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The Existence of Black Art

August 17 @ 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM

Join us for  The Existence of Black Art, a discussion in conjunction with our exhibition, The United Colors of Robert Earl Paige.

Artists, archivists, and curators, will discuss the state of Black art, artist communities, and movements across history. Historically, the contributions of Black artists have been overlooked, appropriated, and undermined, which has led to movements like AfriCOBRA and the Black Arts Movement, in which exhibiting artist Robert Earl Paige, was a critical figure. This discussion will speak about the existence (and non-existence) of Black artists in art movements, and how artists today are contextualizing history and paving their own way for visibility in the contemporary art world. Panelists include artists, Parapluie exhibition artist and sculptor and muralist, Bernard Williams, curator, Antawan I. Byrd, and archivist, Skyla S. Hearn. The conversation will be moderated by art historian and Black Arts Movement School Modality Founder, Romi Crawford.

About The Moderator: Romi Crawford

Romi Crawford, Ph.D., is a professor in the Visual and Critical Studies and Liberal Arts departments at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Her research and courses explore areas of race and ethnicity as they relate to American visual culture (including art, film, and photography). She is co-author of The Wall of Respect: Public Art and Black Liberation in 1960s Chicago (Northwestern University Press, 2017). Additional publications include “Do For Self: The AACM and the Chicago Style” in Support Networks (University of Chicago Press, 2014); “Ebony and Jet on Our Mind” in Speaking of People (The Studio Museum in Harlem, 2014); and Theaster Gates Black Archive (with Thomas D. Trummer and Hamza Walker), published by Kunsthaus Bregenz, 2017. She was co-curator of the 2017 Open Engagement conference in Chicago and founding the Museum of Vernacular Arts and Knowledge (MOVAK), a project based platform for art making that is out of sync with museum and gallery values. She was previously Curator and Director of the Education Department at the Studio Museum in Harlem. She received a B.A. from Oberlin College and A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago.

About The Panelists:

Antawan I. Byrd

Antawan I. Byrd, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Art History at Northwestern University and an Associate Curator of Photography and Media at the Art Institute of Chicago. At the Art Institute, he recently curated Closer to the Earth, Closer to My Own Body (2021), a solo exhibition of work by the Kenyan artist Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, and co-edited the catalogue The People Shall Govern! Medu Art Ensemble and the Anti-Apartheid Poster, based on an exhibition that he co-curated in 2019. He co-curated the 2nd Lagos Biennial of Contemporary Art (2019), Kader Attia: Reflecting Memory at Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art (2017), and was an associate curator for the 10th Bamako Encounters, Biennale of African Photography (2015). From 2009 to 2011, he was a Fulbright fellow and curatorial assistant at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos. In 2017, he received the Award for Curatorial Excellence by the Arts Council of the African Studies Association. Byrd is currently co-curating a survey exhibition on Pan-African art and culture, opening at the Art Institute in December 2024 before traveling to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona and the Pompidou, KANAL in Brussels.

Bernard Williams

Bernard Williams is an established artist based in Chicago, IL and working in painting, sculpture, installation, and public art. He holds a BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MFA from Northwestern University. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums across the U.S., and has been represented by the N’Namdi Gallery in Detroit, the Thomas McCormick Gallery in Chicago, and the Ethan Cohen Gallery in New York. Williams has received recognition both regionally and nationally, including grants from the Illinois Arts Council, Artadia in New York in 2001, The Meier Foundation in Chicago in 2013, and The Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation in New York in 2015. He has completed artist residencies at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, The Fine Arts WorkCenter in Provincetown, MA., and the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York in 2013.

The artist began painting outdoor murals in the early 1990’s with the Chicago Public Art Group. While continuing with CPAG, Williams has added outdoor sculpture to his practice. In recents years he has created several outdoor steel sculptures in Chicago, and completed the Black Tractor Project at the Arts Club of Chicago 2019. In November 2020-May 2021 he debuted a large sculptural work in the “Long Dream” group exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. In 2022 the artist installed a large outdoor steel sculpture commission celebrating the African-American suffragette, Naomi Anderson, in Michigan City, Indiana. In 2023, the artist will install steel sculptures at the Nate (Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park) at Governors State University in University Park, IL., and also in Dallas, Texas.

Skyla S. Hearn

Skyla Hearn is a proud Chicagoan (South Side) by way of Mississippi, a dream actualized by way of the Great Migration. As an archivist, liberated memory and cultural worker Skyla is most concerned with supporting a community’s attempt to understand, document and share its own history, particularly those aspects that have not been well recorded.

Skyla’s passion and dedication towards the creation, management, preservation and accessibility of archives, with particular focus on the preservation of Black cultural heritage, ephemeral materials, knowledge development, and social justice has provided her with unique opportunities to work with diverse individuals, communities and repositories at various capacities nationally and internationally.

Skyla is the founder of ActivelyArchiving, co-founder of The Blackivists, a collective of trained Black archivists who prioritize Black cultural heritage preservation and memory work by providing professional expertise on cultural heritage archiving and preservation practices to document historically under documented communities.

Recent past institutional work includes: inaugural Manager of Archives for Cook County Government under the Offices of the Cook County Board President and Board of Commissioners, Director of Archives and Special Collections at the DuSable Museum of African American History and Adjunct Assistant Professor for the Museum and Exhibition Studies (MUSE) Art History Graduate Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Skyla is currently a Special Collections Archivist for the Johnson Publishing Company Archive at the Getty Research Institute. As a legacy keeper, she recently (March 2021) co-edited the zine publication Our Girl Tuesday: An Unfurling for Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs alongside Tempestt Hazel and Sarah Ross with an introduction by Mariame Kaba, published by Sojourners for Justice Press.

Image by Beto Defreitas


Hyde Park Art Center
5020 South Cornell Avenue, Chicago, IL 60615
Chicago, IL 60615 US
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