Guest Curator and UA Faculty Open “Freedom?” at Paul R. Jones Gallery

Calvin Burnett, Freedom Fighter, 1967. Lithograph. Paul R. Jones Collection, PJ2008.0151. © Estate of Calvin Burnett/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Calvin Burnett, “Freedom Fighter,” 1967. Lithograph. Paul R. Jones Collection, PJ2008.0151. © Estate of Calvin Burnett/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

From the January 2017 Desktop News The University of Alabama’s Black Faculty and Staff Association recently joined with Brooklyn-based curator Dalila Scruggs to create a new, long-term exhibition at the Paul R. Jones Gallery in downtown Tuscaloosa.

The exhibit, titled “Freedom? Selections from the Paul R. Jones Collection,” runs from Jan. 23 to April 28 and showcases approximately 30 works by African American printmakers, photographers, and painters in order to explore the ways Black liberation has and has not been achieved within the United States.

“The question mark in the title signals the contingent and incomplete nature of ‘freedom,’” Scruggs said. “Just because freedom has been fought for doesn’t mean that the struggle is over. There is a continued need for vigilance because at every stage of the liberation struggle there is always more to be done.”

Scruggs, in collaboration with UA faculty, organized the exhibit around five key themes that are loosely chronological: neo-slave narrative, picturing new Negroes, the economics of freedom, civil rights icons, and Ubuntu: strength in community.

To further explore these themes and illuminate the works that represent them, the exhibit is accompanied by interdisciplinary reflections, written by more than 15 UA faculty members, covering disciplines from English and art history to dance, mathematics, music therapy, and more. The reflections will be included in the exhibit as well as published in a limited-edition, commemorative brochure. The brochure will be available to the public beginning at the exhibit’s opening reception, which will be held Feb. 3 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Major artists represented in the exhibit include Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Lev T. Mills, and James Van Der Zee.

“The Black Faculty and Staff Association is charged with coming up with ways we can incorporate the Jones Collection materials into the lives of students as well as within the community generally,” said Dr. Trudier Harris, a University Distinguished Research Professor in the department of English and member of the association. “I think anybody who picks up a copy of the brochure will learn something about African-American struggles for freedom in the United States. In addition, visitors to the exhibit will be able to learn more about the collection, Paul R. Jones, and how the gallery came to be.”

The gallery honors the late Paul R. Jones who, during his lifetime, amassed one of the largest collections of African-American art in the world. The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at UA includes more than 2,100 works valued at $10.3 million. Jones donated the collection to UA in 2008.

The Paul R. Jones Gallery is at 2308 Sixth St. in downtown Tuscaloosa. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and the first Friday of every month from noon to 8 p.m.