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Working History: African American Objects

by Chas Bowie

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The word “working” is loaded with nuance in the titular context of Working History: African American Objects, a small but fiercely intelligent show at Reed College’s Cooley Gallery. In its most conventional reading, the word refers to the work-in-progress nature of history itself, an acknowledgment that our grasp of the past is both provisional and ephemeral. As individual pieces, the “works” of art in Working Histories look to the past and draw from archives, traditions, images and historical lives of African American culture; likewise, it is no stretch to say that the artists are working through extraordinarily complex systems of institutional and personal beliefs. Finally and most pointedly. Working Histories is loaded with inescapable reminders that it was the need for workers that prompted America’s slave trade and that attitudes about race and work have never left the table as flashpoints of social and economic imbalance.

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