Smithsonian Exhibit Covers the Three Rs of the Black Experience: Reckoning, Rejuvenation, and Relaxation

Reclaiming My Time Exhibit Signage - Photo Credit: Shenise Foster

The National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, DC, is a right of passage for Black Americans to learn and celebrate all aspects of the diaspora through history, artistic expression, and food.  Officially opening their doors in September 2016, the museum is an American treasure that is free to visit and spans 10 floors (5 above ground & 5 below) that are curated with pop culture pieces such as the iconic Mothership from the 1970’s group Parliament-Funkadelic’s stage set to historic items like Harriet Tubman’s shawl that was gifted to her by Queen Victoria of England.

As an ever evolving reflection of the culture, the NMAAHC continuously develops exhibitions to broadcast the interests and concerns that speak to the present.  Located in the Rhimes Family Foundation Visual Arts Gallery, visitors are led down a path that begins with a photographic and artistic representation of the reckoning that has occurred through protests and demonstrations in the pursuit of equal justice. Each piece unveils a range of emotions from sadness to understanding, and I found these feelings were clearly represented in the artwork entitled “Trapped” by the artist Alvin Carl Hollingsworth.  This mixed media piece showcases how redlining was a detrimental government tactic that hindered African Americans from being able to obtain mortgages, insurance coverage, and ultimately blocking the dream of homeownership based solely on race.

Walking out of this portion of the gallery, you are greeted by the African American Flag which signifies the transition from a reckoning to rejuvenation and the unapologetic celebration of Black pride.  This part of the exhibition hall has a light and airy feel that provides ample space for larger than life sculptures and portraits. The painting, “But I’m Still Fly” is one of the massive articulations that is beautifully adorned in gold leaf that depicts the fashion trend of “sagging” coordinated with a fresh pair of sneakers.  Fahamu Pecou, the artist, is challenging visitors to look beyond the fashion choices of the young Black man to see his ambition to jump to new heights and soar.  As with a majority of the pieces throughout the gallery, it shines a light on the strength and perseverance of Black people.

“But I’m Still Fly” painting by Fahamu Pecou – Photo Credit: Shenise Foster

The third art exhibit in the Rhimes Family gallery is a first of its kind for the museum.   The “Reclaiming My Time” installation is inspired by Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ infamous 2017 declaration and presents contemporary Black artists interpretation of how that statement relates to relaxation and rejuvenation.  There are afro-centric furnishings that can fit any aesthetic and interior design publications that provide a reference point for aspiring designers.  One chair in particular draws inspiration from the influential photo of the Black Panther Party co-founder, Huey P. Newton.  Pulling each piece together is a poster adorned on the wall with Congresswoman Waters’s affirmation outlined in a bold yellow and written in different fonts to give the piece texture.  This exhibit will stay intact for one year before new pieces are introduced to enhance the visitor experience.

The through-line of reckoning, rejuvenation and relaxation is not only present in the gallery. It can be discovered on every floor of the museum, and visitors are guaranteed to walk away with a sense of pride and reverence for the accomplishments and achievements of the Black community.

Shenise Foster is a freelance writer and owner of the LLC, The Munch Travelogue where she documents her travels by creating travel guides centered around her motto of learn, see, do.  Readers can keep up with Shenise’s adventures by following her on Instagram, Facebook or on her website.


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