In an exhibit originally planned for the spring, Artspace New Haven will open “Revolution on Trial: May Day and The People’s Art, New Haven’s Black Panthers @ 50” on Friday, July 24.
The group exhibition features painting, photography, sculpture, installation, and ephemera reflecting on the 1970 murder trial of Black Panther Party national Chairman Bobby Seale, New Haven chapter founder Ericka Huggins and seven other party members.
The show will be on display through Oct. 17, featuring artists Kwadwo Adae, Chloë Bass, Alex Callender, Melanie Crean, Ice the Beef, Paul Bryant Hudson and Miguel Luciano. Artwork will explore the trial and protest movement that erupted around it, the Black Panthers’ organizing in New Haven and the broader nexus of Black Power politics, according to Artspace release.
Through a critical human rights lens, the artists explore the role of existing historical archives, the narratives they do and do not contain, representations of justice and revolution, manifestations of Black joy and communal care, and global ramifications of the trial.
While Seale and Huggins ultimately were acquitted of the murder of Panther member Alex Rackley, a suspected FBI informant, the 1970 case shook the city and underscored inequities in the legal system and wider social structures, according to the Artspace release. The exhibition places particular focus on May Day, the two-day protest organized by the Panthers in solidarity with local activists and Black student leaders at Yale University to bring national attention to the trials. It was a tumultuous time that days later saw the killings of four student protesters at Kent State two more student protesters at Jackson State University.
Some of the art: Miguel Luciano’s bold graphic metal shields, fashioned from slices of the side of a decommissioned school bus, can be mounted on a wall or pedestal; he made them for use by civilians protesting in Puerto Rico. Paul Bryant Hudson’s “Soundtrack” celebrates how music and spoken words create joy, reduce anxiety, enable unity, profess love and mobilize people. Melanie Crean’s mural project calls for the reimagining of two large-scale 1919 neoclassical paintings in New Haven’s Superior Courthouse, which center an allegorical white female figure as the paradigm for justice.
The show, complemented by an Artspace podcast on the historic time, offers sustenance for opposing state violence, which continues today through the police as evidenced by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, says Artspace.
For safety in this pandemic, all visitors should observe social distancing and wear cloth face coverings unless doing so would be contrary to their health or safety because of a medical condition. Hours for he opening reception Friday will be noon to 6 p.m. Orange Street will also be blocked to traffic so that guests can walk through the show and have an outdoor space available for socially distanced conversation.