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Fred Wilson Field Trip

“Wilson’s art speaks a language of redress…”

— Huey Copeland, Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America (Chicago, IL: U of Chicago Press, 2013): 26.

On November 3, 2016, my colleague Eric Zeigler (see his contribution at the end) and I drove six students for an hour and a half to Oberlin, Ohio, to hear African-American artist Fred Wilson (b. 1954) speak about his work on the occasion of two exhibitions he installed this past year at Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum in this small college town (my alma mater). We were already familiar with the artist, each one of us having often admired his black glass sculpture Iago’s Mirror (2009), acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) in 2010 (it was last on view in the TMA’s Gallery 6 for the temporary exhibition Shakespeare’s Characters: Playing the Part).

Mirror made out of black glass.

Fred Wilson: Iago’s Mirror, Murano glass (

Listening to a talk by the 1999 recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant was inspiring and exciting. Getting to see his work in both a solo exhibition (Fred Wilson: Black to the Powers of Ten) and in the site-specific installation Wildfire Test Pit was amazing. Fred Wilson’s works remains on view at the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio until June 12, 2017.

As a generous, instructive, insightful orator, Wilson was spectacular, sharing slides as he described an artistic trajectory and longtime interest in understanding museums through their collections. Starting out by invitation from the Maryland Historical Society in 1992, his attention began training on the Atlantic slave trade, the Indian slave trade, and movements of oil — or as he eventually came to call such dynamics, Movement of Blackness. Giving form to institutional memory by “mining” museum collections, Wilson would feature decommissioned possessions, like slave shackles or a public whipping post, side by side with an institution’s finest silver and furniture.

He spoke about installing over 50 portraits of Daniel Webster at the Hood Museum, in Dartmouth College, simultaneously with a series of plaster cast busts identifying human specimens from around the world. In the case of the latter, Wilson hid racial inscriptions with sashes of mourning, to encourage viewers to see them as people. This includes a cast of Ota Benga, the Congolese youth exhibited at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904; he would end up committing suicide in Virginia 12 years later.



Poster of the Seeds of Hope exhibition

Seeds of Hope Poster

The Peace Education Initiative hosted a special exhibit “Seeds of Hope: Visions of Sustainability, Steps Towards Change” at the Carlson Library through the fall semester 2015.  The exhibit, free and open to the public, was curated and developed by Soka Gakkai International and Earth Charter International.