The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) explores the profound impact of a pivotal time in American history through the perspectives and works of 12 acclaimed Black contemporary artists. Co-organized by the BMA and Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA), A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration features new commissions by Akea Brionne, Mark Bradford, Zoë Charlton, Larry W. Cook, Torkwase Dyson, Theaster Gates Jr., Allison Janae Hamilton, Leslie Hewitt, Steffani Jemison, Robert Pruitt, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and Carrie Mae Weems. Each of the artists researched and reflected on their connections to the South, migration, ancestry, and land, resulting in an extraordinary range of artistic endeavors across media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, video, sound, and immersive installations.
The Great Migration saw more than six million Black Americans leave their homes in the rural South for cities across the United States between 1915 and 1970. This incredible movement of people transformed nearly every aspect of Black life and spurred a flourishing culture that established a new cadre of artists, writers, musicians, and makers. For this exhibition, co-curators Jessica Bell Brown (she/her), BMA Curator and Department Head of Contemporary Art, and Ryan N. Dennis (she/her), MMA Chief Curator and Artistic Director of the Museum’s Center for Art and Public Exchange grounded the project in a key prompt: “What would happen if today’s leading artists were given the space to think about the intersections of the Great Migration in a wholistic, expansive, and dynamic way?” The artists engaged with new and ongoing research, examining this history and reflecting on their families through the lens of contemporary life. The exhibition posits migration as both a historical and political consequence, but also as a choice for reclaiming one’s agency as the works encompass stories of perseverance, self-determination, and self-reliance for those who traveled as well as for those who stayed behind. A Movement in Every Direction demonstrates that the story of the Great Migration is neither complete in its current telling nor finished in its contemporary unfolding.
The project includes a two-volume publication, the first of which is a critical reader highlighting pivotal scholarly work around all aspects of the Great Migration, from the shaping of American cities to its impact on Black spirituality, music, art, and culture. The second volume is a capsule-like focus on the exhibition with curatorial essays, artist entries, and newly commissioned essays by leading writers Kiese Laymon, Jessica Lynne, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, and Dr. Willie J. Wright.