Artist uses new exhibit to open conversation about black history

Janelle Polcyn

UT research artist Eto Otitigbe is opening conversation about black history in monuments with his new art exhibit on campus, “Patience on a Monument,” in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of Black History Month.

The exhibit’s title was inspired by a drawing by political cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1868 with the same title, Otitigbe said.

“On the monument, it lists all these atrocities that were done to black people during and especially after the Civil War, after emancipation and during reconstruction,” Otitigbe said. “If you read some of those things that were happening back then, they’re still happening today.”

The Warfield Center organized the exhibit, which has been in the works for six to seven months, Otitigbe said. The exhibit will be open until mid-April and is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m.

“The Warfield Center is the programming and research arm of black studies,” said Stephanie Lang, senior program coordinator for the African and African-American Studies. “The director of the … gallery and the director of the Warfield Center thought that his work would fit in nicely to what we are doing around this larger idea of art as invoking conversation as a part of activism.”

Black lives were incorporated in general history starting with Black History Week in 1926, and public awareness has been growing ever since.

“At the time it was created, I think Black History Month was very much not a thing that was in education, so it was definitely something that put into the forefront a culture that didn’t at all have this sort of exposure,” business honors freshman Aziza Khalfani said. “For now, I think it’s less important that we have it as a month, and we should probably be focusing more towards incorporating it in regular life.”

Pieces of Otitigbe’s exhibit include wall art, floor pieces, looped videos and at the end of March, a performative element, all of which take pieces of history and put them into a new perspective with black lives at the center.

“I would say the works in this show are in response to the monuments here at UT, but they’re in response to a lot of other things if we expand what we think about monuments,” Otitigbe said. “I hope [this exhibit] assists with conversations, and I hope it generates dialogue that can inspire change and promote understanding of different points of view. I hope it adds another narrative of history.”