A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence: Block Museum - Northwestern University
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A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence

Promotional graphics for the exhibition A Site of Struggle
January 26-July 10, 2022
Main Gallery

How has art been used to protest, process, mourn, and memorialize anti-Black violence within the United States?

Originating at Northwestern's Block Museum of Art  A Site of Struggle explores how artists have engaged with the reality of anti-Black violence and its accompanying challenges of representation in the United States over a 100 + year period.

Images of African American suffering and death have constituted an enduring part of the nation’s cultural landscape, and the development of creative counterpoints to these images has been an ongoing concern for American artists. A Site of Struggle takes a new approach to looking at the intersection of race, violence, and art by investigating the varied strategies American artists have used to grapple with anti-Black violence, ranging from representation to abstraction and from literal to metaphorical. The exhibition focuses on works created between the 1890s and 2013—situating contemporary artistic practice within a longer history of American art and visual culture. It foregrounds African Americans as active shapers of visual culture and highlights how art has been used to protest, process, mourn, and memorialize anti-Black violence.

Exhibition Frequently Asked Questions

Selected Resources

Group Visits

Darryl Cowherd  Stop White Police from Killing Us – St. Louis, MO, c. 1966-67

Darryl Cowherd Stop White Police from Killing Us – St. Louis, MO, c. 1966-67

Gelatin Silver Print Image: 15 x 19 in., mat: 20 x 24 ¼ in., paper 16 x 20 in © Darryl Cowherd image courtesy of the artist and the Museum of Contemporary Photography
Elizabeth Catlett, Civil Rights Congress, 1949

Elizabeth Catlett, Civil Rights Congress, 1949

Linocut on cream wove paper. Image 310 x 180 mm, sheet 462 x 325 mm © 2021 Catlett Mora Family Trust/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago
Melvin Edwards, Selections from Lynch Fragments Ida W.B., 1990

Melvin Edwards, Selections from Lynch Fragments Ida W.B., 1990

Welded Steel, 13 x 14 x 10 in. © 2021 Melvin Edwards/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of the artist and Alexander Gray Gallery
Dox Thrash, After the Lynching, late 1930s

Dox Thrash, After the Lynching, late 1930s

Carborundum mezzotint 5 15/16 × 8 15/16 in. Courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Emory Douglas November 16, 1972, 1972

Emory Douglas November 16, 1972, 1972

© 2021 Emory Douglas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Carl and Karen Pope, Palimpsest, 1998-99

Carl and Karen Pope, Palimpsest, 1998-99

Video Still. Courtesy of the artist
Elizabeth Catlett, Target Practice, 1970

Elizabeth Catlett, Target Practice, 1970

Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana. Purchased by the Amistad Research Center. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
8.	Ida B. Wells, A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Cause of Lynching in the United States 1892-1893-1894

8. Ida B. Wells, A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Cause of Lynching in the United States 1892-1893-1894

Chicago: Donohue & Henneberry, 1895. University of Chicago Special Collections

Exhibition Advisors and Partnerships

The themes, content, and format of A Site of Struggle have been developed in consultation with an interdisciplinary group of established and emerging scholars, museum professionals, and Northwestern faculty and graduate students. Participants are connected by their investigations of American art, visual culture, and African Americans’ production and representation within these fields.

Advised by leaders across Northwestern and within the Evanston community, The Block has engaged in dialogues with stakeholders that will continue throughout 2021 in order to shape visitor experience and co-develop collaborative programming on issues of racial justice. This work will enrich A Site of Struggle programming and will lay a foundation for our work into the future.

