We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85

The Brooklyn Museum debuts We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85, from Apr. 21 to Sept. 17, 2017.

We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85

Park Slope
Beyond South Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Museum debuts We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85, a groundbreaking exhibition featuring more than forty black women artists from an under-recognized generation who committed themselves to activism during a period of profound social change.

On view April 21 through September 17, 2017, the exhibition reorients conversations around race, feminism, political action, art production, and art history, writing a broader, bolder story of the multiple feminisms that shaped this period marked by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, the Women's Movement, the Anti-War Movement, and the Gay Liberation Movement.

We Wanted a Revolution features a wide array of work, including conceptual, performance, film, and video art, as well as photography, painting, sculpture, and printmaking, reflecting the aesthetics, politics, cultural priorities, and social imperatives of this period. It begins in the mid-1960s, as younger activists began shifting from the peaceful public disobedience favored by the Civil Rights Movement to the more forceful tactics of the Black Power Movement. It moves through multiple methods of direct action and institutional critique in the 1970s, and concludes with the emergence of a culturally based politics focused on intersecting identities of race, gender, class, and sexuality in the early 1980s.

Jan van Raay (American, born 1942). Faith Ringgold (right) and Michele Wallace (middle) at Art Workers Coalition Protest, Whitney Museum, 1971. Courtesy of Jan van Raay, Portland, OR, 305-37. © Jan van Raay

Artists in the exhibition include Emma Amos, Camille Billops, Kay Browne, Vivian E. Brown,  Linda Goode Bryant, Beverly Buchanan, Carole Byard, Elizabeth Catlett, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Ayoka Chenzira, Christine Choy and Susan Robeson, Blondell Cummings, Julie Dash, Pat Davis, Jeff Donaldson, Maren Hassinger, Janet Henry, Virginia Jaramillo, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, Lisa Jones, Lois Mailou Jones, Barbara Jones-Hogu, Carolyn Lawrence, Samella Lewis, Dindga McCannon, Barbara McCullough, Ana Mendieta, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O'Grady, Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringgold, Alva Rogers, Alison Saar,  Betye Saar, Coreen Simpson, Lorna Simpson, Ming Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems.
Organized in a general chronology around a key group of movements, collectives, actions, and communities, the exhibition builds a narrative based on significant events in the lives of the artists. These include: Spiral and the Black Arts Movement; the "Where We At" Black Women Artists collective; Art World activism, including the Art Workers' Coalition (AWC), the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), Women, Students and Artists for Black Art Liberation (WSABAL), and the Judson Three; Just Above Midtown Gallery; the Combahee River Collective and Black feminism; Heresies magazine; the A.I.R. Gallery exhibition Dialectics of Isolation: An Exhibition of Third World Women Artists of the United States; and the Rodeo Caldonia High-Fidelity Performance Theater collective.
We Wanted a Revolution presents lesser-known histories alongside iconic works such as Elizabeth Catlett's Homage to My Young Black Sisters (1968), Jae Jarrell's Urban Wall Suit (1969), Lorraine O'Grady's Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (1982),and Barbara Chase-Riboud's monumental sculpture Confessions for Myself (1972). Other works on view include Faith Ringgold's rarely seen painting For the Women's House, which she made for the New York City Correctional Institution for Women at Rikers Island in 1971; Maren Hassinger's large-scale sculptural installation Leaning (1980), which has only been exhibited once before, in 1980; films by Camille Billops and Julie Dash; and Howardena Pindell's iconoclastic 1980 video work Free, White and 21. Also on view are early photographs from the mid-1980s by Lorna Simpson documenting the Rodeo Caldonia High-Fidelity Performance Theater, a group of women artists, performers, and filmmakers based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, of which she was a part; as well as newly unearthed ephemera and documentation relating to the "Where We At" Black Women Artists collective and Linda Goode Bryant's influential gallery and alternative space, Just Above Midtown.

We Wanted a Revolution is organized by Catherine Morris, Sackler Family Senior Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, and Rujeko Hockley, Assistant Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art and formerly Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
"Working within tightly knit and often overlapping personal, political, and collaborative creative communities, the artists in this exhibition were committed to self-determination, free expression, and radical liberation. Their lives and careers advance a multidimensional understanding of the histories of art and social change in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century," said Rujeko Hockley. Catherine Morris added, "This exhibition injects a new conversation into mainstream art histories of feminist art in a way that expands, enriches, and complicates the canon by presenting some of the most creative artists of this period within a political, cultural, and social conversation about art-making, race, class, and gender. The resulting work, sometimes collaborative and other times contentious, continues to resonate today."
The exhibition will travel to the California African American Museum, Los Angeles (fall 2017), Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo (winter 2018), and Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (summer 2018). Two related volumes will be published by the Brooklyn Museum: a sourcebook of writings from the period and a book of new essays by art historians Huey Copeland, Aruna D'Souza, Kellie Jones, and Uri McMillan. D'Souza, Jones, and McMillan will also participate in a related symposium on April 21 at the Museum.
The exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum will be accompanied by an extensive calendar of public programming.

