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Presented By: University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA)

Artists Speak: Theaster Gates and Adebunmi Gbadebo with social justice curator and museum changemaker, Monica O. Montgomery

University of Michigan Museum of Art Part of "Free to Speak: A Convening on Art, Slavery and Reconciliation"

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Witness a dynamic discussion among movers and shakers in the social justice art world. Artist, Activist and Professor Theaster Gates and Artist Adebunmi Gbadebo contemplate their work in the Hear Me Now exhibition and in the world through a lens of restorative justice. Hear the unfiltered thoughts of these artists in conversation with social justice curator and museum changemaker, Monica O. Montgomery. 

This program is part "Free To Speak! A Convening on Art, Slavery and Reconciliation", a 2-day celebration of Black creativity, agency, and memory. Inspired by UMMA’s presentation of Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina, 'Free to Speak' hopes to contribute to urgent national conversations about racial justice while exploring what it means to exhibit materials made by enslaved people in Southeast Michigan, especially in light of the region’s relationships to the Underground Railroad, the Great Migration, the explosion of Black music and culture, and ongoing racial protest and liberation movements. Part storytelling, part scholarly deep dive, the discussions and diverse perspectives that emerge will offer new possibilities to inspire change in the arts and culture field. ​ To see the full convening schedule and to RSVP, please click here.   Artist and social innovator Theaster Gates lives and works in Chicago. Trained in urban planning and ceramics, his artistic practice translates the intricacies of Blackness through space theory and land development, sculpture, and performance. Through the expansiveness of his approach as a thinker, maker, and builder, he extends the role of the artist as an agent of change. His performance practice and visual work find roots in Black knowledge, objects, history, and archives. His work focuses on the possibility of the ​“life within things” and redeems spaces that have been left behind. He is the founder of the Rebuild Foundation, an artist-led, community-based platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation whose mission is to demonstrate the impact of innovative, ambitious and entrepreneurial cultural initiatives enriched by three core values: Black people matter, Black spaces matter, and Black objects matter.

Adebunmi Gbadebo, a multimedia artist, explores the intersections of land, matter, and memory on sites of slavery using materials like indigo dye, plantation soil, and Black hair. She holds a BFA from the School of Visual Arts, NY, and a Creative Place Keeping certification from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. She is a 2022 Pew Fellow, 2023 Maxwell and Hanrahan Fellow, and A.I.R at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia. Gbadebo has been written about in notable publications like The New York Times and Forbes. She has spoken at institutions like the Museum of the African Diaspora and the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. Gbadebo's art resides in permanent collections at institutions such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She is currently designing a monument at Clemson University to honor enslaved laborers who transformed Fort Hill Plantation into the university.

Monica O. Montgomery is a museum thought leader and independent curator at the nexus of culture, community engagement, and equity. She consults with a myriad of organizations, corporations, associations, non profits, universities and museums on contemporary art, community engagement and championing inclusion and belonging to spark ecologies of promise. Known for curating social justice exhibits and founding diversity initiative Museum Hue, over the last 2 decades she has served as an executive director, fundraiser, marketer, educator, and program director. Her career credits include a TedX talk & SXSW plenary and over 40+ curated contemporary art and public history exhibits with renowned organizations like the South African Embassy, Brooklyn Museum, Portland Art Museum, Community Art Center, T Thomas Fortune Cultural Center, The New School. Teachers College, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Weeksville Heritage Center and The Highline among others. She served as Curator of Social Justice and Special Programs for the FUTURES exhibition, at Smithsonian Arts & Industries, organizing an interactive exhibit of art, technology and history to celebrate the Smithsonian Institutions 175th Anniversary.

The Arts & Resistance Theme Semester, organized by UMMA and the U-M Arts Initiative, is generously supported by the U-M Office of the Provost, the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch, and Erica Gervais Pappendick and Ted Pappendick.

Free to Speak is generously supported by the U-M Inclusive History Project, the U-M Arts Initiative Arts & Resistance Theme Semester Fund, the Americana Foundation, Michigan Humanities, the U-M Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the U-M Department of History.


Hear Me Now is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with support from the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation.

Lead support for UMMA's presentation of the exhibition is provided by Michigan Engineering, the U-M Office of the Provost, the U-M Office of the President, the Americana Foundation, the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the U-M Inclusive History Project, and Michigan Humanities. Additional generous support is provided by Larry and Brenda Thompson and Melissa Kaish and Jonathan Dorfman. 


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