Salvation cannot thrive in a box
An angled shot of Kara Walker’s “Salvation” featuring a woman emerging from a body of water as a fish pops out of her mouth. Photo by Talyiah Dickens.

Salvation cannot thrive in a box

The Baltimore Museum of Art hosts an array of stunning collections that span centuries and cross continents. Notable artists from Picasso to Andy Warhol fill magnificent rooms and corridors, leaving little to no room for idle space. The naked eye scans a landscape of challenging art forms that defy dimension and structure. Entry to the BMA is free for all, and the discovery of internationally renowned historic, modern and contemporary art is priceless.

The countless exhibitions located all around the building are wonderful additions to the BMA. Visitors enter exhibitions that contribute a variety of interactive features that surpass standard viewing. This atmosphere emphasizes the relationship between the viewer and art and invites diverse interpretations that may mirror that individual or the world around them.

In a nutshell, art influences its viewer to think by evoking their senses. Nothing quite describes this discovery like Kara Walker’s and Hank Willis Thomas’s joint exhibition in “The Black Box.” With the use of a projector and four walls, these revolutionary artists create a platform to unroll a legacy of slavery.

Kara Walker, a noteworthy African American conceptual artist, uses cut-out silhouettes to examine the formation of racial inequality. These images remove the veil of self-conscious inhibition by showcasing stereotypes of the black female identity in history, literature and biblical accounts. In her piece, “Salvation, Walker presents a woman surrounded by a swamp, either emerging or submerging herself into the water beneath her. The most captivating component of this visual is the fish that leaps out of the mouth of the “escaped,” or emerging, woman. Drawn heavily both in name and natural elements, Walker has portrayed strong subjects with very little context.

In contrast, Hank Willis Thomas’ portion of the exhibition narrows in on the context needed to reveal a relationship between a subject and an outsider. By taking a picture of Walker’s exhibit, viewers discover that underneath “Salvation” lives Thomas’ stimulating composition titled “And I Can’t Run.” This striking reveal uncovers a silhouette of a young black boy shackled to a post. Overseeing his bondage is a sea of white males with no signs or pitchforks in sight — but their gaze has a binding impact. This sinister scene embarks on a theme of racial identity prominent in Thomas’ anti-conformist artistry. “And I Can’t Run” finally elaborates on the haunting effects of invisibility by requiring viewers to use the light of a camera to peer into the darkness.

Walker and Thomas reinvent the dynamics of the BMA’s “Black Box” by relentlessly pushing the boundaries of how we define race. As viewers follow their shadows across the projection screen, they begin to notice the layers that go beyond an image or a concept. Walker and Thomas generate room to create dialogue and furthermore offer us all a vital piece of advice:

Think inside the box.