Keep Celebrating Black History Month 2020 With 11 Exceptional Exhibitions

February 24, 2020

An annual observance originating in the United States, Black History Month pays tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. It began with the Negro History Week that was initiated in 1925, which encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

By 1950, the event became a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration. After the Black Awakening of the 1960s, the celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

Black History Month 2020 doesn’t only mark the centennial of the 19th amendment, which granted women the vote, but marks the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment, which granted black men the right to vote. Throughout the month of February, there is a wealth of concerts, lectures and film screenings, but also amazing exhibitions through taking place throughout the museums in the United States.

Here are eleven exhibitions not to miss during Black History Month this February 2020 and beyond!

Featured image: Installation view of Radical Revisionists: Contemporary African Artists Confronting Past and Present at the Moody Center for the Arts.

Tschabalala Self at ICA Boston

The American artist Tschabalala Self is best known for her depictions of Black female figures using paint, fabric, and discarded pieces of her previous works. Her singular style is developed from the syncretic use of both painting and printmaking, exploring ideas about the black female body.

ICA Boston is hosting Self's first Boston presentation and her largest exhibition to date. Tschabalala Self: Out of Body brings together a selection of paintings and sculptures that represent personal avatars, couplings, and everyday social exchanges inspired by urban life. This whimsical cast of characters present reflections of the artist or people she can imagine meeting in Harlem, her hometown.

The exhibition Tschabalala Self: Out of Body will be on view at ICA Boston until July 5th, 2020.

Featured image: Installation View of Tschabalala Self: Out of Body at ICA Boston

Betye Saar at LACMA

One of the most talented artists of her generation, Betye Saar consistently addresses issues of race, gender, and spirituality. Through her practice, she combines many different symbols along with objects found on her travels across Africa, Mexico, Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean, as well as in L.A. itself.

LACMA is hosting a comprehensive exhibition that covers the span of Saar’s career, including work from her early years up through a new sculptural installation. Titled Betye Saar: Call and Response, the exhibition focuses on the relationship between preliminary sketches in small sketchbooks, which Saar has made throughout her career, and finished works.

The exhibition Betye Saar: Call and Response will be on view at LACMA in Los Angeles until April 5th, 2020.

Featured image: Betye Saar - I'll Bend But I Will Not Break, 1998, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Lynda and Stewart Resnick through the 2018 Collectors Committee, © Betye Saar, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California.

Ja’Tovia Gary at Hammer Museum

Through documentary film and experimental video art, Ja'Tovia Gary seeks to liberate the distorted histories through which Black life is often viewed while fleshing out a nuanced and multivalent Black interiority.

As part of the Hammer Projects, single-gallery exhibitions highlighting the work of contemporary artists from around the globe, Hammer Museum is hosting an exhibition Hammer Projects: Ja’Tovia Gary. The exposition will premiere the artist's THE GIVERNY SUITEa multi-textured cinematic poem that meditates on the safety and bodily autonomy of Black women. The work was filmed on locations in Harlem, New York and in Claude Monet's historic gardens in Giverny, France.

The exhibition Hammer Projects: Ja’Tovia Gary is on view at Hammer Museum in Los Angeles until May 17th, 2020.

Featured image: The still from THE GIVERNY SUITE by J'Tovia Gary.

Cauleen Smith at The Whitney

Drawing on experimental film, non-Western cosmologies, poetry, and science fiction, Cauleen Smith creates works that reflect on memory and Afro-diasporic histories.

The Whitney is hosting the exhibition titled Cauleen Smith: Mutualities, bringing together two of Smith’s filmsSojourner and Pilgrim, each in a newly-created installation environment, along with a new group of drawings collectively titled Firespitters. Unfolding across several important sites in Black spiritual and cultural history, the films weave together writings by women from different eras, including Shaker visionary Rebecca Cox Jackson, abolitionist Sojourner Truth, the 1970s Black feminist organization Combahee River Collective, and experimental-jazz composer and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane.

The exhibition Cauleen Smith: Mutualities will be on view at The Whitney in New York until May 17th, 2020.

Featured image: The still from Sojourner by Cauleen Smith.

A Visual History of Hip-Hop at ICP

Taking place at The International Center of Photography, the exhibition CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop will bring together four decades of photography documenting the rise of hip hop and the politics, race relations, fashion, and culture around it. Photography has helped shape hip-hop through a range of press photos and album covers that announced the arrival of the style, swagger, bravado, singularity, and artistry that help the performer become an icon. The exhibition celebrates the way a new genre reinvented popular music.

