Hard Truths: A Forum on Art and the Politics of Difference

Using the art and life of Thornton Dial as a point of departure, the Hard Truths Forum was held on April 8, 2011. The forum explored the status of African American artists within the mainstream contemporary art world, an examination that reflects broader social, economic, and political “hard truths” within society at large. It explored the relevance of black creative expression to issues of social justice across racial boundaries. View the complete schedule of events here, read about the speakers below or watch recordings from the forum on the right.

About the Speakers

Julian Bond - Beginning with his pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, Julian Bond has always been on the cutting edge of social change and leadership. Legendary as the first black U.S. vice presidential nominee and former Chairman of the NAACP, Bond continues to deliver a powerful message of equality, freedom, and justice with a renewed sense of relevance.

Bond has been at the forefront of social change since 1960. Founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he organized voting drives and sit-ins. An elected member of the Georgia House of Representatives, Bond was denied his seat by legislators until the intervention of the United States Supreme Court. Co-chairman of an insurgent delegation to the 1968 Democratic Convention, he became the first African-American to be nominated for Vice President of the United States.

Joanne Cubbs is adjunct curator of American art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the organizer of the Hard Truths exhibition. An art historian and cultural critic whose numerous exhibitions and publications have contributed to a broader understanding of contemporary art produced beyond the boundaries of the mainstream art world, Cubbs was founding curator of the Folk Art Department at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Most recently, she was a co-editor and contributing author of the books Thornton Dial in the 21st Century, which accompanied an exhibition organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2005, and Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt.

Theaster Gates - In his performances, installations, and urban interventions, Theaster Gates—an artist, musician and “cultural planner,” as well as director of arts program development for the University of Chicago—transforms spaces, relationships, traditions and perceptions.

Exploring architecture as a tool for mediation and meditation, Gates draws from both urbanism and art to provide what he terms “moments of interstitial beauty” in under-resourced neighborhoods throughout the Midwest. Gates is currently a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and is currently working on projects with the Museum of Contemporary Art (Detroit), Seattle Art Museum, Access Community Health and his ongoing Dorchester Projects.

Fred Moten is Professor of English at Duke University. A prolific scholar who works at the intersection of black studies, performance studies, poetry and critical theory, he is author of many books, including In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, which re-theorizes the aesthetic genealogy of radical black thought and culture, and several collections of his own acclaimed “radically lyric” poetry: Arkansas, I ran from it but was still in it., Hughson’s Tavern, and B Jenkins. He has two books forthcoming next year: The Feel Trio and Soul’s Courses: Movements in Black Studies.

Franklin Sirmans is the Terri and Michael Smooke Department Head and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Previously he was the Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at The Menil Collection in Houston, TX. Prior to that, Sirmans worked as an independent curator, freelance writer and instructor at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and Princeton University, after holding positions at Dia Center for the Arts and Flash Art Magazine. Sirmans has written essays for several exhibition catalogues, and articles and reviews in publications such as The New York Times, Time Out New York, Essence and Grand Street. He was the 2007 recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize awarded by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta and in 2009 was an inaugural honoree of the Gold Rush Awards by Rush Philanthropic Art Foundation.

Greg Tate is an acclaimed cultural critic and journalist whose countless writings have helped redefine American cultural criticism and theory. A staff writer at the Village Voice from 1987 to 2003, Tate has also authored numerous articles about art, music, and cultural politics for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Artforum, Rolling Stone, Essence, and Downbeat. He has written about visual arts for the Museum of Modern Art; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; the Studio Museum in Harlem; and contributed to the IMA’s exhibition catalogue, Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial. Tate’s major publications include a collection of his essays, Flyboy in the Buttermilk, from 1992, and the edited volume Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture, from 2003. He is currently at work on a new book about James Brown.