A New exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum traces the work of black women committed to activism during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements

by evan Monroe

As part of a series of exhibitions collectively titled A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum, our 560,000-square-foot cultural gem, opened in 1897, is presenting, through September 17, We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85. Focusing on the work of more than forty black female artists, the exhibition highlights a remarkable group committed to activism during a period of profound social change, including the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, along with the Women’s, Anti-War, and Gay Liberation Movements.

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The exhibit, according to a Brooklyn Museum statement, “reorients conversations around race, feminism, political action, art production, and art history, writing a broader, bolder story of the multiple feminisms that shaped this period.” It features a sweeping array of work (artists include Elizabeth Catlett, Blondell Cummings, Maren Hassinger, Janet Henry, Senga Nengudi, and Carrie Mae Weems) embracing conceptual, performance, film, and video art, as well as photography, painting, sculpture, and printmaking—all reflecting the aesthetics, politics, and social imperatives of their turbulent periods. It begins in the mid-1960s, as younger activists began shifting from the peaceful public disobedience favored by the Civil Rights Movement to the more forceful tactics of the Black Power Movement—moving through multiple modes of direct action and institutional critiques of the 1970s, and concludes with the emergence of a culturally based politics focused on intersecting identities of race, gender, class, and sexuality in the early 1980s.

“Working within tightly knit and often overlapping personal, political, and collaborative creative communities, the artists in this exhibition were committed to self-determination, free expression, and radical liberation,” said exhibit co-creator Rujeko Hockley, assistant curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art and former assistant curator of contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum. “Their lives and careers advance a multidimensional understanding of the histories of art and social change in the United States.”

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