Multicultural News

IUPUI’s ‘Past is Present’ art exhibit explores legacy of slavery

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An exhibit is shining a light on slavery’s history and the impact it’s had.

The curator says the exhibit is a reflection of history, and the art is part of the plan to make sure it’s not repeated.

The IU Herron School of Art and Design’s “Past is Present” exhibit is laid out in three art galleries with Indianapolis-based artists and historical artifacts, and the goal of sharing some of Indiana’s often-painful history. The public art school at IUPUI.

It may seem we’re far removed from the institution of slavery, but it’s legacy lives on in stories and images that remain. “Really, the past still continues to resonate today,” said curator Joseph Mella.

Local and international artist have lent their talents to tell a story of how the past is the present. “We’re really careful in this exhibition. While we’re pointing to these dark stories, they are not inflammatory. We don’t want to sensationalize this history.”

“Past Is Present: Black Artists Respond to the Complicated Histories of Slavery” is the latest exhibit at the Herron School of Art and Design. Artists used various mediums to relay the Black experience. “Overall reaching concept and idea behind the exhibition is to look at the contemporary response to a history that runs wide and deep but still resonates,” Mella said.

He said the exhibit is specific to Indiana history as it relates to slavery and the social injustice it bred, showcasing popular history connected to Madam C.J. Walker, who was an African American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and political and social activist, while also focusing on topics including redlining, which is the practice of keeping Black people out of certain communities through banking and insurance practices, and more painful parts such as the Middle Passage, which was the stage of the Atlantic slave trade in which millions of enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas.

Mella said, “Samuel Levi Jones (has a piece in the exhibit) called ‘Poplar Trees,’ and poplar trees is a reference to the song ‘Strange Fruit,’” which includes the lyric “Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees,” “which has to do with, it was written as a protest song in response to a lynching in Marion, Indiana.”

Mella says art can bring people together while also examining difficult subjects, and that’s what he hopes people find here.

South African artist Sophie Velucia’s “In Conversation with Madame CJ Walker,” a 2009 piece, is shown in the Berkshire, Reese and Paul Galleries as part of the “Past Is Present: Black Artists Respond to the Complicated Histories of Slavery” exhibit on Nov. 16, 2022, at IUPUI in Indianapolis. (WISH Photo)