NCMA Recommends: Ernest and Ruth

Hank Willis Thomas, Ernest and Ruth, 2015, painted steel, H. 83 x W. 96 x D. 24 in., Gift of Pat and Tom Gipson

Contemporary artist Hank Willis Thomas challenges viewers to address history, race, class, gender, and identity by magnifying the lens of popular culture, advertising, and marketing. Thomas is fascinated, he says, with how “history and culture are framed, who is doing the framing, and how these factors affect our interpretation of reality.”  In the Museum Park, Ernest and Ruth (2015)–a pair of sculptures by Thomas shaped like cartoon thought or speech bubbles–offers visitors a place to sit and interact with the work of art and each other. “When viewers occupy the piece,” he says, pointing to our shared responsibility, “they are encouraged to contemplate what it means to inhabit their own speech and beliefs.” Learn more about this work of art from the artist in the video below.

Black on Black Project Curated Conversations: What’s the origin of the pain?

Join us on Thursday, June 11, from 7 to 8 pm for a free virtual premiere and panel discussion of the short film The Will of the Father.

The confluence of recent events has led to more than a week of protests around the country, including in North Carolina. Instead of dwelling on the protests, Black on Black Project founder Michael S. Williams wants to go deeper and explore why so many citizens are in pain. Williams will lead a conversation and virtual premiere of his short film, a performance piece that looks at some of the slave history of the Dorothea Dix property in Raleigh. The conversation includes poet Johnny Lee Chapman III, dancer Anthony “Ay-Jaye” Nelson Jr., photographer Jade Wilson, and Angela Thorpe, director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission.

Poetry Reading: “Oh My Brother”

“I wrote ‘Oh My Brother’ several years ago. A poet in New York invited other poets nationwide to submit poetry for the Poetry of Lamentation Online Anthology created to memorialize the murdered and symbolize solidarity with grieving families across the United States whose loved ones are being murdered by law enforcement. Again, writers, musicians, dancers, sculptors, and all artists are called upon to use our creativity to declare, agitate, and resist. We will not perish as long as we remember the righteous fire and light inside our artistic utterances.”–Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina Poet Laureate

Inhabiting Our Speech: Learning and Talking about Race

The North Carolina African American Heritage Commission works to achieve the mission of preserving, protecting, and promoting North Carolina’s African American history, art, and culture, for all people. The AAHC’s initiatives include Freedom Roads, which recognizes the freedom seekers and roads, rivers, and ports across the state crucial to the efforts of enslaved African Americans seeking freedom, and the NC Green Book Project, which highlights the experiences of African American travelers during the Jim Crow Era in North Carolina.

– AAHC Director Angela Thorpe shares two resources for educating ourselves on racial equity and talking about race with friends, family, or children.

– NMAAHC Talking about Race

– Teaching Tolerance

Powerful Pairing: Hank Willis Thomas and Aaron Douglas

This reflection is inspired by the Museum’s Interchanges installations, which pair works of art across time periods and mediums to face challenging histories head on.

Hank Willis Thomas’s large-scale photograph The Cotton Bowl (2011) juxtaposes a football player crouching on a yard line with a mirror image of an enslaved man crouching to pick cotton. By altering and combining familiar images, icons, and logos, the artist raises questions about how history is negotiated, mitigated, and reconciled in the present.

Aaron Douglas’s painting Harriet Tubman (1931), currently on loan from Bennett College in Greensboro, lauds the courageous Underground Railroad conductor. In the picture one man holds a hoe, symbolizing the freedom to farm independently; a young woman reads a book, the freedom to gain education; a third man lies back enjoying his leisure time and staring raptly at a towering city. Though Tubman looks back, her stride is forward, leading people onward. Douglas wrote that he portrayed Tubman “as a heroic leader breaking the shackles of bondage and pressing on toward a new day.” She and others changed the course of history by helping to bring about an end to slavery.


Hank, Willis Thomas, The Cotton Bowl, 2011, digital chromogenic print, 65 x 96 in., Gift of the North Carolina Museum of Art Contemporaries

Aaron Douglas, Harriet Tubman, 1931, oil on canvas, framed 49 3/4 x 73 1/2 in., On loan from Bennett College for Women Collection, Greensboro, North Carolina

Virtual Slow Art Appreciation

Join Angela Thorpe, director of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, in reflecting on Aaron Douglas’s painting Harriet Tubman. This free virtual program on Wednesday, June 17, from 7 to 8 pm, guides you through centering techniques and a breathing practice followed by an intentional observation of the piece. Discussion is encouraged. For ages 16 and up.

Film Recommendations

These films by black filmmakers address and depict issues of race and injustice and provide new perspectives on how to think and talk about these issues. See more recommendations here.

 – 13th (2016). Director: Ava DuVernay. This documentary looks at how race and the justice system are linked to the mass incarceration of black Americans. Watch on Netflix.

– I Am Not Your Negro (2016). Director: Raoul Peck. This documentary uses a collection of James Baldwin’s notes and letters on race in America to explore his legacy and activism. Watch on Amazon or rent on YouTube or iTunes.

– Fruitvale Station (2013). Director: Ryan Coogler. The true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, who becomes swept up in an altercation with police that ends in tragedy. Watch free on Tubi.

Family reading recommendations

Hank Willis Thomas’s sculpture Ernest and Ruth makes us think about how families can turn to art and literature to start difficult conversations about race and racism in their lives and community. Here is a selection of books about racism and social justice for all ages.


Jun 05, 2020


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