Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance
February 18, 2023 — May 14, 2023
Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing Gallery
Stephen Towns: Declaration & Resistance examines the American dream through the lives of Black Americans from the late 18th century to the present time. Using labor as a backdrop, Towns highlights the role African Americans have played in shaping the economy and explores their resilience, resistance, and endurance that have challenged the United States to truly embrace the tenets of its Declaration of Independence.
On the occasion of this solo exhibition, Towns is creating thirty-eight new figurative paintings and story quilts that, along with existing work, expand the historical narratives of enslaved and free people who toiled under the most extreme hardships, yet persevered through acts of rebellion, skillful guile, and self-willed determination. The exhibition will be grounded with several existing works, including his installation quilt, Birth of a Nation, 2014, to provide the foundation for the creation of Towns’s new series of quilts that give voice to textile, culinary, and agricultural workers.
Towns also foregrounds the stories of Black military workers, often frontline service people, who put their country first, which is the ultimate form of patriotism. A few works in the exhibition shine light on the history of convict leasing (commonly known as chain gangs) by the criminal justice system in which the Black community was made to serve the economic interests of white southern elites via forced labor.
The exhibition is organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art with guest curator Kilolo Luckett, executive director of ALMA|LEWIS, an experimental, contemporary art platform for critical thinking, dialogue, and creative expression dedicated to Black culture.