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Ferguson art show to confront the nation's history of slavery and racism

Still from an earlier iteration of Rewind depicts Klu Klux Klan robes in Kente cloth, camoflage, and other fabrics as an attempt to reclaim rascist iconography.
Provided by Ryan Stevenson
Artist Paul Rucker includes Ku Klux Klan robes made of Kente cloth in "Rewind," a collection of works intended to provoke viewers' attention to the connections between the nations history of slavery and current issues of race, class and injustice.

When Paul Rucker received a call inviting him to bring his work confronting racism and white supremacy in United States to a Ferguson gallery, he knew he had to make the trip.

Rucker, of Baltimore, is a Guggenheim Fellow and has shown the work throughout the country. But he saw the opportunity to show his work in Ferguson as a way to address the continuing presence of racism.

“Ferguson is also, any city USA, it reminds me of my hometown of Anderson, South Carolina,” Rucker said. “And if Anderson, South Carolina had an incident like the Mike Brown, Darren Wilson, incident people would know the name of Anderson, South Carolina.”

Rucker’s show at Sculptureworks Ferguson is an indictment of the nation’s racist past. The show, titled “Rewind,” is comprised of objects that deal with the country’s painful legacy and ongoing racial and ethnic conflicts. He created some objects, like Klu Klux Klan robes made of Kente cloth, satin, or other fabrics. Other objects, like shackles, branding irons, and racist books are artifacts from slavery and the much more recent past. He also produced a newspaper that explains the relationship between objects in his show and historical events they reference.

A book that demeans African-Americans is among the objects in "Rewind," a show that condemns the nation's racist past.
Credit Provided by Ryan Stevenson
Objects like racist books will also be displayed as part of Rewind.

“Showing the shackles and reimagining objects and items from the period helps tell the story” Rucker said. “And I think one of the roles as an artist is to be a storyteller, telling the difficult subjects as well as the not-so difficult. It’s just as important.”

For Rucker its important for people to address painful chapters in the country’s history and understand how it continues to shape U.S. society.

“This is not about black history, this is about American history and it affects all of us,”  Rucker said.

Bryce Robinson, who runs Sculptureworks, felt compelled in invite Rucker for that very reason.

“I don’t’ think that this work has resonance in Ferguson, per se, I think it has resonance across the United States,” Robinson said. “Ferguson happens to be a focal point for discussions of race and class in the United States and what better way to bring attention to a national issue than to bring this powerful exhibition to a place that’s in the national spotlight.”

Rucker adapted the show from a larger version of the project that debuted at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 2015 to widespread acclaim.

For some, the work may be difficult to encounter. Rucker suggests that people embrace their discomfort when seeing the shackles and brands used on slaves or witnessing work that manipulates racist iconography to make a statement. 

The show, which opens Saturday, will include both an artist’s talk and cello performance.

If you go:

What: “Rewind”

When: Saturday 6-10 p.m., Noon-6 p.m. Sunday

Where: 830 S. Florissant Road, Ferguson

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold