Less group show than raucous sermon, this installation leavens hope with anger, spirited wit with ineffable sadness. In Tony Gray’s détourned images, a time-traveling Black Panther, stylish in bell-bottoms and sharp goatee, terrifies lumpy Neanderthals, disrupts the surrender at Yorktown, and squares off for a duel with Star Trek‘s Geordi. Carlos Vega’s wooden cabinet displays nine collages anchored by a stenciled white outline of the continental U.S.; cognitive dissonance blares when a map of Africa, imprisoned within America’s heartland, snaps into focus.
Vitrines by Joseph Beuys and David Hammons perform an abject pas de deux: Hammons’s human-hair-covered rock seems to rise up out of Beuys’s beat-up cardboard box, a piece of the German artist’s signature gray felt spilling out like a worn blanket. A ’60s dialogue ensues between a Warhol Race Riot print and Roberto Visani’s Vietnam-haunted sculpture Slaves to the Rhythm, nearby. Propping three M-16 rifles—one steel, another carved from wood, a mysterious third muffled under fabric—into a bivouac pyramid, Visani provides quick metaphorical access to the endless cycles of violence he notes in his statement: “[D]uring the slave trade, guns were traded for people [and] subsequently used in tribal wars.” Elsewhere, a vintage Uncle Sam poster beckons: “I wants you nigger” to “fight for freedom (in Viet Nam)—Black people fighting yellow people for white people.”
From across the room beams a little black girl hugging a blond, blue-eyed doll, photographed by her father, Chris McNair, in 1963. Later that year she would be one of four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, a terrorist act that forever defined slavery’s savage Jim Crow legacy. Other McNair photos document dignified protesters harassed by beefy cops and the destroyed home of a church leader—straightforward compositions exposing the warped, gutless humanity that is the oppressor’s eternal lot.