ABOVE: Forward Times nterns Miana Massey and Emani Rashad with HMAAC Chief Executive Officer John Guess Jr.
The Houston Museum African American Culture (HMAAC) is one of the hidden treasures in the Greater Houston area and they are consistently following through on their mission to collect, conserve, explore, interpret, and exhibit the material and intellectual culture of Africans and African Americans in Houston, the state of Texas, the southwest and the African Diaspora for current and future generations.
HMAAC provides African Americans with the foundation and blueprint to make an impact on society and continues to be a space where a multicultural conversation on race geared toward a common future takes place.
In continuing with their mission, HMAAC recently opened their latest exhibition, celebrating the relentless and unbreakable spirit of African American people.
The exhibit, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, is a solo exhibition of the works by Robert Hodge. The exhibit opened July 12th and runs through September 7, 2019.
In the spirit of Public Enemy’s critically-acclaimed album, Hodge’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back explores the push and pull of questions of identity, self-awareness, and inclusion vs. exclusion, among others, in the context of the contemporary American social fabric. These new works integrate silk-screening and other printmaking techniques, inspired by the Warhol prints on display at The Andy Warhol Museum as well as Afrofuturism and its aesthetics. It is open for subjection, but according to the museum it aims to “explore the push and pull of questions of identity, self-awareness, and inclusion vs. exclusion, among others, in the context of the contemporary American social fabric. These new works integrate silk-screening and other printmaking techniques, inspired by the Warhol prints on display at The Andy Warhol Museum as well as Afrofuturism and its aesthetics. It is open for subjection, but according to the museum it aims to “explore the push and pull of questions of identity, self-awareness, and inclusion vs. exclusion, among others, in the context of the contemporary American social fabric.”
Fusing collaged images of traditional African masks, pop cultural icons, and 20th century musical figures with a vibrant, Technicolor palette, the works on display simultaneously revere and remix their subjects, projecting an impression of celebratory remembrance.
According to HMAAC Exhibitions Manager, Dominic Clay, “Everyone knows that when Robert Hodge speaks through his art the message is profound.”
Born in Houston’s Third Ward, Hodge studied visual art at the Atlanta College of Art and more recently at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He has exhibited his work in numerous national and international institutions, including Boyd Satellite Gallery (New Orleans, LA), the Project Row Houses (Houston, TX), Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX), Contemporary Arts Museum (Houston, TX), New Gallery of Modern Art (Charlotte, NC), Coma Art Space (Los Angeles, CA), and Contemporary Museum of East Africa (Nairobi, Kenya).
Named amongst the Houston Press’ 100 Most Creative People in 2011, Hodge has also received grants from the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Houston Arts Alliance and The Idea Fund, and has participated in a variety of artist residency programs including AIR in Pittsburgh, PA. He currently lives and works in Houston.
HMAAC CEO and curator John Guess, Jr. stated that it is “our responsibility to our community is to have the discussions that are uncomfortable.”
There are several significant pieces that are must-see parts of this new exhibit.
In “Mirror”, the words “Mirror Mirror on the Wall” hover above repeating images of Nefertiti in modulating colors, embellished with sewing and abstracted passages of paint. Hodge presents Nefertiti as a figure of reverence, reasserting as an almost totemic symbol of self-love.
In “Atomic Bomb,” Hodge juxtaposes images of Mr. T with African masks, a UFO, and imagery associated with Sun Ra and Afrika Bambaataa, key musical figures tied to the Afrofuturist movement. Hodge comments on the divisive consequences of competition, jealousy, and racism in “Man vs. Man”, pairing imagery of fighting men and cutouts of Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix, among others, with an American Flag. Snatches of advertising, such as the “Supreme” and “Arm & Hammer” logos appear in other works, a testament to the consumerist, brand-driven foundations of society and culture.
“This exhibition is both compelling and timely,” said Guess. “The exhibit explores issues of contemporary society that we are confronted with as a nation and that require everyone’s attention to insure a positive common future for us all.”
The exhibition is graciously sponsored by HEB, Melanie Lawson and John Guess, Jr., and the Board of Directors of the Houston Museum of African American Culture.
This new exhibit is nothing new for HMAAC, in that they go against the grain to challenge the status quo and to talk about serious issues in an artistic way.
Guess believes using HMAAC as a tool to challenge young people to be the change they want to see in the world, is key. His mission is to focus on discussing what’s next for the Black community and to not be paralyzed by the hardships of our past. He wants to use our past as a way to catapult each and every individual into generational wealth and success.
“White people aren’t going to save us, we’ve got to save ourselves,” said Guess. “Through hundreds of years of systematic oppression, it is important to understand that it is not our fault that we, as African Americans, are in the position we are in. We must realize that we are descendants of great kings and queens. Together as one, we must rise up and restore the excellence that once was and still is in us.”
Guess mentioned that the groundwork that his generation has contributed since the civil rights movement has been significant, but notes that with the current state of the country, it has not been enough.
“We didn’t get the job done,” said Guess. “The current generation of young adults are more equipped with the tools to ignite change than any generation ever before, and they hold the key to our freedom. It is not only the responsibility of the youth, but it is everyone’s duty to ensure the continued elevation of our people.”
HMAAC hosts a number of local events to uplift and unite the community.
Each spring, Spelman and Morehouse College come to the museum to recruit local students. Also, workshops are held regularly, with a focus on increasing Black assets, and much more takes place at this phenomenal museum.
For more information about the Houston Museum African American Culture (HMAAC), please visit www.hmaac.org.