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'New Histories, New Futures' exhibition at CMA's Transformer Station features work by contemporary Black artists

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Posted at 2:28 PM, Jul 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-10 14:34:10-04

CLEVELAND — A new exhibition at Transformer Station, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s contemporary museum, called “New Histories, New Futures,” celebrates three contemporary Black artists, two of which are local, whose artwork showcased both historical events and current conversations about social justice and race in America.

“The artists in "New Histories, New Futures" reinterpret historical events from standpoints rooted in the past, present and future,” said William M. Griswold, director of the CMA. “The paintings and mixed-media installation create a mesmerizing experience, transporting visitors to the past, to familial domestic spaces, and to futuristic dreamscapes. The topics are relevant and address issues at the forefront of today’s conversations.”

Through his large-scale installations, Johnny Coleman, of Oberlin, revitalized the marginalized history of one family’s journey on the Underground Railroad. His work features deep archival research of Lee Howard Dobbins, a 4-year-old enslaved child whose journey north ended in illness and who was laid to rest in Oberlin in 1853.

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Constellations As Yet Unnamed, 2020. Johnny Coleman (American, b. 1958). Dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Image © the artist

Coleman describes their stories as “lost to history,” and says, “My extended work has been an ongoing effort to retrieve the history surrounding the entire group of nine individuals who stole themselves away on that occasion back in 1853.”

Antwoine Washington, of Cleveland, paints portraits of his own young family to counteract the stereotype of the absent Black father in a style that pays homage to the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, the museum said.

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Black Family: The Myth of the Missing Black Father, 2019. Antwoine Washington (American, b. 1980). Acrylic on canvas; 24 x 30 in. Collection of the artist. Image © the artist.

“ “[When I became a father], I began to notice that the Black family has systematically been under siege by mainstream society and the media, and I use my art to say no—the media isn’t correct—and push back against racist narratives.”

The North Star project by Kambui Olujimi, of New York, features paintings and video of weightless, floating Black bodies “freed from the gravity of oppression,” imaging a future in which politics of resistance can result in true bodily freedom, the museum described.

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Land’s End (detail), 2020. Kambui Olujimi (American, b. 1976). Ink and graphite on paper; 79 x 79 in. Collection of the artist. Image © the artist

“I was drawn to each of these artists’ work because they truly do speak volumes on their own. Each is deeply invested in current and past iterations of social justice movements, which they use to bring powerful resonance to their artistic practices,” says exhibition curator Nadiah Rivera Fellah, CMA associate curator of contemporary art.

See the exhibition, which is on view through Sept. 21, at the Transformer Station, located at 1460 West 29th Street, in Cleveland. Click here for more information.

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