The Art of Disobedience

From the Black Panthers to Ferguson, finding a U.S. history we can be proud of.

Abby Lynn Klinkenberg October 6, 2017

Ja'Tovia Gary's An Ecstatic Experience draws on documentary footage of black freedom struggles. (List Visual Arts Center)

The List Visu­al Arts Cen­ter at MIT is cur­rent­ly home to List Projects: Civ­il Dis­obe­di­ence, a pro­gram of doc­u­men­tary footage of social move­ments from 1931 to the present. In These Times spoke with cura­tor Hen­ri­ette Huld­isch about the exhibition.

What inspired this exhibition?

My re-encounter in ear­ly 2017 with Amer­i­ca, a black-and-white news­reel from 1969: footage from anti-war move­ments, Black Pan­thers, Viet­nam vet­er­ans against the war. It’s basi­cal­ly a por­trait of the incred­i­bly frac­tured and con­flict­ed times. I thought, oh my god, this just feels like 2017, a moment that was a water­shed but also in which Amer­i­ca was incred­i­bly polar­ized and divid­ed, and at the same time there were a lot of pow­er­ful social protest move­ments. Hard-fought social progress, back­lash, con­tro­ver­sial war, con­tro­ver­sial president.

What, ide­al­ly, do you want some­one to take away from the exhibition?

A lot of stu­dents have been jolt­ed into a height­ened polit­i­cal aware­ness over the last year. We’re tak­ing our cue from Thore­au and his idea that if you think your gov­ern­ment is doing some­thing that is unjust, ille­git­i­mate or ille­gal, then it is your demo­c­ra­t­ic oblig­a­tion to protest. We want­ed to demon­strate par­tic­u­lar flash­points in Amer­i­can his­to­ry as a point of inspi­ra­tion, but also to counter defeatism. I think it’s more pro­duc­tive to think the oth­er way and imag­ine, for exam­ple, where we would be if the suf­fragette move­ment had nev­er existed.

Which pieces have peo­ple respond­ed to most?

We’ve had an incred­i­ble amount of inter­est in the screen­ing of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, the doc­u­men­tary on James Bald­win. I per­son­al­ly was very impressed by Made­line Anderson’s I Am Some­body, which doc­u­ments a strike for bet­ter wages and bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions by black women health work­ers in the South in the late 1960s. They even­tu­al­ly win — a kind of David vs. Goliath story.

List Projects: Civ­il Dis­obe­di­ence will be at MIT’s List Visu­al Arts Cen­ter in Cam­bridge, Mass., through Octo­ber 29.

Abby Lynn Klinken­berg is a sum­mer 2017 edi­to­r­i­al intern at In These Times.
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