In 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled racial segregation laws in public schools are unconstitutional. On exhibit in the Woskob Family Gallery until April 6, is “Race and Revolution: Still Separate, Still Unequal,” a traveling exhibition of contemporary artwork and historical documents exploring the ongoing issue of school segregation in the United States despite the Brown ruling nearly 70 years ago.
Curated by Katie Fuller and Larry Ossei-Mensah, the exhibition debuted in 2017 at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, New York and is traveling to universities and cultural institutions across the country. Visitors to the exhibition can experience artistic responses to questions of segregation in a variety of media including sculpture, installation, textiles, works on paper and photography.
Fuller’s time as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn offered her a view of systemic inequities and how they contribute to the historical trauma cycle associated with racism in American culture. After leaving the school, she worked at a historical society museum in New York where she immersed herself in the complex history of race issues in America and conceived the concept of an art exhibit that offers a way to confront the truths of continuing segregation and racism in schools.
“For me, this show has been a long time coming and an institution like Penn State, where there are amazing resources like the Civil Rights Center and the Art Education program, is a perfect fit for the work,” Fuller said. “A show like this needs a receptive audience and to impact people’s thinking around the issue we need places where people are willing to work with the content. Penn State has really delivered on that.”
After being introduced in 2016 to Ossei-Mensah, a Ghanaian-American curator and cultural critic, the duo announced an open call for the show and received nearly 150 proposals, most of which were submitted by artists with education backgrounds.
Several of the artists featured in the exhibit integrate artwork with historical documents- critically examining how local, state and federal governments have maintained or worked to dissolve segregation. Many of the works on view explore how minoritized populations experience things such as standardized testing, resource scarcity and over-policing. The artwork and historical documents act in a dialogue, exploring how issues of the past resonate in the present.
Ann Tarantino, assistant professor in the Penn State School of Visual Arts and director of the Woskob Family Gallery said, considering the research institution setting of Penn State, the pairing of historical documents with contemporary art work offers a unique look at a crucial societal issue.
“Many of the artists in the exhibition are teachers themselves who began making work in response to some of the challenges and struggles that they saw in their classrooms,” Tarantino said. “This is an opportunity to hear those voices that are not often represented in the setting of a traditional museum or gallery.”
The Woskob Family Gallery is in the Penn State Downtown Theatre Centre and is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. The exhibition is on display until April 6.