Black life mural breaks down barriers at Milwaukee Art Museum


MILWAUKEE – The Milwaukee Art Museum launched a new installation in late October. This is a specially commissioned piece for a previously empty space, a long empty wall that now features a mural by Brooklyn-based artist Derrick Adams. The mural blends historic photos with scenes from contemporary black life in Milwaukee.

Lisa Sutcliffe is the Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts for the Art Museum. She had had an eye on Adams’ work for some time and hoped he would accept her invitation to the project.

“Derek has long been engaged in the legacy and history of the Green Book, which was a travel guide for African Americans during the Jim Crow era and provided a list of safe businesses,” Sutcliffe explained. . “When he came to Milwaukee he was interested in researching black-owned businesses. He met black artists, but really got interested in community sites where people meet.”

Sites offered by Adams include Coffee Makes You Black, Gee’s Clippers, and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society. The fresco’s photographs include familiar faces, while others are deliberately ordinary.

“Even when you see characters like Vel Phillips and Clayborn Benson, you don’t see them professionally,” Sutcliffe said. “You don’t see the pictures you might expect. You see Vel Phillips dancing with a bunch of kids. You see her with her family. What Derek is really trying to get us to look at is some sort of ordinary black life. and celebrate and honor that as much as we could historical trauma, which is often in the news. “

The fresco will be on display for three years. Sutcliffe promises programming aimed at starting conversations. “I think one of the exciting things about having this mural in this space is that it’s an invitation and a platform for conversations. So these are conversations that Milwaukee really needs to have, and not only at the Black Historical Society of Wisconsin, but in our daily lives. “

The Milwaukee Art Museum is now open Thursday through Sunday. For timetables and ticket information, Click here.

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