This past weekend I had the privilege of traveling to Detroit to attend Facing Race, a national conference presented by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. Mobilizing over 4,000 attendees this year, Facing Race is the largest multiracial, inter-generational gathering for organizers, educators, creatives and other leaders. When Atlanta was host to Facing Race in 2016, WonderRoot presented an exhibit which was the culmination of our Percolate initiative.
While at the conference, I participated in breakout sessions around the topics of mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline, narrative and cultural strategies for social change, the neo-colonial implications of art institutions, and a discussion about countering white supremacy which centered around the intersections between anti-black racism and antisemitism. Among other activities, I was also fortunate enough to catch this year’s keynote speakers, Tarana Burke and Hari Kondabolu. Needless to say, the good folks at Race Forward kept us busy.
There was a larger emphasis on narrative and the power of the arts at Facing Race than in previous years, which brings me to a moment that needs to be highlighted.
This year’s conference displayed work by AgitArte, a collective of working artists and cultural organizers, throughout the hallways and lobby of the Cobo Center. Their When We Fight, We Win! / ¡Cuando Luchamos, Ganamos! exhibition featured work from artists, cultural organizers and collectives who bolster people’s movements and build solidarity across place, culture and struggle. One of the pieces in this exhibit is an activist poster created by Puerto Rican artists related to their experience with disaster relief after Hurricane Maria. The poster, pictured below, was promptly removed at the request of the Cobo Center before attendees arrived at the conference.
Thursday afternoon, Race Forward released the following statement about the piece of art removed from the exhibit:
We at Race Forward are deeply committed to advancing narratives that center the voices and stories of people of color through art and culture. The Facing Race conference will continue to be a forum that helps us to imagine and build a just multiracial society.
We became aware this morning that an art piece presented by the organizers of the AgitArte exhibition was taken down. The art was not removed at our request, and we condemn this act of censorship. We are working now to ensure that this work of art continues to be prominently placed for all of our conference attendees to see and engage with. We will also revise our policies and contracts with our conference and event venues, so that this type of censorship does not occur again.
The art that was taken down elevates the plight of people of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and the abject and intentionally negligent response by the U.S. government, namely FEMA and the U.S. Military. We strongly believe in the power of art to catalyze conversations about the needs of the most disenfranchised and marginalized communities.
We thank our partners at AgitArte for bringing this matter to our attention, and for their fearless and revolutionary art that inspires thought, heart and action.
Though it remained removed from the main exhibit, Race Forward president Glenn Harris brought attention to the artwork during the opening ceremony Thursday evening.
View this post on Instagram
After learning that a piece of @agitarte_cultural_works #HurricaneMaria / #PuertoRico related artwork was removed from their exhibit, #RaceForward president #GlennHarris tells the crowd about the incident and puts the art up on stage, where it will stay for the rest of the conference – to make SURE it gets seen. #solidarity #puertorico🇵🇷 #agitarte #resistanceart
The artwork lived on the main stage of the conference hall through the entirety of the weekend, serving as a symbol of resistance to an attempted silencing.
Like Race Forward, WonderRoot believes in art’s power to catalyze conversations about the needs of the most disenfranchised and marginalized communities. Who are some other artists and organizations that utilize this power? Let us know in the comments below!
Nina Dolgin is a visual artist and Programs Coordinator at WonderRoot. Her personal mission is to shift the Atlanta arts landscape toward more accessible and diverse programming.