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Fighters for Freedom: William H. Johnson Picturing Justice

March 8 - September 8

Free

William H. Johnson (1901 – 1970) painted his Fighters for Freedom series in the mid-1940s as a tribute to African American activists, scientists, teachers, and performers as well as international leaders working to bring peace to the world. He celebrated their accomplishments even as he acknowledged the realities of racism, violence, and oppression they faced and overcame. Johnson reminds us that individual achievement and commitment to social justice are at the heart of the American story.

This landmark exhibition brings together—for the first time since 1946—34 paintings featured in the series.

The exhibition illuminates the extraordinary life and contributions of Johnson, an artist associated with the Harlem Renaissance but whose practice spanned several continents, as well as the contributions of historical figures he depicted. Some of his Fighters—Marian Anderson, George Washington Carver, Mohandas Gandhi, and Harriet Tubman—are familiar figures; others—Nannie Helen Burroughs and William Grant Still, among them—are less well-known individuals whose achievements have been eclipsed over time. Johnson celebrates their accomplishments even as he acknowledges the realities of racism, oppression, and sometimes violence they faced and overcame. Johnson clues viewers to significant episodes in the Fighters lives by punctuating each portrait with tiny buildings, flags, and vignettes that give insight into their stories. Using a colorful palette to create evocative scenes and craft important narratives, he suggests that the pursuit of freedom is an ongoing, interconnected struggle, with moments of both triumph and tragedy.

The exhibition is drawn primarily from SAAM’s collection of more than 1,000 works by William H. Johnson, the largest and most complete collection of work by the artist, given to the museum by the Harmon Foundation in 1967.

Details

Start:
March 8
End:
September 8
Cost:
Free
Event Category:
Website:
https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/fighters-for-freedom

Organizer

Smithsonian American Art Museum
Phone:
202-633-8523
Email:
americanartpressoffice@si.edu
View Organizer Website

Other

Artists
William H. Johnson
Curators
Virginia Mecklenburg
Artwork Medium
Painting

Venue

Smithsonian American Art Museum
750 9th St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20001 United States
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Phone:
(202) 633-7970
View Venue Website