The Boca Raton Museum of Art is serving as the first host of the landmark exhibition “Whitfield Lovell: Passages.” On view now through May 21, “Passages” is the largest exhibition ever presented of Lovell’s work, renowned for its focus on lost African American history and the examination and questioning of America’s collective heritage.
Organized by the American Federation of Arts in collaboration with Lovell, the exhibition is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Terra Foundation for American Art. The sprawling showcase encompasses the entire first floor galleries of the Boca Raton Museum of Art. It also marks the first time these multi-sensory installations are presented together in a museum-wide show of this monumental size and scope.
“These installations create a profound immersive experience that enables visitors to become participants in—not just observers of—the experience of these ancestors who were lost to time,” says Pauline Forlenza, the director and CEO of American Federation of Arts. “Together, these works convey passages between bondage, freedom, and socioeconomic independence, promoting a deeper connection with African American histories through art. An exhibition of this magnitude would not be possible without the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the six museums selected for this tour.”
Lovell is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Genius Grant, and is recognized as one of the world’s leading artistic interpreters of lost African American history. The internationally acclaimed artist is celebrated for his portraits, hand-drawn with Conté crayons, inspired by historic photos he finds. Lovell combines the often life-size portraits with an intuitive assemblage of time-worn objects to raise universal questions about memory, American life, and reclaiming lost history that had been erased.
The works in “Passage” are anchored by images of African Americans, from the 1860s to the 1950s (between the Emancipation Proclamation and the start of the Civil Rights Movement), a period of time the artist feels has been overlooked by the art world.
“I see the so-called ‘anonymous’ people in these vintage photographs as being stand-ins for the ancestors I will never know,” says Lovell. “I see history as being very much alive. One day, 100 years from now, people will be talking about us as history. The way I think about time is very different; I don’t think it really was very long ago that these things happened, it wasn’t that long ago that my grandmother’s grandmother was a slave.”
Learn more about the exhibition here.