Black Art History: Signs of Protest and Beauty from the Civil Rights Era


Bob Adelman, March on Washington, 1963 (detail), Virginia Museum of Fine Art

Signs and protest were inseparable in the 1960s. Visual bullhorns, signs both amplified and unified the voices fighting racial injustice. Signs were the original social media. The exhibition “Signs of Protest” at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (January 11-Setpember 7, 2014) includes photographs that feature protest signs, along with images of the larger culture of resistance, with an emphasis on iconic Civil Rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael. The powerful placards, carried as peaceable weapons and capable of being flashed around the world by newspapers and television, retain a startling immediacy.

Soon joining "Signs" at the museum is “Posing Beauty in African American Culture” (April 26-July 27, 2014). It's a look at how African and African American beauty has been represented in historical and contemporary contexts including film, video, fashion, and advertising. It features approximately 85 works by artists including Carrie Mae Weems, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Bruce Davidson, Mickalene Thomas, and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, among others. Where the signs make fire from an economy of words, these stunning photos are all worth--as the saying goes--many thousands of them.

susan taylor as model by ken ramsay

Susan Taylor, as Model by Ken Ramsay, c. 1970s (detail), Virginia Museum of Fine Art