REVOLUTION ON TRIAL: May Day and The People’s Art, New Haven’s Black Panthers @ 50 is a group exhibition of painting, photography, sculpture, installation, and ephemera that reflects on the 1970 murder trial of Black Panther Party national chairman Bobby Seale, New Haven chapter founder Ericka Huggins, and seven other party members. Artists Kwadwo Adae, Chloë Bass, Alex Callender, Melanie Crean, Ice the Beef, Paul Bryant Hudson, and Miguel Luciano consider the trial and protest movement that erupted around it, the Black Panthers’ organizing in New Haven, and the broader nexus of Black Power politics. Thinking through this critical human rights lens, the artists, working across a range of media, explore the content, shape, and role of existing historical archives, the narratives they do and do not contain, representations of justice and revolution, manifestations of Black joy and communal care, and global ramifications of the city’s “trial of the century.” While Seale and Huggins were ultimately acquitted of the murder of Panther member Alex Rackley, a suspected FBI informant, the 1970 case shook the city and underscored the deep inequities in the legal system and wider social structures. This exhibition was co-curated by La Tanya Autry, with support from Researcher Assistants Joshua Aiken, Minh Vu, Nyeda Sam, and a team of community advisors.
The exhibition features an archive room, reading room and QR codes that link to an 8-part podcast series, co-produced by The Narrative Project. Featuring first-hand accounts of the trial, the May Day rally, life within the party, and the face of activism today, the podcast fills in the gaps of the New Haven's Panthers' history and legacy, centering Black voices, and rejecting a top-down approach to history telling steered by mainstream journalism, misinformation, institutional racism, government controlled narratives and anti-Black surveillance. Historian Curtis Austin describes the need for building such archives: “ After…25 years, what I’ve discovered is that 73% of all the newspaper articles written about the Black Panther Party were written by the FBI, or people the FBI recruited.” The archive will be added to the Digital Collection at the New Haven Free Public Library for free access and public use.
Over the course of three weeks in July, eight New Haven high school students served as apprentices for Revolution on Trial graphic designer, Daniel Pizarro. Through the partnership with Artspace, Pizarro launched the debut of his dream project, Youth Justice Design Collaborative. Drawing inspiration from the Black Panther Party’s independently funded Community News Service, the curriculum invited students to explore graphic design as a tool for activism, organizing and storytelling in their own communities. Adjusting to the health and safety risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the program moved online, embracing the capacities of digital art and sharing content online as a means of distribution. Collectively, the students produced artwork reflective of the evolving, intersectional conversations that speak to resilience and self-determination of oppressed people throughout the world in the fight for liberation. This was the 20th edition of Artspace's acclaimed Summer Apprenticeship Program.
top photos: Installation Views of Revolution on Trial, on display at Artspace New Haven, July 24 - October 17, 2020. Photos by Jessie Smolinksi. Images Courtesy of Artspace.
bottom photo: Installation View of Artspace's 20th Summer Apprenticeship Program: Youth Justice Design Collaborative, on display at Artspace New Haven, July 24 - October 17, 2020. Photos by Jessie Smolinksi. Images Courtesy of Artspace.