In Fall 2020, as our galleries remained closed to visitors due to the pandemic, we challenged ourselves to think imaginatively about engaging visitors through our permanent collection. While the past year has altered so much in our lives, it has also highlighted how art remains a vital window into our feelings and experiences. Behold, Be Held uses the facades of The Block, the neighboring Ethel M. Barber Theater, and the building of our community partner Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) as an outdoor gallery.
Reproductions of artworks from the Block Museum collection invite visitors to reflect on how art holds us through moments of crisis. These works capture gestures that we may have taken for granted prior to the pandemic, but we have missed dearly. The selection of works was guided by themes of self-care, self-authorship, and community. It also explores how subtle moments with others prepare and carry us on our journeys. Within these works, people hold each other through life changes, create spaces of sustenance, and raise their hands to declare “I am still here.” Behold, Be Held is a meditation and a prompt, asking:
Behold, Be Held is presented by The Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. The Block is a dynamic, imaginative, and innovative teaching and learning resource for Northwestern and its surrounding communities, featuring a global program that crosses time periods and cultures and serves as a springboard for thought-provoking discussions relevant to our lives today.
The exhibition is curated by the 2020–21 Block Museum of Art Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow, Rikki Byrd (PhD candidate, African American Studies). It has been developed in partnership with The Leadership Project at Youth and Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) in Evanston, IL, with the participation of: Malik Agee, Isabel Horek Gualtier, Jocelyn Maldonado, Saliha Ansari, James Thoussaint, Aaliyah Knox, Nia Williams, Mia Williams, McKenzie Royal, Cherie Animashaun, Ciara Nicole Phillips-Gentle, Michia Kenderick.
This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency. Generous support has been provided by the Northwestern Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts; the Black Arts Consortium; the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; and The Graduate School, Northwestern University.
Northwestern University’s Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts is a laboratory for creative experimentation that bridges the academic experience to the performing arts professions for Northwestern undergraduates and graduate students alike. The Center fosters interdisciplinary and intergenerational collaboration and learning..
The Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities promotes expansive, interdisciplinary discussion and debate. Serving as a crossroads, clearing house and testing ground, the Institute cultivates ideas that transform into cutting-edge research and dynamic courses.
The Black Arts Consortium (BAC) at Northwestern University cultivates an interdisciplinary approach to Black arts. Launched in 2012, BAC seeks to engage myriad perspectives, strengthen Northwestern’s involvement in Black arts, and connect with a broader community of scholars, practitioners and community members through research, pedagogy, practice, and civic & community engagement.
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YOUth, Opportunity United – The Leadership Project
The Leadership Project (TLP) is a student-led space for high school students to explore the intersections of race, gender, and class through research, art, and discussions. This spring, students examined aspects of the school-to-prison pipeline, such as the War on Drugs, racism in education, and abolition. They have also discussed how marginalized communities are grappling with the devastating effects of the school-to-prison pipeline. Although the pipeline was developed to systematically inhibit the progress of Black and brown communities, they show resilience by coming together and pushing back.
In addition to their weekly discussions this semester, students have also collaborated with The Block Museum of Art’s outdoor exhibition, Behold, Be Held, which reproduces artworks from the museum’s permanent collection and invites visitors to reflect on how art holds us through moments of crisis. Students discussed how white supremacist structures, like the school-to-prison pipeline, impact young people and reflected on the diversity they see in their community. They worked with curator Rikki Byrd to select these two artworks to support these ideas.
— Olivia Tsotsos and Allen Moore, Program Leaders, Youth & Opportunity United, Inc. (Y.O.U.)
Student participants in TLP include: Malik Agee, Cherie Animashaun, Saliha Ansari, Isabel Horek Gualtier, Michia Kenderick, Aaliyah Knox, Jocelyn Maldonado, Ciara Nicole Phillips-Gentle, McKenzie Royal, James Thoussaint, Mia Williams, Nia Williams.
Two works were selected by students at Y.O.U as part of their curatorial collaboration with The Block Museum of Art. These selections appear on the windows of the Y.O.U Building in Evanston. Two Worlds also appears at The Block Museum location, acknowledging our mutual partnership and connection.
A third artwork selection, Wasted Youth, is offered by students of The Leadership Project as online addition to the Behold, Be Held project.
Students Reflect on Mother and Child
MOTHER AND CHILD AUDIO RESPONSE FROM SALIHA ANSARI
The picture featuring a mother and her child sticks out to me because you see certain colors like the beige being reflected from the mother in the child as well. When thinking of this in a leadership context, I feel like leaders usually make the most of what they are passed down. Typically, you are able to see your parents in yourself, whether we like it or not. That could look like physical traits, but I also think it affects how we think and the way we are brought up affects who we become. Everyone has different parents, environments, and people they look up to, but I believe leaders are able to make the best of their situation and pass down all that they’ve learned. – Cherie A.
The reason I chose Mother and Child is because although it may look like a simple image, there are many details that stick out that help create a different meaning and bring a lot of sentiment to the piece. – Saliha A.
