“The Weight of Hope” at Clough-Hanson. 

Dread Scott

Dread Scott

After three venue changes, the 400-plus capacity Bryan Campus Life Center auditorium at Rhodes College was filled to standing room only, with dozens turned away at the door and at the school gates. Such is the draw of artist Dread Scott, whose work provides a clear connection from the bigotry and injustice of years past to the racism and state-sanctioned violence of the present day.

The September 8th talk was held in conjunction with "The Weight of Hope" group exhibit currently at Clough-Hanson Gallery through October 24th.

Scott's visit could not have been more timely. He's been courting controversy for 30 years with performance works (including asking people to walk on the U.S. flag) that speak directly to the current discussions in the media about nationalistic symbols and patriotism.

Most searing to Memphians, perhaps, is Scott's I Am Not a Man performance stills, which play off the "I Am a Man" signs carried during the 1968 sanitation workers strike. Scott is shown walking the streets of New York wearing clothing befitting a man of the 1960s while holding a sign that reads, "I Am Not a Man." The On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide stills feature Scott walking against the force of a fire hose, bringing to mind hoses used on civil rights protestors. How much (or how little) has changed in 50 years for black Americans, these images ask.

Scott's most provocative work in the show is the updating of a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's "A Man Was Lynched Yesterday" flag from the 1930s with the insertion of the words "by Police" — an explicit link to today's climate of protests against police brutality.

Also in the show: Mariam Ghani's 28-minute dramatic narrative video The City & The City is about how the two halves of St. Louis live, but the descriptions of two societies (unequally) co-existing and overlapping in the same space at the same time could be about our own city.

Local painter Terry Lynn contributed three pieces to the exhibit. In a nod to the recent Olympics (and black American female dominance displayed therein), Rise features a young black gymnast beaming proudly with one arm outstretched, wearing an American flag leotard and surrounded by thick splotches in different colors. His most evocative work, Pink, is composed of a very young-looking black girl looking straight ahead clad in all pink clothing with her hands clasped in front of her. Most of the painting is not of her, but the black, oily-looking, roughly textured mass surrounding and enveloping the small, doe-eyed girl. She still has her naiveté, but the sinister world awaits her.

In the center of the room is Damon Davis' All Hands on Deck — photographic prints of enlarged black male hands outstretched over a white background on heavy paper. On the back of the print is an explanation of the climate leading up to the work, beginning with the hope generated from the election of the country's first black president through the death of Travyon Martin and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Davis began the project in Ferguson in 2014. From the text: "This exhibition looks at the impact of that shifting hope's weight in the last eight years on the body politic, and in particular on the Black body." Visitors are encouraged to "display the image where they live or work as a 'sign of collective responsibility and an ode to that diverse collective dedicated to protecting human rights, no matter race, age, or gender.'" Viewers are invited to download their own images of hands, of all races and ages, at allhandsondeckproject.org.

The work in "The Weight of Hope" sticks to you. It is a call to action against injustice instead of idly standing by.

Through October 24th

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