The FIA dedicates a new gallery to African American and African Diaspora artists

FLINT, Michigan — Some of the most important artists from the mid-20th century to today will now be on display at the Flint Institute of Arts (FIA). The museum announced its new gallery space, dedicated to artworks by African American and African Diaspora artists. The figurative and abstract art collection features over 320 pieces, ranging from paintings, sculptures, and mixed media works from the museum’s permanent collection. 

Associate Curator at the FIA, Rachael Holstege, says the museum’s decision to add the new space is part of its larger mission of representation. 

“The museum has placed an emphasis on collecting artworks by artists who are often underrepresented in art museums, including African American and African Diaspora artists,” said Holstege. “Today, there are over 320 artworks in the permanent collection by Black artists. In a city where a large amount of the population is African American, we felt it was important to create a space where artworks by these artists can be on view, all year, for visitors and our community to experience. Black artists can be found elsewhere in the permanent collection galleries, but dedicating a space to these artists reinforces the FIA's continued mission in collecting and exhibiting artwork by artists who have made important contributions to the history of art."

The museum has been collecting artwork by artists of color since 1969, and the curating process has remained an important one, even today.

"The selection process for what works were going to be displayed took a lot of time and thought,” said Holstege. “In the end, we selected 11 artworks by well-known Black artists like Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Winfred Rembert, as well as new acquisitions to the permanent collection by artists Keith Duncan, Purvis Young, and Tajh Rust. With artworks dating back from the late 1940s through today, you can see how current artists have been inspired by the themes and techniques of their predecessors.”

Keith Duncan, American, born 1967. The Funeral Repass, 2015 Acrylic on unstretched canvas with fabric 71 x 108 inches.
These pieces of art act as symbols of leadership and boundary-pushing as they explore themes of community, reflect historical moments and places, delve into the ideas of identity and representation, question social justice, and provide self-expression.

Many of the artists hope to use art as a way to change the world around them, acting as a catalyst for social change. 

Reception to the new gallery has been positive by FIA staff, visitors, school groups, and the surrounding community, according to Holstege. “The artworks in this gallery are visually dynamic and many incorporate non-traditional materials and found objects, and people are just drawn to this,” she said.

One of the stand-out pieces from the gallery is a new work, The Funeral Repass, by Keith Duncan. “It's big, 108 inches wide by 71 inches tall, and made up of different fabrics joined together, creating a tapestry,” said Holstege. “The painting depicts a large group gathering after a funeral ceremony. The work was purchased with funds raised by the Community Gala committee and serves as a physical representation of the community members who have come together to support the FIA.”

Ultimately, Holstege hopes that the new gallery can elicit a sense of appreciation and exploration of the past, present, and future. “I hope that after seeing the newly installed gallery, visitors leave with a greater appreciation for these artists within the larger scheme of art history, and also take time to think about the subjects these artists explore in their artworks, and how that can relate to the world we live in today.”

The FIA’s commitment to collecting, exhibiting, and celebrating art by African American and African Diaspora artists is continually growing. Through The Community Gala, an annual celebration of Black History Month, funds are raised to purchase more artwork by African American artists for the museum’s permanent collection. 

The Flint Institute of Arts is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free for FIA members and Genesee County residents, $10 for adults, free for children 12 and under, $8 for students with ID and for seniors. Admission is free for everyone on Saturday, courtesy of Huntington.
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