University of Kentucky Art Museum

Photograph courtesy of the University of Kentucky Art Museum

From a celebrated portrait of the nation’s first president George Washington to a drawing of George Floyd, University of Kentucky Art Museum’s “This is America*” examines the nation’s story — the good, the bad and the ugly — as the nation approaches the most divisive presidential election in recent history.

“Originally planned to coincide with the 2020 presidential election, ‘This is America*’ explores various aspects of history, citizenry, race, dignity, power and struggle,” UK Art Museum Director Stuart Horodner said. “In recent months, the U.S. has been shaken by a global pandemic and waves of social unrest centered around issues of social justice and policing practices. Additional works reflecting these conditions have been added to the exhibition dedicated to U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights leader who died on July 17, 2020.”

The asterisk after America in the exhibition title is meant to indicate an omission or a blemish in an otherwise outstanding achievement, Horodner explained. America is a concept as much as a place. It has been fraught with contradiction from the beginning.

The museum notes those contradictions through a series of contrasting popular quotes and sayings: “America is a promise written by founding fathers who were slave owners. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We hold these truths to be self-evident, but we’ve got some explaining to do. America is exceptional, except when it isn’t. We have white picket fences and internment camps. No justice, no peace. America is ritual and risk, haves and have nots, wide open spaces and too big to fail. Another day, another dollar. E pluribus unum and Don’t tread on me. Leave the gun, take the cannoli. Why can’t we all just get along?”

In “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation,” an op-ed published in The New York Times on the day of his funeral, Lewis wrote, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

Read the full article here.

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