A New Take on 'Visualizing Black America': Just Yesterday at WAM
Alternate #Just Yesterday banner

This summer, Weisman Art Museum presents the outdoor poster exhibition, Just Yesterday, developed by artists Mike Gaines and Maggie Williams. Through dynamic image layering and bold type, the campaign uses iconic pop-culture references to raise awareness around systemic racial injustice in the United States in our recent, and not so distant past. 

Over a century ago, the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th constitutional amendments extended civil and political rights to Black Americans. Yet intentional exclusion, segregation and oppression endures. As the Urban Institute writes, “the profound racial and ethnic disparities that exist today are a direct result of structural racism: the historical and contemporary policies, practices, and norms that create and maintain white supremacy”. 

The posters are presented in the tradition of sociologist, writer, and Black rights activist W.E.B Du Bois’s publication Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America (1900), for which he and a number of collaborators created arresting graphics to visually communicate the complexities of racial segregation and the progress made by African Americans post-reconstruction, despite centuries of anti-Blackness. The injustices highlighted by Du Bois, and many others since then, are not just part of our distant past. 

Minnesota has been at the center of a national reckoning on race and policing in the wake of the murders of Philando Castile, George Floyd, and, very recently, Daunte Wright. While many boast about the quality of living in our state, it must be acknowledged that Minnesota, and the Twin-Cities more specifically, has some of the greatest racial disparities—in policing, education, housing, income, and employment— in the nation. These injustices are so recent, they are quite literally, just yesterday. 

As a teaching museum for the University of Minnesota, the Weisman has a role to play in confronting and taking action against systemic racism. We have a responsibility not only to name injustice around us, but to make space for addressing our own museum’s legacy of colonialism and white supremacy, creating new policies and procedures for how and why we ‘museum’, and then establishing metrics by which we may be held accountable by our communities in this work. (Read WAM’S DEAI statement to get a fuller picture of the specific benchmarks and programming initiatives undertaken already, and in the planning stages, thus far.) 

The Just Yesterday campaign is one of the actions taken by the Weisman in the last year to advance our commitment to being an anti-racist institution. These actions include: a national search for the next Executive Director, establishing an advisory council to create new accessibility standards, moving towards repatriation of the Mimbres cultural materials, the development of a truth and reconciliation advisory committee, supporting commissions from socially engaged artists in the museum’s Target Studio for Creative Collaboration, forming a new student-led digital content team, our Colleagues Advisory Board’s participation in the national Facing Change initiative, working alongside researchers and psychiatrists from the University of Minnesota’s medical school on trauma-informed approaches to art education, and the launch of CloudGuide, an app-based audio guide including new content on WAM’s permanent and public art collection, highlighting recent acquisitions, such as artist Seitu Jones installation in the University of Minnesota’s Pillsbury hall. 

To quote museum scholars and practitioners La Tanya Autry and Mike Murawski: “Museums are not neutral.” And this work does not have an end point. We can only move forward as an institution by creating reciprocal, transparent, and caring relationships between the museum’s staff, student workers, and members of our community. 

We invite you to share your thoughts, feedback, insights, or a #JustYesterday story of your own via the Just Yesterday website's contact form, or by getting in touch directly with members of our staff at Continue to watch this space as we co-present commissioned writings, artist dialogues, resources, and calls-to-action throughout the coming months. 

Join us for a zoom webinar on Wednesday, May 19 at 7 p.m. (CDT) to hear from Dr. Allissa V. Richardson, journalism scholar and author of Bearing Witness While Black: African Americans, Smartphones and the New Protest #Journalism (Oxford University Press, 2020), in dialogue with Dr. Danielle Kilgo, University of Minnesota’s John & Elizabeth Bates Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity and Equality in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The two will discuss the legacy of bearing witness while Black in Minnesota and the pivotal role of Diamond Reynolds and Darnella Frazier, who galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement in 2016 and 2020, when they filmed the police killings of Philando Castile and George Floyd, respectively. (If you miss the livestream, look for the captioned recording on WAM's YouTube channel later this month.)

Thank you to our many partners and collaborators, who have helped to make the Just Yesterday exhibition possible. Special thanks to Mike Gaines, Maggie Williams, Kara Brower, Jarin Simon, Annie Seng, Brian Platt, Kaylee Spencer, Andrew Pautz, Micaela Krause-Anlauf, Rioko Sponslier, Jordan Kranick, Miriam Gavin, Sean Smith, Corey Johnson and John Colasanti. 

And thank you to our museum community who have continued to support the Weisman by visiting, collaborating, advising, and supporting us through your contributions and gifts of art. We look forward to holding physical space with you once again when the museum reopens to the public in the fall of 2021.