Edmonia Lewis, Forever Free, 1867
Hank Willis Thomas, I Am A Man, 2009
"Although it may be a surprise that I'm not recommending that the work of Andy Warhol, an icon of American culture, I'm selecting two artists whose social activism spans a century and more. Edmonia Lewis is perhaps one of the most under-recognized and under-celebrated artists in American history. Half African and half Native American, she rose to the upper echelon of the international art world as the Civil War raged on in America. Her masterpiece Forever Free (1867) is a proud and heroic monument to the new-found freedom of African Americans. Thanks to its strong imagery and broken chains, it represents the essence of American freedom."
"I would also display this amazing sculpture in front of a grid of contemporary artworks by young African American artist Hank Willis Thomas. Thomas' phenomenal work I Am A Man (2008), echoes Lewis' depiction of freedom; however, in this case, a play on words evocative of picket signs held by proud African American men during the Civil Rights movement."
"Shown together, I believe these works, made just over 140 years apart from one another, draw much-needed attention to the progress our country has made in terms of civil rights, yet also show that there's much work left to be done."
(Edmonia Lewis: Courtesy of the collection of Howard University Art Museum, Washington, DC)
(Hank Willis Thomas: Courtesy of the collection of Ford Foundation, New York, NY)