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A Site of Struggle: A History of American Art Against Anti-Black Violence

January 22-July 10, 2022
Main Gallery
Theaster Gates (American, b. 1973), Minority Majority [detail], 2012 Decommissioned firehoses, and vinyl on plywood Whitney Museum of American Art, gift of Barbara and Michael Gamson © artist

How has art has been used to protest, process, mourn, and memorialize anti-Black violence within the United States?

Originating at Northwestern's Block Museum of Art  A Site of Struggle explores how artists have engaged with the reality of anti-Black violence and its accompanying challenges of representation in the United States over a 100 + year period.

Images of African American suffering and death have constituted an enduring part of the nation’s cultural landscape, and the development of creative counterpoints to these images has been an ongoing concern for American artists. A Site of Struggle takes a new approach to looking at the intersection of race, violence, and art by investigating the varied strategies American artists have used to grapple with anti-Black violence, ranging from representation to abstraction and from literal to metaphorical. The exhibition focuses on works created between the 1890s and 2013—situating contemporary artistic practice within a longer history of American art and visual culture. It foregrounds African Americans as active shapers of visual culture and highlights how art has been used to protest, process, mourn, and memorialize anti-Black violence.

Exhibition Advisors and Partnerships

The themes, content, and format of A Site of Struggle have been developed in consultation with an interdisciplinary group of established and emerging scholars, museum professionals, and Northwestern faculty and graduate students. Participants are connected by their investigations of American art, visual culture, and African Americans’ production and representation within these fields.

Advised by leaders across Northwestern and within the Evanston community, The Block has engaged in dialogues with stakeholders that will continue throughout 2021 in order to shape visitor experience and co-develop collaborative programming on issues of racial justice. This work will enrich A Site of Struggle programming and will lay a foundation for our work into the future.


A Site of Struggle is organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, and is curated by Janet Dees, Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Block Museum of Art, with the assistance of Alisa Swindell, Curatorial Research Associate.

The exhibition is made possible in part by the Terra Foundation for American Art; a Curatorial Research Fellowship from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Bernstein Family Contemporary Art Fund; the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation; and by the generous support of Lynne Jacobs.