Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is well known for his “I Have a Dream” speech, yet much less emphasis is placed on his campaign to seek justice for America’s poor, “The Poor People’s Campaign.” This was a multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-racial movement aimed at uniting poor people and their allies to demand an end to poverty and inequality. Fifty-three years after Dr. King’s death, the Reverend William Barber II launched a contemporary push to fulfill MLK’s ambitious brief — one that calls for a “revolution of values” that unites poor and impacted communities across the country. The exhibition Poor People’s Art: A (Short) Visual History of Poverty in the United States represents a visual response to Dr. King’s “last great dream” as well as Reverend Barber’s recent “National Call for Moral Revival.”
With artworks spanning more than 50 years, the exhibition is divided into two parts: Resurrection (1968-1994) and Revival (1995-2022). Resurrection includes photographs, paintings, prints, videos, sculptures, books, and ephemera made by a radically inclusive company of American artists, from Jill Freedman's photographs of Resurrection City, the tent enclave that King's followers erected on the National Mall in 1968, to John Ahearns' plaster cast sculpture Luis Fuentes, South Bronx (1979). Revival offers contemporary engagement across a range of approaches, materials, and points of view. Conceived in a declared opposition to poverty, racism, militarism, environmental destruction, health inequities, and other interlocking injustices, this exhibition shows how artists in the US have visualized poverty and its myriad knock-on effects since 1968. Participating artists include John Ahearn, Nina Berman, Martha De la Cruz, Jill Freedman, Rico Gatson, Mark Thomas Gibson, Corita Kent, Jason Lazarus, Miguel Luciano, Hiram Maristany, Narsiso Martinez, Adrian Piper, Robert Rauschenberg, Rodrigo Valenzuela, William Villalongo & Shraddha Ramani.
Poor People’s Art is curated by Christian Viveros-Fauné, CAM Curator-at-Large and organized by the USF Contemporary Art Museum.