the traumatic and tragic history of race in America and inspire us to make critical changes as we go forward,” said Kristen Hileman, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art. “One of the strengths of the museum’s contemporary collection are works like these that take a forceful position on the critical issues of our times.”
Walker’s Salvation (2000) is a complex consideration of African American and female identity within the tragic history of American slavery. The central silhouetted female figure is characteristic of the artist’s work, which collides racial stereotypes and violent scenes with the genteel tradition of cut paper silhouettes. The art depicts a figure gasping, perhaps drowning, in a swamp. Its title, Salvation, could suggest the woman has taken to the water to escape her enslavement. A grim possibility is that a death by drowning offers the only salvation from the horrors she has experienced. The foreboding and haunting scene is heightened through dim lighting and shadowy layers of imagery generated by an overhead projector.
Light is also critical to understanding the imagery of Thomas’ And I Can’t Run (2013). Initially appearing as an almost illegible group of white-on-white forms on a rectangular field, a chilling photographic image of a black man shackled before aggressive white onlookers emerges once the work is photographed with a cell phone using a flash.
Kara Walker. Salvation. 2000. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Friends of Modern Art Fund, BMA 2001.14. © Kara Walker.
Hank Willis Thomas. And I Can’t Run. 2013. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Promised gift of a MAD Gathering to The Baltimore Museum of Art. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.