To preserve history of any kind is challenging enough. Trying to do so with the very recent past, particularly when that past blurs with the present, adds another layer of difficulty.
This was the task that veteran curators and art world leaders Leslie King-Hammond and Lowery Sims took on when they began collecting material for “Make Good Trouble: Marching for Change,” the new exhibit they guest curated at Baltimore’s Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. On its surface, “Make Good Trouble" is mainly a catalog of signs, photos and other materials from the protests that swept Maryland — and the world — after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May. But it also recognizes its place as just the most recent chapter in the centuries-old history of resistance to anti-Black racism in the United States.
“You’re pulling in all of these scraps, these elements, together that reflect — and this is really important — what ordinary people are experiencing, and have been so denied, and are reaching a point of frustration [about] with this explosion, just is like a tsunami effect," said King-Hammond, who also sits on the Lewis Museum’s board. "This is history that has been going on for 400, excuse me, freaking years.″
Most of the exhibit is in one room on the Lewis Museum’s bottom floor. The room’s walls are filled with protest signs from actions in Baltimore, the Eastern Shore and other parts of Maryland. One wall highlights the messages of support for Dr. Andrea Kane, the first Black superintendent of Queen Anne’s County schools, that demonstrators carried after she faced pushback for supporting antiracist efforts. Another wall features a video, “Peace of Mind,” that follows three men’s travels to Washington, D.C. on Juneteenth this year for a protest.
The exhibit also features four works from the racial justice-focused murals project in Patterson Park — a subject of controversy after a Department of Recreation and Parks employee removed and damaged some of the artwork in August.
“Make Good Trouble,” which takes its name from a famous quote by the late civil rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, simultaneously reaches to the past. Outside the main room sits “Inside the Van,” a painting by Taha Heydari that draws on the 2015 death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in Baltimore police custody. “Peace of Mind” prominently features Marvin Gaye’s 1970s protest anthem “What’s Going On." While this continuous need to protest anti-Black racism bothered the curators, they said it also compels ongoing institutional change, including at museums.
“We’re doing this context in this museum knowing that mainstream museums are trying to make gestures, and at the same time, not being responsive to their [Black, Indigenous and people of color] employees ... This is a time of reckoning at all museums,” Sims said.
Interim executive director Wanda Draper said she hoped this exhibit inspires understanding of what Lewis meant by “make good trouble.”
“Hopefully, [people] will look at their personal experiences and internalize what this all means to us as a people," she said.
“Make Good Trouble: Marching for Change" opens to the public on Friday and will likely be on display through February.