Throughout the 1960s, a decade marked by an ardent civil rights fight that swept the American nation, many artists found themselves on the side of a burgeoning protest movement. From assemblage artists to Minimalist masters to Pop Art figures, those working in a wide breadth of media turned to art as an act of political defiance. They painted, sculpted, and photographed to comment on the social turmoil that surrounded them, creating visual symbols of resistance, liberation and empowerment.
An upcoming exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art pays tribute to this period in U.S. history with “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties.” The 103-piece show presents 66 artists of various races and ethnicities who created works informed by their own opinions of injustice and conflict 50 years ago.
The exhibition is organized according to themes like “American Nightmare,” “Black Is Beautiful,” “Sisterhood” and “Politicizing Pop.” Staged in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the artworks on display range from Jack Whitten’s “Birmingham 1964,” an assembled homage to the violence that rocked the Alabama town, to Norman Rockwell’s “New Kids in the Neighborhood,” a fictional portrait of two black children confronting their new white neighbors in the suburbs.
Many familiar images appear in the canvases and three-dimensional installations set to fill the halls of the Brooklyn art haven this March. Philip Guston’s pink-tinted painting of three members of the Klu Klux Klan will hang near Robert Indiana’s text-heavy indictment of the confederacy, featuring a loaded image of the American South. While these artworks conjure historical memories, other pieces — like Jeff Donaldson’s “Wives of Shango” and Emma Amos’ “Three Figures” — reference self-identity and blackness, many times using the striking image of the female form, reappropriating the reclining nude or the goddess stance as a visual for change.
Check out a preview of “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties” below: