Exhibition addresses current events and longstanding issues with racism in the United States

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Exhibition addresses current events and longstanding issues with racism in the United States
Figure with outstretched arms and chains, circa 1985-1999. Cement, industrial paints, mixed media. 62 x 47 x 13 inches. Gift of Dr. Charles Smith and the Kohler Foundation. 2008.3.8. Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art.

GREAT FALLS, MT.- Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art presents Dr. Charles Smith: Black History Lessons an exhibition drawn from Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art’s Permanent Collection of work by Outsider Artists.

The exhibition’s intent is to address current events and longstanding issues with racism in the United States by inviting visitors into a gallery space that re-imagines Dr. Charles Smith’s art environment. To do this the work is showcased alongside words, and images of his actual artist environment called the African-American Heritage Museum and Black American Archive which he began in 1986 in Aurora, IL and later moved to Hammond, LA in 2002.

Works on display were gifted to Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art in 2004 via the auspices of the Kohler Foundation in support of Dr. Charles Smith’s dream to use his art as a means to teach about the significant contributions that Black Americans have made to the formation of the Unites States of America.

Visitors to the exhibition are invited to respond to the installation through a video response. The response is meant to stimulate conversation through observation and questioning, key to Dr. Charles Smith’s work.

The exhibition can only attempt to imitate the actual experience of walking into Dr. Charles Smith’s ever-changing art environment, also known as the African American Heritage Museum and Black Veteran’s Archive. Dr. Smith utilizes the term African American to reflect on the origins of Black people in the African continent and their history on the American continent. The images that run the periphery of the gallery wall alongside his words and sculptures help us to honor his vision and come closer to the experience of being present within his artistic space.

Dr. Charles Smith is an artist, historian, narrator of his own art environment, and self-appointed PhD. He earned his degree through life-experience as a veteran of the Vietnam War, a college graduate, a father who died in a racially motivated murder, an ordained minister, a maker of art, and Director of his museum for over 15 years. Most importantly pure dedication to his lessons about Black history and the need for racial equity.

There is of course an important missing factor to the exhibition and that is Dr. Charles Smith himself. Even now at 80 years of age, he openly welcomes and gives tours through his property to curious passersby such as children and road trippers, as well as the serious lot of art historians, collectors, and educators. Today, due to COVID-19 social distancing recommendations he has to restrain himself from meeting people on his property which has been quite concerning to him as his main purpose in life is to inform the public on a daily basis about Black history. He is moved to have his work exhibited at The Square and shown to the people of Montana. He would be here to meet you today if he could.

Special thank you to Dr. Smith for his conversation, input, and enthusiasm about the exhibition. Thank you as well to the Spaces Archives-Kohler Foundation and Roadside America for sending images of Dr. Charles Smith's African-American Heritage Museum and Black American Archive, as well as granting us permission to use the images to create the mural of images in the gallery space.

This exhibition is curated by Nicole Maria Evans, Curator of Art at Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. Exhibitions presented by Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art are supported in part by the Montana Arts Council a state agency funded by the State of Montana, Humanities Montana, National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, and National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding is provided by museum members and the citizens of Cascade County, and generous support from Montana Federal Credit Union and D.A. Davidson.

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