I selected this picture because it was very detailed. I liked the color in the picture. The picture connects with the project because parents are leaders. – Malik
I selected this picture because it has emotion/feelings.The colors that were used could show how the painter felt about his mother. The picture shows how mothers don’t need men to help raise their kids. – Aaliyah
I picked mother and child because for me I could relate to it a lot. My mom is a single mother. Seeing the mom carrying her baby so lovingly brought me back to how my mom used to treat me as a baby. I also liked that in the picture you can feel and see the strong bond between the mother and the child. – Mia
MOTHER AND CHILD AUDIO RESPONSE FROM CHERIE ANIMASHAUN
I selected this because I loved the little details placed around the art piece. I liked the pattern in the picture. The picture shows the bond between a mother and a child. – Anonymous
I picked Mother and Child because there’s such a difference to them but also similarity. The colors come together in such a beautiful way that it’s almost unseen in some ways. None of the colors clash with each other and it just has so many warm and cool colors in it yet when you look at the mother and child you see they are one in the same even though they are two different people. – Anonymous
Students Reflect on Two Worlds
TWO WORLDS AUDIO RESPONSE FROM CHERIE ANIMASHAUN
In the image Two Worlds, there is a drawing of one person with a line going in between. One side is happy and the other side is sad. I believe this artwork relates to the school-to-prison pipeline (SPP) because education and prison are meant to be two completely different ideas and it’s as if they are bringing those two together in schools to teach students “discipline.” I also perceived the happier side of the person has a lighter color on the face than the sad side, and I feel that this relates to the school-to-prison pipeline because it is clear that the whole idea of the SPP is directed towards students of color specifically Black students to get them out of school and on the pathway to prison. – Saliha A.
This art relates to the leadership project/Y.O.U. to me because I am two different people at Y.O.U. than at home or say at school. It’s like I live in two different worlds. Y.O.U. lets me be me with no judgement from others whereas society does not. This can relate to the school-to-prison pipeline for the reason that there’s a white world and there’s a black world. This black world I feel more comfortable in. I seek companionship from my bBlack brothers and sisters. Whereas in the white world or the privileged world I am seen as an other a problem, another Black girl with an attitude, which is essentially what the school-to-prison pipeline is about––racism. – Nia W.
At first glance, you see one face split in half, symmetric features are connected throughout, however one side is a darker shade than the other. Despite the contrasting colors, both sides are incredibly similar. The structure of the face remains the same. To me this ties to racism. People are discriminated against due to their skin color and we see many disparities as a result of it. The school-to-prison pipeline is just one of the many examples. At the end of the day, we are all humans with bones and flesh. A good leader looks beyond small differences like skin color and works to make the best of people’s similarities. Leadership requires embracing differences and seeking parallelism. I think Two Worlds does a good job at showing it. – Cherie A
TWO WORLDS AUDIO RESPONSE FROM SALIHA ANSARI
I believe that the basic thought the picture shows is equality and that no one person is superior than the other, but this is not what is happening today in the United States. There is a lot of prejudice in our society and no equality. Look at what is going on with the voting rights in Georgia and other parts of the country. Dr. Burroughs art piece reflects two women as one person with black skin and the other with white skin color. It also means according to the Former United States Representative John Lewis quote, “We are one people; we are only family. And when we finally accept these truths, then we will be able to fulfill Dr. King’s dream to build a beloved community, a nation, and a world at peace with itself.” Finally, I think the black and white contrast, different shapes and lines in the painting are evenly laid out throughout the art piece. The picture shows equality and that no one person is superior than the other. All races should be equal, but that is not the case in the United States of America where there are Two Worlds. – Malik Agee
Students Reflect on Wasted Youth I
Wasted Youth Audio Response by MALIK AGEE
For me personally I decided to choose Wasted Youth because teenagers get kind of ruined by society. You’re no longer that happy-go-lucky kid but instead you’re a teenager full of anxiety and worries. This relates to Wasted Youth because essentially that’s what some teenagers become. When I hear the word “wasted youth” or see the drawing attached to it, I think of The Leadership Project because it is a youth-based program. They help us by teaching us important topics in the world and they literally pay you to learn the topics. These gestures are seen as caring gestures which is what the Wasted Youth picture is lacking. They are lacking people caring for them. – Nia W.
I chose Wasted Youth because I felt like a lot of teenagers could relate to it and it would be a good image to represent Y.O.U. I definitely connect to it because it shows that not everything is black and white for us teenagers and that we go through things, too. This image can reach out and connect with teenagers today and maybe let them know that they are not alone. –Anonymous
This picture connects to how some teens can have rough times in their life and these kids look stressed. I like the color blends in this picture and how the colors outline human bodies. This picture looks kind of psychedelic. –Malik A.
I chose the Wasted Youth image because I feel it is a light-hearted image. As youth, from the time we’re taught to walk we’re being told to prepare for the adult world, college and everything in between. I truly feel like that is the meaning of Wasted Youth: worrying about the future instead of being in the present. The image reminds children and teens to be exactly what they’re meant to be. –McKenzie R.
Wasted Youth captures the essence of companionship. Being a leader requires making alliances between others. In the image you see a teenager with his hand wrapped around another one of his peers. This could just be a normal friendly gesture, or maybe his friend is going through something. Good leaders know when and how to aid others. Additionally, throughout your younger years you tend to create lots of bonds and friendships. In relation to the title, I believe you are “wasting your youth” if you refuse to support and bring others around you up. Growing up has its challenges and everyone needs someone by their side. All the small things we do now can mean the most in the future. –Cherie A.
This past year has interrupted our daily lives and taken so much from us. I have been inspired by the countless projects undertaken by artists of various mediums, museums, art galleries, arts advocates, community organizations and more, who have developed creative, critical and compelling ways to respond to this moment. Behold, Be Held contributes to this growth of creative responses, which I hope challenges us to think more broadly about ways we can better engage people within and outside of museum galleries––even beyond the pandemic. Most importantly, I hope that the reproduced works on the windows of these three buildings encourage passersby to explore and tap into their own creative responses that draw them closer to the things that they are most in need of right now.
Post a song, or picture, or message that captures the spirit of the exhibition. What moments, communities, or creative works have held you?