An exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art, curated by Margaret Adler, BA Class of 1999 and MA Class of 2011, and Dr. Maurita N. Poole, WCMA Mellon Fellow 2013–15, and organized at WCMA by Destinee Fillmore, MA Class of 2023 and WCMA Mellon Fellow 2021–24

Conceived as a commemoration of the 160th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Emancipation: The Unfinished Project of Liberation visualizes what freedom looks like for Black Americans today and the legacy of the Civil War today and beyond. Highlighting the perspectives of contemporary Black artists, Emancipation features commissioned and recent works by Sadie Barnette, Alfred Conteh, Maya Freelon, Hugh Hayden, Letitia Huckaby, Jeffrey Meris, and Sable Elyse Smith. The seven installations span sculpture, photography, and paper and textile fabrications.

The artists responded to John Quincy Adams Ward’s bronze sculpture The Freedman (1863) from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art’s collection. Initially sculpted by Ward before the end of the Civil War, the figure is depicted on the cusp of liberation, having ruptured his bonds, though they are still present as a reminder of his enslavement. It is one of the first American depictions of a Black figure cast in bronze, and this specific cast from 1863 is the only copy of its kind with a key that releases a shackle from the figure’s wrist. Supplemented by loans of Civil War materials from national and local institutions and historically relevant objects from WCMA’s collection that further enhance our understanding of past representations of Blackness, Emancipation demonstrates how historical art collections can serve as a resource and inspiration for contemporary artistic practices.

Emancipation is on view at WCMA through July 14, 2024. Visit the WCMA Emancipation website for more information and related programming.

Featured image: Installation view of Emancipation: The Unfinished Project of Liberation at the Williams College Museum of Art. Artists whose works are visible include Sadie Barnett, Alfred Conteh, and John Quincy Adams Ward.