SALT LAKE CITY — Black Refractions is the first art exhibit of its kind in Utah, featuring 100 works by black artists from the famed Studio Museum in Harlem.
"Black refractions really reflects about 100 years of creative practice from the 20's to today, and a huge diversity of materiality, processes and perspectives," said Whitney Tassie, senior curator at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, where the exhibit is located.
The Studio Museum was founded in 1968 during a moment of social and civil transformation in the United States.
"That was the year Martin Luther King was assassinated," Tassie added. "There were Vietnam war protests. It was the year of the black power salute at the Mexico City Olympics."
The social upheavals around the country inspired change in the art world as well. Sparking conversations about the under-representation of black artists in the country's biggest and most well-known museums.
"Art institutions like the Met, or the Whitney Museum of American Art," Tassie said. "Out of those conversations, a group of activists, artists, philanthropists came together to form the Studio Museum with the specific intent of supporting the work of black artists."
Meligha Garfield, director of the Black Cultural Center at the University of Utah, said the exhibit is an opportunity to expose people to the diversity in black culture.
"There's this rich history of art that represents blackness and it transcends various different genres, different mediums, and things of that nature," he said.
Garfield added that black history in the United States tends to be focused on the civil rights movement and black activism, but black history and culture is much broader than that.
"Black history is not just Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Blackness is not just activism," Garfield said. "Blackness is not just something that's in the United States. It's a global kind of thing, and it transcends various different things."
Tassie added that the exhibit helps shed light on the social injustices that have affected the black community for centuries.
"Historically, art institutions in this country have excluded the voices and the work of black artists and artists of color," she said. "That's a larger social problem, that's not just the art world. So, it's sort of a larger story that is reflected in our institutions."
Utah was selected as one of six locations to host the works on loan from the Studio Museum in Harlem, an exciting and rare opportunity for the entire community.
"We're kind of special in the fact that this is one-in-six museum exhibits that are in the country from the Studio Museum of Harlem," Garfield said. "And they picked Utah!"
"It's exciting to share those stories and to talk about those stories," Tassie added. "I'm also hoping that people will think about the context of the Studio Museum and the role that Studio Museum played in addressing social injustice."
Black Refractions is open through April 10 at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and there is limited capacity at the museum due to the pandemic. UMFA has also created a digital experience of Black Refractions for people who cannot make it to the museum in person.
CLICK HERE to view a list of Black History Month events hosted by the Black Cultural Center.