The exhibition CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop will be on view at ICP in New York until May 18th, 2020.

Featured image: Barron Claiborne - Biggie Smalls, King of New York, Wall Street, New York, 1997.

Mapping Black Identities at Minneapolis Institute of Art

Taking inspiration from Mia’s recent acquisition of Frank Bowling’s map painting False Start (1970), the exhibition Mapping Black Identities at The Minneapolis Institute of Art shown the diverse experiences of artists from America, Africa, and the diaspora. Reclaiming spaces that have traditionally excluded or overlooked work by Black artists, the exhibition seeks to amplify underrepresented voices and create connections around the concept of Blackness in contemporary art across time and place.

The exhibition Mapping Black Identities will be on view at Minneapolis Institute of Art until July 19th, 2020.

Featured image: Frank Bowling - England, 1934 False Start, 1970.

Paa Joe at High Museum of Art

Accra-based artist and craftsman, Joseph Tetteh-Ashong, also known as Paa Joe, is best known for his figurative coffins that draw from the traditional Ghanaian custom of abebuu adekai, representing the unique lives of the dead.

Taking place at High Museum of Art, Paa Joe: Gates of No Return features a series of large-scale, painted wood sculptures commissioned in 2004 and 2005 that represent architectural models of Gold Coast castles and forts, which served as way stations for more than six million Africans sold into slavery and sent to the Americas and the Caribbean between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. These sculptures represent vessels ferrying the dead into the afterlife that speak to spirits separated from bodies in trauma.

The exhibition Paa Joe: Gates of No Return will be on view at High Museum of Art in Atlanta from February 29th until May 31st, 2020.

Featured image: Cape Coast Castle. 1653 Sweden, 1665 Britain, 2004-2005 and 2017.

Radical Revisionists at the Moody Center for the Arts

Currently on view at the Moody Center for the Arts, the exhibition Radical Revisionists: Contemporary African Artists Confronting Past and Present includes works by artists from Africa and the Diaspora who problematize Eurocentric tropes of race, representation and prevailing colonial narratives. Comprised of photography, mixed media, virtual reality, sculpture, and a site-specific installation, the exhibition addresses how outside interventions have deeply affected both the people and the landscape of Africa.

Among featured artists are Adama Delphine Fawundu, Zanele Muholi, Robin Rhode, Yinka Shonibare CBE, and Pascale Marthine Tayou.

The exhibition will be on view at the Moody Center for the Arts in Houston until May 16th, 2020.

Featured image: Adama Delphine Fawundu - Passageways #3, Secrets, Traditions, Spoken and Unspoken Truths or Not, 2017.

30 Americans at the Honolulu Museum of Art

Taking place at the Honolulu Museum of Art, the exhibition 30 Americans brings together works by 30 contemporary artists connected through their African-American cultural history, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mark Bradford, Nick Cave, Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Carrie Mae Weems, and Kehinde Wiley. Traveling across the United States for the past ten years, it brings together features 40 objects ranging in painting, sculpture, installation, photography, and video

The exhibition 30 Americans will be on view at Honolulu Museum of Art until June 21st, 2020.

Featured image: Mark Bradford - Whore in the Church House, 2006. Mixed media collage on canvas. Courtesy Rubell Museum, Miami. © Mark Bradford.

20th-Century African American Art at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art

There are 34 African American artists from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection in the traveling exhibition African American Art in the 20th Century currently on view at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art. All created at a significant social and political moments in America, their 45 works on view range from representational to modern abstraction to stained color to the postmodern assemblage of found objects.

The exhibition African American Art in the 20th Century will be on view at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg until May 10th, 2020.

Featured image: Charles Searles - Celebration, 1975. Smithsonian American Art Museum, transfer from the General Services Administration, Art-in-Architecture Program.

Black Refractions at SCMA

Taking place at the Smith College Museum of Art, in the exhibition Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem there are around 100 works by artists such as Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Maren Hassinger, Norman Lewis, Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, Lorna Simpson, James VanDerZee, and Kehinde Wiley. Drawn from the collection of the Studio Museum in Harlem, this landmark show celebrates around a century of creative achievement by artists of African descent.

The exhibition Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem will be on view at the Smith College Museum of Art until April 12th, 2020.

Featured image: Njideka Akunyili Crosby - Nwantinti, 2012.