Related Public Programs


Symposium: We Wanted a Revolution
Friday, April 21, 11:30 am-6 pm

Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium and Beaux-Arts Court; Free with Museum admission
A daylong symposium features four panels introducing new scholarship, presentations by artists in the exhibition, and performances. Participants include Catherine Morris and Rujeko Hockley, co-curators of the exhibition; Aruna D'Souza, art historian and critic; Kellie Jones, Associate Professor of Art History and Archaeology and the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University; Uri McMillan, Associate Professor of English at UCLA; and artists included in the exhibition.


Family Reunion: We Wanted a Revolution
Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23, 11 am-6 pm

Museum-wide; Free with Museum admission
Join us for a weekend of festivities including a special screening of artist Julie Dash's acclaimed feature Daughters of Dust (1991, 112 min.) and her early short films, followed by a conversation with Dash, Alva Rogers (We Wanted a Revolution artist and star of Daughters of the Dust), and Arthur Jafa (artist and Daughters of the Dust cinematographer). Artists Heather Hart and Jina Valentine host a special iteration of their Black Lunch Table, inviting artists and cultural producers of color to engage in critical dialogues that bring the content of the exhibition into conversation with contemporary concerns. Saint Heron hosts a Soul-Cleansing Party.


Target First Saturday: We Wanted a Revolution
Saturday, June 3, 2016, 5-11 pm

Museum-wide; Free

Celebrate Pride Month through the lens of We Wanted a Revolution with performances, talks, art-making, and films that feature queer black artists and activists. Program highlights include the kickoff of our monthlong film series What We Believe: Black Queer Brooklyn on Film; poetry readings with Cave Canem fellows DéLana R.A. Dameron and Alysia Harris; and a special performance by D'hana Perry.


What We Believe: Black Queer Brooklyn on Film
Saturday, June 3, and Thursdays, June 8, 15, 22, and 29

Various locations throughout the Museum.; Free with Museum admission
This film series riffs on the Combahee River Collective, a black lesbian feminist organization formed in 1974, and their Black Feminist Statement. The series features new releases by young, black, queer, female-identified, and gender nonconforming artists and filmmakers working in Brooklyn today, including Frances Bodomo, Dyani Douze, Ja'Tovia Gary, Reina Gossett,Lindsay Catherine Harris, Carrie Hawks, Tiona McClodden, Chanelle Pearson, D'hana Perry, Naima Ramos-Chapman, and Stefani Saintonge. The series will kick off at June's Target First Saturday and continue on subsequent Thursdays throughout the month. Visit www.brooklynmuseum.org for updates.


Artist's Eye
Saturdays, June 10, July 8, August 12, and September 9, 2 pm

Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art and Stephanie and Tim Ingrassia Gallery of Contemporary Art, 4th Floor; Free with Museum admission
This series of intimate, in-gallery talks focuses on artists' practices and their works' relationship to larger art-historical and political themes. Each talk features either an exhibition artist or an artist of a younger generation.


Film: The Watermelon Woman with Cheryl Dunye and Cheryl Clarke
Thursday, June 22, 7 pm

Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium, 3rd Floor; Tickets $16; includes Museum admission
Watch the remastered version of the classic The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996, 90 min.) and join an intergenerational discussion between director Cheryl Dunye and poet-activist Cheryl Clarke.



The Brooklyn Museum is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States. Its roots extend back to 1823 and the founding of the Brooklyn Apprentices’ Library to educate young tradesmen (Walt Whitman would later become one of its librarians). First established in Brooklyn Heights, the Library moved into rooms in the Brooklyn Lyceum building on Washington Street in 1841. Two years later, the Lyceum and the Library combined to form the Brooklyn Institute, offering important early exhibitions of painting and sculpture in addition to lectures on subjects as diverse as geology and abolitionism. The Institute announced plans to establish a permanent gallery of fine arts in 1846.

By 1890, Institute leaders had determined to build a grand new structure devoted jointly to the fine arts and the natural sciences; the reorganized Institute was then renamed the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, the forebear of the Brooklyn Museum. The original design of the new museum building, from 1893, by the architects McKim, Mead & White was meant to house myriad educational and research activities in addition to the growing collections. The ambitious building plan, had it been fully realized, would have produced the largest single museum structure in the world. Indeed, so broad was the institution’s overall mandate that the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum would remain divisions of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences until they became independent entities in the 1970s.