Nov 25th, 2016, 12:00 PM

The Color Line, a tribute paid to African-Americans

By Sarah Sidi
Artwork by Thornton Dial, Don't Matter How Raggly The Flag, It Still Got To Tie Us Together, 2003. Image credit: Sarah Sidi
Quai Branly museum presents a must-see exhibition on the history of African-American artists and segregation.

The Color Line, an exhibition running from October 4 to January 15 at the Musée du Quai Branly, uses art to pay tribute to the African-Americans who fought for their rights in the United States throughout a dark period of more than 150 years. Nearly all the artists and thinkers exposed were marginalized in their time; yet they came together to make change happen. Even though the American civil war, which ended in 1865, was followed by the abolition of slavery in 1877, racial discrimination remained and segregation in society grew stronger than ever. Therefore, the exhibition embraces the history of those artists and thinkers who were on the wrong side of the utterly discriminative “color line” and whose artistic creation, practiced in all its forms, was the weapon of their struggle for peace and justice.

Artwork by David Hammons, Untitled, 1995. Image credit: Sarah Sidi

From the deconstruction of blackface in the 19th century by the famous black actor Bert Williams to the cultural upheaval of the Harlem Renaissance in the beginning of 20th century, and the modern Black Lives Matter movement, a hundred and fifty years of black activism against white repression is presented chronologically to the visitors. This attests to the very rich creativity that emerged from the African-American cultural revolt.

What is extremely powerful and moving in the exhibition is its liveliness. From the very beginning, visitors find themselves immersed in the artists' worlds and their historical and cultural contexts. Newspapers are hung on the wall for each period, showing not only the actual struggle of the African-Americans but different media reactions to the events, which allows viewers to see almost firsthand the progress in society. Headphones are available to listen to poetry or excerpts from novels, and original music is played at several corners of the gallery, creating a sense of community with the other visitors. Short movies are projected, with their original cinema posters displayed. There is also the special opportunity to be able to visit a small reproduction of The Paris Exposition of 1900, at which the university professor W.E.B Du Bois showcased black social and cultural pride in an event called Exhibit of American Negroes.

Artwork by Whitfield Lovell, Autour du monde, 2008. Image credit: Sarah Sidi

From the moment we enter the universe of the exhibition, we are able to feel the vibes of this terribly breathless and interminable fight of those courageous artists and thinkers who contributed to blur the color line. Viewers carry this intense energy within themselves until the end of the exposition and beyond—as, unfortunately, it is clear that this struggle is far from over. The current movement Black Lives Matter is living proof of the remaining and strongly ingrained racial discriminations against people of color in the United States. The Color Line may be blurred, but it is just as present as ever.