At first, it would seem the Fairfield University Art Museum is responding to sociopolitical events of the past year in presenting its fall exhibition devoted to the issues of
racial justice, racism, police reform and Black history in the U.S.
But according to FUAM Executive Director Carey Weber, “We planned this three years ago. Clearly these are topics that have needed to be explored in museums for a long time.”
Weber observed that while the museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary, the fall exhibition marks the first time that its galleries will be devoted exclusively to Black artists.
“And that’s unfortunate,” she added. “I wish we had presented one sooner.”
The exhibition is divided among three artists. The museum’s Walsh Gallery will be occupied by “Carrie Mae Weems: The Usual Suspects,” which presents the artist’s recent photographic and video works that questions criminal stereotypes falsely associated with people of color.
FUAM’s Bellarmine Hall Galleries will be divided between “Robert Gerhardt: Mic Check,” featuring his photographic documentation of New York City-based protests over the last seven years, and “Roberto Lugo: New Ceramics,” in which the self-described “ghetto potter” uses porcelain as the artistic format to explore inequality and the pursuit of justice while also celebrating Black and Latino figures.
Also being offered is “VOTE! Black Lives Matter (Connecticut 2020 & 1849),” a short film produced by Bridgeport’s Mary and Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community and created with filmmaker Pedro Bermudez.
Weber viewed the exhibition, which will run from Sept. 18 through Dec. 18, as an important platform to “provide entry points into the conversations that I think our students and our community should be having and our community should be having.” While noting Fairfield University offers courses on the Black Lives Matter movement and African American art, she said she believes the exhibition will further enrich those academic offerings.
“There are a number of artists who are using their voices to try and make change, particularly Black artists who have reached a certain level of renown and importance,” Weber said. “And I think Carrie Mae Weems is one of them. She has an important voice and she uses it, and I admire her tremendously for that.”
While the exhibition highlights disturbing subjects including political disenfranchisement and police brutality, Weber cautioned that it should not be viewed strictly as a meditation on tragedy.
“Roberto Lugo, who has ties to Connecticut, also focuses on uplifting figures in Black history,” she said. “It’s very joyful work – very celebratory and colorful and kind of fun, with a real playfulness to it. Robert Gerhardt’s photographs have a seriousness because clearly it’s protest photography, but it’s also action-oriented – it’s like looking at this history of protests that have been going on for eight years.”
With the Gerhardt photographs, Weber stressed that it was important to “remind our students about the power of protest,” adding that the accompanying short film brings a local dimension to the subject by documenting how Bridgeport residents have responded to threats to their civil rights.
Looking forward to 2022, Weber stated the museum will continue to plumb the multicultural artistic experience with its first exhibition of contemporary Chinese art from January through March, and presentations of works by Black Bridgeport-based photographer Adger Cowans during the spring and by Cuban-American visual artist Gladys Triana in the fall.