MMoCA’s interactive exhibit explores ‘amends’ in a racist society

Based on the work of Chicago artists Nick Cave and Bob Faust, AMENDS is a three-part exhibit exploring race and accountability.

The newest exhibit at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is an interactive one, and ultimately hopes to encourage the community to initiate discussions about race in their own homes. Titled AMENDS by Chicago artists Nick Cave and Bob Faust, this three-part exhibit delving into racial disparities will feature an external window showcase, in addition to an indoor area for visitors to contribute and a pending performance from local Black artists.

Mel Becker Solomon, MMoCA’s Curator of the Collection, has been excited about this project for nearly a year, and on Juneteenth — Saturday, June 19 — she will finally be able to share it with Madisonians.

“Part of our job as a curator is to be mindful of what’s happening, not only in the contemporary art world, but also in the world at large,“ she says. “Last summer after the murder of George Floyd, I had read about the AMENDS project that Nick Cave and Bob Faust had put together in Chicago, and it started because Nick Cave and Bob Faust are both creative partners and life partners, so as an interracial couple, they had these very difficult conversations.“

AMENDS begins with “Phase I: Letters to the World Toward the Eradication of Racism,“ which features open letters from community leaders discussing their own role in the perpetuation of racism here in Madison.

Becker Solomon says that the physical act of writing a chosen message, quote or apology for all of State Street to see is impactful in itself. The list of participating leaders is long, and includes former mayor Paul Soglin, co-founder of the Women Artists Forward Fund Bird Ross, Jenny Pressman of The Odyssey Project and Latino Academy of Workforce Development’s executive director Baltazar De Anda Santana.

“For the artists, it was this performative act that really helped commit these leaders to making change,” says Becker Solomon. “And really looking at our hearts and minds, and not just saying or posting something on social media or putting a sign in their yard or saying they’re going to do something, but actually publicly confessing and writing these events on the window.“

Phase 2 is “Dirty Laundry,” which is where the public comes in. The space that used to be the museum gift shop has been transformed into a community art area, and for this exhibit, will feature clotheslines running across the room for visitors to write and hang their own “amends.”

“If the public and people who visit the museum see these words written by people that they know, these community leaders, then that gives them a window into their own thoughts and allows them to be more comfortable writing their own amends anonymously on these yellow ribbons and tying them to this clothesline,” says Becker Solomon. “So it’s asking the public to make the same sort of look inward into their heart, and in their mind to reflect and make these amends.“

These yellow ribbons will also be available through MMoCA’s Art Cart program, allowing the public to have a mobile way to discuss race in their own homes.

The final phase, “Called to Action,“ will be a collaboration of local Black artists as a sort of response to the accumulated messages left by Madisonians over the course of the exhibit’s run.

“We are going to schedule a series of performances that center Black voices in our communities, so poets, spoken word artists, dancers and musicians who I will simply provide them all of the amends that have been written, and then they can choose how they would like to respond in whatever medium that they best express themselves,“ says Becker Solomon.

AMENDS will be on exhibit from June 19 through Oct. 24, and the indoor portion will be accessible between noon and 6 p.m. Friday to Sunday. “Called to Action” will be performed in October — see the MMoCA website for updates.

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