Photo: Connor Zaft. Zachary Tye Richardson, Trinity Dawn Bobo, and Catherine Fisher perform "The Female Body," a collaborative dance peice a part of a series at The Bronx Museum of The Arts.

Exhibition underscoring themes of oppression and racism marks museum’s 50th anniversary

The Bronx Museum of The Arts is celebrating its 50th anniversary with Amerika, God Bless You If It’s Good To You, an exhibition series that features visual art, illustration, sculpture and dance.

Directed by Wardell Milan, a Harlem-based visual artist, the exhibition explores themes of oppression, marginalization, and racism. Milan began working on the project a year ago, in collaboration with sculptor Billy Ray Morgan and performance artist Zachary Tye Richardson, hoping to create an immersive experience of the United States’ tumultuous past and present.

The exhibition has two primary parts. The first is a collection of paintings, illustrations, collages and sculptures depicting scenes of white supremacists in purposefully pedestrian moments as well as points of dramatic violence.

The second part is a series of dance performances titled 5 Indices On A Tortured Body, with five different performances focusing on different experiences of what the creators call historically marginalized bodies. The five episodes consist of “The Black Male Body,” “The Female Body,” “The Trans Body,” “The Migrant Body,” and “The Quarantine Body.” Each dance moves throughout the museum, interacting with the visual art as well as the audience. The performances eventually move to a cordoned off space created by the artists called “The Chapel,” an empty black room representing a “safe space,” secluded from the depictions of racism outside.   

“The works are really my response to the last two years, thinking about all that culturally and socially is happening, and how different bodies exist and are restricted, or subjugated by the current political and societal issues and happenings,” said Milan.

Both the visual art and the performances were created in Milan’s studio with Richardson and Morgan, as well as a team of writers, dancers, and designers. By sharing tight quarters, Milan said both parts of the show “spoke to each other, and helped the development of what’s on the wall and what’s being performed.”

Zachary Tye Richardson, a long-time friend of Milan and responsible for the dance performances, spoke about the challenges of finally being able to perform again, after COVID-19 shut down all live performances last year.

“It feels like we have a lot of catching up to do,” said Richardson, “ Because I’ve tried to keep in shape with exercise, but performing is different. For me it’s more of an internal process, an internal engine that’s revving up a lot of heat. You can’t really practice that without the energy of the spectators.”

Bronx Museum curator, Jasmine Wahi, also a close friend of Milan’s, spoke about the significance of hosting the exhibition in the borough.

“I think it’s important and time that the exhibitions here reflect not only the concerns but also the joys of the communities that live here,” said Wahi.

When asked what he hopes audience members take from the exhibition, Milan demures. “I hope they walk away with curiosity, and confusion,” said Milan, “I don’t think I offer any type of answers in any of my work, but hopefully pointing one to a conversation or a thought that perhaps they haven’t considered.”

Amerika, God Bless You If It’s Good To You will be on display through October 24th. Information regarding the artists and performance schedule can be found at bronxmuseum.org.