Representing CivilRights CivilRights

It’s seemingly easy to forget about the struggles of the civil rights movement in our modern, desensitized society. Prominent black figures exist in every aspect of the social mold, making it almost impossible to imagine that in America’s not-too-distant history, black and white people were considered far from equal. It seems unreal, meandering along the mishmash of people South Beach, that most of the buildings once had separate bathrooms for black and white people, or that famous black performers of the past-men like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Louis Armstrong-had to come in through the back door of the very hotels they were hired to perform at.

The racial equality that exists today would not exist if it were not for the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the movement he upheld. In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a new exhibit at the Bass Museum of Art on Miami Beach, opens an amazing, heartrending window into America’s segregationist and racist past through the artistic expression of some of America’s most famous artists, including Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol, Gordon Parks, Robert Rauschenberg and Jean Michel Basquiat.

The spirit of Dr. King lives strong. His voice resounds throughout the museum-the famous “I have a dream” speech accentuating the power behind this man’s vision-as works by renown and lesser-know artists delineate the stream of feelings and events that occurred at the time. Diverse mediums are used, such as photography, drawings, silkscreens, mixed-media, sculptures and paintings, all ascetically exposing the horrors of the movement: the marches, the riots, the bloodshed.

Tom Feelings’ “Slave Ship- Diagram/Figure” portrays the human body as a slave ship, evoking the suffering of a people stripped of their human worth: the images of slavery are omnipresent, dark faces shown weathered and impassive as they present their inventory numbers. Some of the works are well-known images that represent the struggle, such as Andy Warhol’s silkscreen image culled from the newspaper headlines of the period, “Birmingham Race Riot 1964.”

Robert Frank’s startling and eloquent black and white picture “Trolley, New Orleans,” taken on a cross-country trip through the South, shows the stark reality of the time. A white woman sits up front and a black man stares poignantly from the back of the bus. Two white children bridge the gap between them, giving insight to the change that the civil rights movement stood to make.

L’Merchie Fazier’s “From a Birmingham Jail: MLK” is a brightly colored quilt of silk photo transfers depicting Dr. King in his struggle in jail amidst images of Africa and slave ships. Willie Birch’s “Memories of the Sixties” is a vibrant mixed-media sculpture of an old, black “every-woman” hunched over, weaving a coverlet, which illustrates the contrasting political stances of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

In the Spirit of Martin is conducive in helping us mourn and remember a significant time in American history and can facilitate, through an aesthetic means, the understanding of younger Americans since many overlook the profusion of information they get in class. This exhibit celebrates Dr. King’s life and work without simplification or morbidity and will be on view until November 10.

Call 305-673-7530 for more info.

Patrice Grell Yursik can be reached at