‘Flying Geese,’ mounted digital c-prints and stained African mahogany, by Hank Willis Thomas. The work, part of the Mississippi Museum of Art’s Center for Art & Public Exchange program, will be on display Dec. 9-July 8, 2018. 

The Mississippi Museum of Art unveiled the Center for Art & Public Exchange on Thursday, an initiative that will present original art to create a modern narrative in  Mississippi around topics such as race and identity.

CAPE, as it is being called, will include a series of exhibitions and art experiences, beginning with a symposium in February, “Bringing Forward the Past: Art, Identity, and the American South.”  The goal is to gather artists and scholars to explores issues such as race and identity in the state.

“We think that when people have relationships with profound art they can find new truths about who we are as a people and understand each other better and form new communities that really moves us forward instead of keeping us in the past,”  said Betsy Bradley, director of the Mississippi Museum of Art.

Betsy Bradley, director of the Mississippi Museum of Art, introduces the Center for Art & Public Exchange on Thursday in Jackson.

The Museum will focus on three core values with this initiative: equity, transparency, and truth.

One example is Flying Geese, a piece by Hank Willis Thomas that uses pieces of a 1910 picture taken by New Orleans-based photographer Arthur P. Bedou. Thomas’ work leaves empty spaces to symbolize gaps in collective memories regarding civil rights, as well as to let the viewer frame the scene in a modern context. The piece will be on view to the public from Dec. 9 until July 8, 2018.

Julian Rankin, managing director of the Center for Art & Public Exchange at the Mississippi Museum of Art, refers to Benny Andrews’ 3-D painting, ‘Mississippi River Bank’, which will appear in the museum’s bicentennial exhibit, ‘Picturing Mississippi,’ in December.

“The whole purpose is to bring art and communities together to ignite conversations that address social inequities in Mississippi and to write new narratives to make Mississippi a more equitable and honest place for all its citizens,” said Julian Rankin, managing director of CAPE. “We’re juxtaposing artworks from different times, and with our bicentennial coming up we’re diving into monuments and symbols that in public discourse there’s a lot of clashing about. We’re going to break down those barriers and have conversations that are personal and individual that build these collective truths.

“We believe that by changing narratives in Mississippi, by decentralizing the power structures of how we have these conversations, the people’s voices will be held up, and that’s what people have to reckon with: what are the voices in the public arena, and that’s how change comes.”

‘Sharecropper’ by Jeffrey Gibson is part of the Mississippi Museum of Art’s CAPE project.

Another artwork featured through CAPE is Sharecropper, a 2015 piece by Jeffrey Gibson; Gibson uses the punching bag as a way to empathize with his grandparents, who were sharecroppers.

CAPE is funded by a $1,398,000 grant over three years from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The project will host residencies for both Mississippi-based and nationally recognized artists to work with communities in responding to local issues.

“The Mississippi Museum of Art has been investigating stories about our own past and our own relationships with each other through art for a long time,” said Bradley. “Through that work we became more and more committed to engaging our communities and artists whose imaginations are filled with Mississippi so that we can realize the power of art when people have relationships with [the work].”

Intertwining with CAPE and the state’s upcoming bicentennial in December, the museum’s “major exhibition” Picturing Mississippi, 1817-2017: Land of Plenty, Pain and Promise will be open to the public on Dec. 9.

For more information about the CAPE initiative and other upcoming exhibitions at the museum visit www.museumcape.org.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on NBC.com. In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.

Sereena Henderson managed Mississippi Today’s social media and reported on Mississippi culture from August 2016 until June 2020. She was also a member of the engagement team and curated and delivered the daily newsletter. Sereena, a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is a graduate of the Ole Miss School of Journalism and New Media.