List of Exhibition Partners

The Block Museum exhibition will tour to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama August 13- November 6, 2022



Exhibition Artists

Laylah Ali (American, b.1968), George Wesley Bellows (American, 1882-1925), George Biddle (American 1885-1973), Elizabeth Catlett (American, 1915-2012), Darryl Cowherd (American, b. 1940), Bob Crawford (American, 1938-2015), Ernest Crichlow (American, 1914-2005), David Antonio Cruz (American, b. 1974), Emory Douglas (American, b. 1943), Melvin Edwards (American, b. 1937), Theaster Gates (American, b. 1973), Ken Gonzales-Day (American, b. 1964), Wilmer Jennings (American, 1910-1990), Norman Lewis, (American, 1909-1979), Christian Marclay (American, b. 1955), Kerry James Marshall (American, b. 1955), Isamu Noguchi (American, 1904-1988), Mendi + Keith Obadike (American, b. 1973), Howardena Pindell (American b. 1943), Carl and Karen Pope (American, b. 1961), Walter Quirt (American, 1902-1968), Paul Rucker (American, b. 1968), Lorna Simpson (American, b. 1960), Dox Thrash (American, 1893-1965), Molly Jae Vaughan (British, b. 1977), Lynd Ward (American, 1905–1985), Pat Ward Williams (American, b. 1948), Carrie Mae Weems (American, b. 1953), Ida B. Wells (American, 1862-1931), Walter White (American, 1893-1955), Hale Woodruff (American, 1900-1980)

On 'A Site of Struggle'

For Our Visitors

The Block Museum staff recognizes the challenging nature of the material in this exhibition, the range of responses it may elicit, and the impact it carries for visitors whose identities and lived experiences intersect with the histories presented.

Please join us in creating a space of mutual respect and mindful presence as we share this exhibition together:  

  • Respect fellow visitors by refraining from interacting with individuals not in your party, even if your intention is to offer comfort or support  
  • Give personal space to others  
  • Keep photography to a minimum   '
  • Process the exhibition at your own pace  
  • We welcome you to return as often as you would like

We offer resources to support your experience, including:  

  • Signage indicating when graphic content is on view and controlled sightlines to this material
  • Seating areas away from works on view and visitors  
  • A guide for wellness and self-care created with Black visitors in mind  [Download]
  • A discussion guide to support postviewing conversation  [Download]
  • A Reflection Room for quiet contemplation  
  • A Resource Room for continued learning, conversation, self-care, museum feedback, and action  
  • Free public programs to explore and engage in dialogue about issues raised in the exhibition

Exhibition Publication


A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence

  • Edited by Janet Dees

An important examination of how artists have grappled with anti-Black violence and its representations from the late nineteenth century to the present

$39.95 / £34.00
Published (US):
Jan 25, 2022
160 / Size: 11 x 9 in. / Illus: 60 color illus.


 Investigating the conceptual and aesthetic strategies artists have used to engage with the issue of anti-Black violence, A Site of Struggle highlights diverse works of art and ephemera from the post-Reconstruction period of the late nineteenth century to the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement. Foregrounding the perspectives of African American cultural producers, this book examines three major questions: How are graphic portrayals of violence enlisted to protest horrors like lynchings? How have artists employed conceptual strategies and varying degrees of abstraction to avoid literal representations of violence? And how do artists explore violence through subtler engagements with the Black body? Ultimately, A Site of Struggle highlights the ubiquity and impact of anti-Black violence by focusing on its depictions; by examining how art has been used to protest, process, mourn, and memorialize this violence; and by providing the historical context for contemporary debates about its representation.

The book’s essays offer new perspectives from established and emerging scholars working in the fields of African American studies, art history, communications, and history. Contributors include Sampada Aranke, Courtney Baker, Huey Copeland, Janet Dees, Leslie Harris, and LaCharles Ward.

Published by Princeton University Press in association with the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University

Preorder Now


A Site of Struggle is organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, and is curated by Janet Dees, Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Block Museum of Art, with the assistance of Alisa Swindell, Curatorial Research Associate.

Lead support for the exhibition is generously provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art. Major support is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The project is also supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bernstein Family Contemporary Art Fund, the Myers Foundations, the Block DEAI Fund, and the Block Board of Advisors. Generous support is contributed by William Spiegel and Lisa Kadin, the Alumnae of Northwestern University, the David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, and by Lynne Jacobs. The related publication is co-published by The Block Museum of Art and Princeton University Press and is supported by Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the Sandra L. Riggs Publication Fund.





Visitors Guide & Care Guide


Journalists are invited to download select images and assets related to the exhibition. For additional media inquiries please contact Lindsay Bosch, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications (lindsay.bosch@northwestern.edu)

Download MEDIA KIT