Tuesday, May 26, 2009
America I Am
The African American Imprint
Lenticular panels from the installation of “America I AM: The African American Imprint.”
“America I AM: The African American Imprint” is one such inspiring exhibition with which I’m privileged to have been involved. This monumental, four-year touring exhibition launched in early February is the brainchild of Tavis Smiley. The exhibition tells the “story of the nation’s African people and their legacies through objects, texts, religion, music, narration and media culled from every period of U.S. history.”
The designers of the exhibition had quite a challenge on their hands as they had to design a traveling exhibition with “more than 150 extraordinary artifacts, memorabilia and multimedia” all displayed in a 13,000-square-foot space with 12 different galleries, reconstructed every time from scratch as the exhibition travels to different locations around the country. It’s one of the most ambitious exhibitions I’ve seen.
“America I AM” exhibition designer, Richard Wilks of Studio Wilks based in Los Angeles, approached us to create a very special part of the exhibition—the entrance gallery. Richard had worked closely with the curator to design the 12 separate galleries inside the exhibition structure, and together they developed a dramatic concept for the entry that would frame the context of the entire experience for visitors—they devoted the theme of this entrance gallery to W.E.B. Du Bois, the great intellectual leader, with his question: “Would America have been America without her Negro people?”
Articulating the force behind this statement is no small challenge for a visual communicator. It’s not simply a matter of presenting the text on a wall. Its power must be encapsulated in a visual form that embodies its historical significance. Richard found a wonderfully creative medium to address the challenge. He designed a collage of sepia-toned images of prominent African-American personalities, ranging from pop culture to politics, including President Obama. He chose to present these images as lenticular panels, installed life-size across the giant wall of the exhibition’s entrance gallery. Each image was composed of two layers—one with the full-bleed photograph and the other with the person in the photograph silhouetted to denote his or her absence. As a viewer moves across the gallery, he or she experiences the images transforming from opaque photographs to silhouettes, visually expressing the significance of Du Bois’ question.
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