BMA Opens Black Box Film and Textiles Exhibition this Summer

BALTIMORE, MD – The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) presents two compelling works that explore the legacy of slavery in America in Black Box: Kara Walker & Hank Willis Thomas. On view June 28, 2017– March 18, 2018, 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.

Where Walker returns to the centuries-old silhouette craft to examine the legacy of slavery in American, Thomas brings contemporary technology to the subject. Both artists, however, find contrasts of light and dark, white and black, and obscurity and revelation to be powerful metaphors for horrific violence and racial inequality in the United States.
Black Box: Kara Walker & Hank Willis Thomas is curated by Kristen Hileman, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art.

Kara Walker (American, b. 1969) is best known for her exploration of race, gender, and sexuality. She received a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, both in painting and printmaking. Walker’s work, with its signature format of black-and-white silhouetted figures, has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The New York-based artist was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in 1997, one of the youngest to receive the “genius grant,” as well as the United States representative to the São Paulo Art Biennial.

Hank Willis Thomas (American, b. 1976) is a conceptual artist, who often works with photography to explore themes related to identity, history, and popular culture. He received a BFA in photography and Africana studies from New York University and an MFA/MA in photography and visual criticism from the California College of Arts. Thomas’ monograph, Pitch Blackness, was published by Aperture. He has exhibited internationally at such venues as the International Center of Photography, New York; Public Art Fund, New York; The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Bizkaia, Spain; Studio Museum in Harlem; Musée du quai Branly, Paris; and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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Kara Walker. Salvation. 2000. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Friends of Modern Art Fund, BMA 2001.14. © Kara Walker.