Diversity’s Iridian Gallery reimagines RVA’s historical markers with ‘Truthful History Heals’ exhibit
The Iridian Gallery at Diversity Richmond is hosting the “Truthful History Heals” exhibit, an artistic re-imagining of Monument Avenue and other historical markers into more accurate representations of history.
“Truthful History Heals” was curated by Beth Marschak, a life-long LGBTQ activist and Chair of the Board at Diversity Richmond.
”It started out because I was involved in a group centered on Facebook that developed some historic markers with what we felt was a more truthful version of history,” said Marschak. “We had those displayed at various things, including the international bicycle races, and I really wanted the opportunity for more people to see them.”
The Facebook group, called Truthful History Heals / Shockoe Bottom Matters, was founded by activist and mayoral candidate Farid Alan Schintzius and works to combat inaccurate and biased representations of history. The historic markers that the group constructed were designed as examples of what could accompany the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue in order to bring them up to date.
The signs are updated to include contextual information about why the statues themselves were constructed and to more fully represent the beliefs and deeds that resulted in their becoming the faces of the Confederacy. Unlike the current historical markers on Monument Avenue, the Truthful History Heals signs acknowledge that these historical figures fought to preserve the institution of slavery and references each figure’s personal endorsement of owning slaves.
The exhibit is divided into four galleries, each loosely based on the concept of exploring history through new and different lenses. The Monument Avenue signs are displayed alongside the 11:11 Portal Project by Free Egunfemi.
The 11:11 Portal Project is a kind of shrine, dedicated to the lives and achievements of people who had a positive impact on the Richmond community. The portal is meant to honor former community leaders for their service and to inspire people today to better their own communities.
“People who lived exemplary lives who would be considered honored ancestors who made a significant impact to their cities in ways that did not infringe on the rights of other people, to hurt other people, to oppress other people. That’s the criteria of getting on the ancestor portal,” said Egunfemi.
Various people and organizations including Elizabeth Van Lew and the RVA Suffragettes are featured on Egunfemi’s grid of Self Determined Ancestors, for their contributions to the well being of their community. Patrons are encouraged to utilize the 11:11 Portal and activate their ancestral blessings by focusing on the contributions of the Honored Ancestors, thanking them for their service, and visualizing ways that you can follow their example by helping others.
The next room within “Truthful History Heals” is an interactive exercise, where artists and audience alike are encouraged to add their own interpretation of what truthful history means to the gallery walls. Lora Beldon, co-chair of the Iridian Gallery Exhibition Committee, and Beth Marschak developed the idea of crowdsourcing a portion of the gallery because they wanted to give people a space to be a part of the conversation.
“The whole idea of what art and history representation we surround ourselves with as a city needs to go way beyond people who think of themselves as experts because it impacts all of us,” said Marschak.
All submissions will continue to be accepted throughout the exhibition, and are displayed on the wall inside two giant speech bubbles, meant to visually signify a conversation about art and history.
A sketch of the stone base that supports the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue is provided to those interested in expressing themselves artistically, by drawing in whatever they think should replace.
This prompt was inspired by the third portion in the exhibit, in which members of Middle of Broad, or mOb, a partnership of three design departments at VCUarts, digitally reimagined Robert E. Lee’s statue though visual satire and embellishment. These potential statues are diverse and range from portraying the Lee statue being auctioned off at auction, to being blown up, from the humorous to the grotesque.
The final and largest space in “Truthful History Heals” is a collection of works by eight artists with ties to Richmond, featuring Noah Scalin, Paul DiPasquale, Roberto Duperior, Pat Riot, Elizabeth Jan Shropshire, Dennis Winston, Justice Dwight Elder, and Spencer Lowell Turner.
Each piece adds a different voice and perspective to the visual discussion of art and history through representations of historical and minority subjects.
When Noah Scalin was commissioned to create artwork that represented the city of Richmond, he decided to showcase the forgotten history of Jackson Ward’s past as the “Harlem of the South” through a portrait of Richmond-native, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Bojangles was a famous performer throughout the 30s and 40s, who became known for his dancing and cheerful demeanor.
“He started out as a kid on the streets of Richmond dancing for pennies, literally,” said Scalin. “By the time he was an adult he was the highest paid black performer in the country, and then he died basically penniless.”
The somber irony of Bojangles’ story is reflected in Scalin’s piece, “Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson”, a portrait of a forgotten Hollywood icon made entirely of pennies.
Justice Dwight Elder uses 60s-inspired colors and patterns to explore the representations of sexuality through history in his piece “Dreams Do Come True”. The acrylic painting depicts two kissing men locked in an embrace above a pedestal that reads, “MAKE LOVE NOT WAR”.
“I’ve done shows other places and they always tell me you can’t hang that up, you can’t have that here,” said Elder. “Now’s my chance to do this where it’s accepted and where people will really appreciate it.”
The exhibit opened last Thursday, June 2nd and will remain on display at Diversity Richmond at 1407 Sherwood Ave. until August 26th.
Earlier this week, Diversity Richmond celebrated a number of local folks and distributed more than $30K in grant funds to organizations around the city hoping to improve life across the LGBTQ spectrum. In a lengthy ceremony, the city’s largest LGBTQ non-profit gave out funds raised from the Diversity Thrift second hand store as well as [...]December 2, 2016
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