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Legacy of Lynching Exhibit Explores Racial Violence Through Art

The Legacy of Lynching, an exhibit at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery (CFG), explores the legacy of racial violence from the period between the Civil War and World War II through a variety of contemporary artworks and archival materials. The exhibit is open until Dec. 16.

Haverford English professor Lindsay Reckson was heavily involved in the process of bringing the exhibit to campus, which is a collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and the Brooklyn Museum. Having already been familiar with EJI through her teaching, Reckson said she “saw an early iteration of some of the video materials and digital materials [created by EJI] for the show in the Spring of 2017 and was incredibly moved by them and felt like they needed the largest audience possible.”

From there, Reckson partnered with Matthew Callinan, Associate Director at the CFG, and Kalia Brooks Nelson, who curated the artworks. A central aspect to the exhibit is EJI’s research, which includes extensive oral histories and video testimonials.

It “testifies to the long-term ongoing generational effects of lynching by having the ancestors of lynching victims talk about the effects on their families,” said Reckson.

Courtney Carter, Post-Baccalaureate Fellow for the Hurford Center of Arts and Humanities, echoed this sentiment. From the interactive map at the entrance, to the variety of video material throughout, EJI’s research brings the viewer into the present, discussing the lasting impacts that the lynching period continues to have on people of colour in the US.

“At the heart of the exhibit is the documentary materials and research of Equal Justice Initiative,” Carter said.

Combining research, archival materials and contemporary art in a multimedia format creates “layers of engagement,” Reckson stated, as viewers go through the exhibit. She added that, an aspect of EJI’s project, and embedded into the exhibits at both the Brooklyn Museum and Haverford, is a “desire to tell this history, without reproducing the terrorising effect that that imagery of lynching was originally meant to have both at the event of the lynching and then in lynching photography, which circulated far beyond the event.”

Including contemporary art pieces in the exhibit was vital for this to be successful. Instead of reproducing the lynchings, the art examines them and gives the history more dimension, while also exploring how the lynching period reverberates in the modern day.

“Each piece of the exhibit is part of a larger whole while also standing alone as its own important work in and of itself,” said Carter.

Art is a unique way of addressing the legacy of racial violence, but all the coordinators of the exhibition stressed the importance of the role of art. One of the main things they thought about when bringing art into the show was “the way that art responds to some of these incredibly pressing issues without being reducible to these issues, or being merely indexical of them,” Reckson said. Callinan shared similar feelings, stressing that art can make the material more accessible and help raise awareness, while also adding engagement and depth to the issue.

It’s quite special to have the show come to Haverford: it is the first travelling iteration of the exhibit. Callinan added: “It’s really amazing that as a follow-up to the Brooklyn Museum, the Equal Justice Initiative thought a small liberal arts college on the main line would be the first choice.” As of this article, the exhibit has had over 1,400 visitors, matching the student population of the college.

It is vital to have these conversations at Haverford and bring them to forefront. A second satellite exhibit, which ran for about three weeks in VCAM, further ties the lynching period to both Haverford’s past and present. Reckson said that the two exhibits combined “ask us to grapple with the immediacy and urgency” of the lynching period and its repercussions.

This second exhibit was curated by Drew Cunningham ‘20, one of Reckson’s students. He got involved in the project after visiting the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition and hearing that she wanted to bring it to Haverford. Titled “The Lynching of Zachariah Walker: A Local Legacy,” the short-term exhibit focused on a local lynching in Coatesville, PA, only about 30 minutes away from campus. The VCAM exhibit is mostly composed of photographs and archival materials.

“This lynching occurred so close to Haverford but there is nothing in Quaker and Special Collections about it,” said Cunningham. “Haverford didn’t respond to it in any way that we know of.” For Cunningham, the secondary exhibit is a necessary, belated response from the community.

Though the CFG exhibit closes soon, the coordinators hope that Haverford will continue engaging with issues surrounding the repercussions of racial violence in the US. Part of that effort has been raising awareness of groups on campus that discuss the issue of systemic racism; a list of these can be found at the entrance to the gallery. Added Carter: “This isn’t a conversation that’s new to Haverford, [but the exhibit] provides a different forum and also includes the arts.”