Painting honoring martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement at DIA

Civil Rights

‘Souvenir II,’ 1997, Kerry James Marshall, American, acrylic, collage and glitter on unstretched canvas banner. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy image

DETROIT – The Detroit Institute of Arts welcomes a piece by Kerry James Marshall, as a “Guest of Honor.” Souvenir II is on loan from the Addison Gallery of American Art in Boston and will be on view through August 2019. This piece is heavily associated with the Civil Rights Movement and features a prominent Michigan connection.

Souvenir II is set in Marshall’s aunt’s living room where a memorial hangs above the couch. The memorial reads “In Memory of” and features President John F. Kennedy, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and centered between the Kennedys is Martin Luther King Jr.  In clouds floating above, Marshall depicts  as angels individuals associated with the Civil Rights Movement who were violently killed between 1959–1970. The most prominent part of the painting is that of a black angel with gold wings, preparing the living room’s memorial setting, holding a vase with flowers, inviting the viewer into the scene. Souvenir II is one of four in a series, narrating the loss of leaders in politics, literature, arts and music.

Among the angels depicted in the clouds is Detroit native Viola Liuzzo, a housewife and 39-year-old mother of five. She was shot by Ku Klux Klan nightriders on Highway 80 in Montgomery, Alabama, making her way home to Detroit after participating in the Selma to Montgomery marches in the wake of Bloody Sunday. To this day, she is known as the only white woman killed during the Civil Rights Movement. The other angels in the artwork include Medgar Evers, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Malcolm X and others who were murdered for their work during the Civil Rights Movement.

“Welcoming this ‘Guest of Honor’ by an artist of Kerry James Marshall’s prominence advances our progress toward including more artworks by African American artists in the museum’s galleries,” said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons. “This is certainly a significant educational opportunity for the more than 74,000 students who come to the DIA each year to be inspired by a work of art created by one of the world’s leading artists.”

Marshall was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955, but moved to South Central Los Angeles in 1963. Growing up in the heyday of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements in L.A., his experiences during that time play a significant role in his work today. His work was featured as part of the “30 Americans” exhibition at the DIA in October 2015.

Souvenir II is on display outside of the glass gallery in the contemporary gallery space, located on the second floor.