This is a powerful and brave installation. There are many conversations going on at once, and it bravely asks us, the viewer, questions. Mack said, “All museums share a fundamental obligation to provide context and challenge perceptions.” This one does that. Often when we walk into something daring, what we feel is a mirror of ourselves and our own ideas. So, seeing the truth may be unsettling. This show will no doubt bring out some dragon fire from within us, but that is a good thing. It is a conversation that, in the South, in Charleston, needs to become commonplace and everyday, not rare.
African American influence in the American South affected everything, from the foods we consider regional to the way we speak. Logan and Page create this presence, and symbolize it the way the South has traditionally treated this subject, by using wallpaper imagery and it covers all the walls in this large gallery space: tiny white oval faces spray painted everywhere. They use the museum’s portraits of old Charleston families and hang them side by side with new photographs of Black residents who continue to carry on the same last name, in a portion of the show called “Famous Last Names.” It includes neatly folded Ku Klux Klan robes, wrapped and tied in pretty little bundles, with ribbons, to allude to the South’s infamous past and suggests that we still hold old attitudes, though politely. One of my favorite details is a narrow strip of a repeated photograph. It is an image of a tea party from the fifties. A proper white woman serves a man a cookie on a silver tray. It wraps the room.
This show is terrific, and will be up through Spoleto, Charleston’s Arts Festival that runs from May 22 to June 7. Angela Mack is to be commended for insisting that this conversation be a loud one. It is thrilling to be in a city that is facing her dragon, and using artists to help us see ourselves. Tell everyone you know; bring everyone you know. For me, I’ll be humming Aretha’s classic song this week and thinking in fresher ways about what she means when she sings that word.