The autobiographical nature of Coates’ book parallels the visual narratives created by contemporary Post-Black artists featured in the exhibition: Marc Bradford, Theaster Gates, Mildred Howard, Chris Johnson, Rashid Johnson, Glenn Ligon, Hank Willis Thomas, Kara Walker, and Kehinde Wiley. In addition, Between the World and Me examines the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, a moment in history reflected in Robert Colescott’s work Homage to Delacroix: Liberty Leading the People, 1976. Like Coates, the artists and artworks chosen for this presentation reconsider the complexity of the Black experience in America.
Between the World and Me is a stark acknowledgement of the distorted lens through which the white imagination envisages the black body. One may #SayHerName and proclaim #BlackLivesMatter, but the instinct to look away from violence to the black body—to rationalize, explain, and ignore it—is never far from the surface. Increasing visual evidence of police brutality in the U.S. coupled with endemic racial disparities in sentencing and incarceration rates are simultaneously sobering and terrifying. The contradiction between reality and dominant narratives mirror the distance between the subversive format of artists’ books from the convention of traditional books. Though all of the exhibition selections were created prior to the publication of Between the World and Me, they reinforce many of Coates’ themes—requiring one to confront and interrogate conceptions of the black body and most critically, recognize that You Must Never Look Away From This.