2 can't-miss exhibits at OKCMOA this spring - MetroFamily Magazine
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2 can’t-miss exhibits at OKCMOA this spring

Photo: William H. Johnson, Harriet Tubman, ca. 1945, oil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, 1967.59.1146

by Erin Page

Reading Time: 3 minutes 
Families have the unique opportunity to experience history through art at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art this spring. The museum opens two exhibits on Feb. 18 that meld art and history — and that will inspire powerful conversations for visitors. Art and Activism at Tougaloo College tells the story of the first modern art collection in Mississippi, housed at the Historically Black College. Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice is a 1940s-era series of paintings by William H. Johnson created as a tribute to Black activists, scientists, teachers and performers, as well as heads of state working to bring peace to the world. Both exhibits will be open through May 14. Kids 17 and under always get in free to OKCMOA.

Art and Activism at Tougaloo College

okcmoa, Art and Activism at Tougaloo College
DAVID DRISKELL,
SWING LOW, SWEET CHARIOT, 1972.

Since its founding in 1869 by the abolitionist-led American Missionary Association, Tougaloo College has made the fight for equality central to its mission. Beginning in 1963, this collection was acquired for the college by leaders of the New York art world, beginning with pieces by well-known artists like Pablo Picasso. Co-organized by the American Federation of the Arts and Tougaloo College, Art and Activism at Tougaloo College examines the birth and development of this unique collection.

As the students became more involved, they requested works by Black American artists, leading to a collection featuring works by artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Alma Thomas and Romare Bearden. This program came to light as civil rights protests swirled across the fiercely segregated state and Black students weren’t allowed in other museums.

“Students wanted to see paintings that looked like them,” said Dr. Bryn Schockmel, coordinating curator for Art and Activism. “It might seem small but it made a huge difference to the students.”

Alongside the art, visitors will find a timeline of civil rights events happening simultaneously, with a focus on national events and events happening in Oklahoma at the time. In addition to appreciating the vibrant and varied works of art, visitors will gain insight into the intersections of modern art and social justice. Schockmel hopes student visitors will see how art can be used to convey emotions and incite positive change.

FIGHTERS FOR FREEDOM: WILLIAM H. JOHNSON PICTURING JUSTICE

Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice

This 1940s-era series of paintings by William H. Johnson was created as a tribute to Black activists, scientists, teachers and performers, as well as heads of state working to bring peace to the world. Johnson celebrated Black activists and their accomplishments even as he acknowledged the realities of racism, violence and oppression they faced and overcame.

Coming from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the works feature both famous historical figures, like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as lesser-known individuals. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the collection of more than 1,000 works by Johnson given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the Harmon Foundation in 1967.

Using bright colors and an almost cartoon-like style, Johnson’s work will be especially appealing to young visitors as the scene around each individual represents the story of their lives.

OKCMOA will provide four touchable versions of the artworks for visitors who are blind or low vision or those looking to have a more sensory-rich experience with art.


Both exhibitions will run Feb. 18 through May 14. Schools can take advantage of free field trips, either in person or virtually, as well as reimbursement for bussing and substitute teachers. Find more information at okcmoa.com.

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