Fisk University Galleries set to open two new exhibitions

Lee Friedlander, Mahalia Jackson (at podium); first row: Mordecai Johnson, Bishop Sherman Lawrence Greene, Reverend Thomas J. Kilgore, Jr., and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., from the series Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 1957, printed later. Gelatin silver print. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, HON. 2004. © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

The Fisk University Art Galleries will open two new exhibitions on Thursday, April 12, running through August 19, 2018 at the Carl Van Vechten Art Gallery. Each is a traveling exhibition on loan from one of America’s finest universities —Yale and Stanford. Each has photographs that are expressions and manifestations of content relevant to African Americans from the Civil Rights Era through the modern day.

Let Us March On: Lee Friedlander and the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom is from the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn. This exhibition presents photographer Lee Friedlander’s images of the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, a critical yet generally neglected moment in American civil rights history. On May 17, 1957—the third anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, which outlawed segregation in public schools—thousands of activists, including many leaders from religious, social, educational, labor, and political spheres, united in front of the Lincoln Memorial, in Washington, D.C.

At this first large-scale gathering of African Americans on the National Mall, an event that was a forerunner of the 1963 March on Washington at which Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech, protestors called on federal authorities to enforce desegregation, support voting rights, and combat racial violence. Friedlander photographed many of the illustrious figures who attended or spoke at the march, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Mahalia Jackson, and Harry Belafonte, and he wove among the demonstrators on the ground to capture the energy and expressions of the day.

“Memory can be ephemeral and milestones often fade,”says Mildred Bond Roxborough, Special Assistant, NAACP. “Lee Friedlander’s photographs starkly and vividly capture the massive multigenerational and interracial, crowd of men and women who answered the call to join in a Prayer Pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. on May 17, 1957. This extraordinary photographic record serves to indelibly etch this Pilgrimage onto the fabric of the mind.”

Lee Friedlander, Untitled, from the series Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, 1957, printed later. Gelatin silver print. Yale University Art Gallery, Gift of Maria and Lee Friedlander, HON. 2004. © Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. Photo courtesy Eakins Press Foundation

African-American Automobility: The Dangerous Freedom of the Open Road from the Department of Art & Art History at Stanford University, is an exhibition of solo works by Jonathan Calm, a visual artist and assistant professor in Photography at Stanford. His interests include urban architecture and housing, and he is currently developing new work around the representation of African-American automobility, featuring performance, reenactment and portraiture to evoke the tension between moving and still images and bodies.

For this exhibit, Calm has created large murals of black-and-white photographs that capture both urban and rural landscapes in different areas of the country. These images provide a backdrop from which performers emerge at regular intervals to act out and deliver monologues relating to the origin of the photographs. Through their performance, they transform the pictures into historical documents that literally ‘come alive’ and become oral history – highlighting how history can be performed at will. 45 images – grouped in grids of nine – memorialize a small selection of individuals of color who lost their lives when stopped for ‘driving while black’ by depicting the locations where they were ‘targeted’.

Reaching back to the Rodney King beating in the early 1990s, Calm seeks to pay sobering homage to the more and less known names claimed by an ongoing cycle of victimisation that provokes newsworthy outrage one moment and recedes into mainstream media oblivion the next.

Through a series of self-portraits, he contemplates his own experience in the space constituted by the dangerous freedom of the open road.