Through “Mercy in the Museum” discussion series, Block Museum explores intersections of social justice in art


Courtesy of Linday Bosch

“I got in 1 little graffiti arrest & my mom got scared…but my dad lost it when me & the homey didn’t take community service seriously” by Pat Phillips. Each week, a different member of Block selects one artwork from the museum’s collection and guides a discussion on how the artists use different media to communicate themes related to “Just Mercy.”

Melina Chalkia, Reporter

The Block Museum of Art is offering a virtual discussions series based on One Book One Northwestern selection “Just Mercy,” exploring themes of justice, racism, inequality, gender and mass incarceration.

These 30-minute lunchtime discussions are inspired by Bryan Stevenson’s book, which narrates the activist’s account as a lawyer who strives to end mass incarceration and bring justice to imprisoned individuals who were treated unfairly by the justice system.

Through these “Mercy in the Museum” discussions, the Block staff hope to teleport the audience to an artistic realm of artworks that resonate with themes of “Just Mercy,” with the next two discussions forthcoming on Nov. 20 and Dec. 11.

Each week, a different member of Block selects one artwork from the museum’s collection and guides a discussion on how the artists use different media to communicate themes related to the book. Participants have the opportunity to listen to the host’s analysis, ask questions and share multiple perspectives.

Corinne Granof, the academic curator at Block, said that a main objective of the series is to draw thematic connections to “Just Mercy” and bring out Stevenson’s heroism.

“We wanted to kind of honor (Stevenson) too, and pick up on the themes that were really major threads in his book like justice and compassion,” Granof said.

The artworks are selected from the Block’s permanent collection and are accessible at the museum’s website in an object package. The collection covers a wide range of artists and artworks across time, culture and medium.

Lindsay Bosch, Block’s senior manager of marketing and communications, said the museum strives to create a collection that reflects the Northwestern community.

“The idea of coordinating and amplifying our partnership with ‘One Book One Northwestern’ offered a thematic through line that allowed the museum to take part in conversations that are going on throughout the campus,” Bosch said.

Erin Northington, Block’s associate director of campus and community education and engagement, said the intended purpose of the events is to reflect current discussions at NU and around the world and establish connections between the artworks and the present.

Northington added the discussions are also a great opportunity for students to connect with Block staff and view the museum as an important resource for reflection outside the classroom.

Curatorial Associate Melanie Garcia Sympson, who led the first discussion, said that these critical issues are highlighted in discussions aimed at enhancing the experience one would have in the normal in-person gallery tours. Sympson added that Zoom magnifies the experience of visiting an exhibition, as it stimulates in-depth evaluation of the artworks.

“One of the advantages of this virtual environment is being able to have 40 or 50 people look at this really small part of an image all at once, and zoom in on that detail,” Sympson said.

According to Bosch, as the Block celebrates its 40-year milestone, Block staff and students come together to question history and embrace art’s impact in the world, through these discussions.

“We wanted to spend the 40th anniversary thinking about what the collection is and how it’s changing to reflect our changing world,” Bosch said.

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Twitter: @ChalkiaMelina

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