Assistant Professor Sable Elyse Smith in Group Exhibition ‘Grief & Grievance: Art and Mourning in America

Brittany Nguyen
February 26, 2021

The New Museum presents the intergenerational exhibition Grief & Grievance: Art and Mourning in America featuring 37 artists including Assistant Professor Sable Elyse Smith in New York.  

Conceived by curator Okwui Enwezor, the exhibition is an artist's meditation on race in America. Through a variety of mediums such as video, painting, sculpture, installation, photography, sound, and performance, the artist addresses the concepts of “ mourning, commemoration, and loss as a direct response to the national emergency of racist violence experienced by Black communities across America. The exhibition will further consider the intertwined phenomena of Black grief and a politically orchestrated white grievance, as each structures and defines contemporary American social and political life,” The New Museum website states. 

The exhibition takes over multiple floors of the museum and builds off one of three historical cornerstones that link the experience of mourning to moments of political action and engagement across American history: Jack Whitten’s Birmingham (1964), Daniel LaRue Johnson’s Freedom Now, Number 1 (1963–64), and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Procession (1986). The artist explores American history from the civil rights movement to the issues of police violence in the US in the 90s and today. 

On top of this, a key theme of the exhibition is the use of abstraction as a strategy for confronting or mediating moments of historical violence or social upheaval. “In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, intensified discussions about the circulation of images of racial violence, death, and mourning in the digital age have also figured into the work of younger artists across a variety of forms. Many artists working today have built upon a tradition of confronting media representations of institutional violence and commensurate protest movements. Contextualizing the work of contemporary artists within an important legacy of political and aesthetic strategies, which have defined the history of art and representation in America for decades, the exhibition will stand as proof that many of the concerns driving the current debates around race, discrimination, and violence in America have been left unconfronted for far too long. As Enwezor suggested, Black grief has been a national emergency for many years now, and many artists have consistently addressed it in their work.”

Smith is an interdisciplinary artist, writer, and educator based in New York. Using video, sculpture, photography, and text, she points to the carceral, the personal, the political, and the quotidian to speak about a violence that is largely unseen, and potentially imperceptible. 

Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America is now on view at The New Museum through June 6, 2021 by advanced timed tickets