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2024 Elizabeth and Irwin Warren Folk Art Symposium: “The Picture Is Still Out There”: Reframing Black Presence in the Collections of Early American Art and Material Culture

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“…Even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw, is still out there,” says one of Toni Morrison’s characters in her masterpiece Beloved. Reflecting on this process of Black “re-memory,” the symposium “The Picture Is Still Out There’: Reframing Black Presence in the Collections of Early American Art and Material Culture” presents curatorial practices and scholarship that affirm African American presence in early American art and material culture.

The two-day online symposium is organized in connection with the exhibition Unnamed Figures: Black Presence and Absence in the Early American North, on view from November 15, 2023–March 24, 2024. Drawing inspiration from the research behind this exhibition, the symposium serves as a platform for a broader consideration of museum practices in relation to folk art, early American history, and issues of anti-Black racism.

Art scholars, museum curators, and public historians  – including exhibition co-curators Emelie Gevalt, RL Watson and Sadé Ayorinde, as well as Janine Boldt, Alexandra Chan, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Elizabeth Humphrey, Tiffany Momon, Marc Howard Ross and  Jennifer Van Horn – are invited to gather, share, and discuss their efforts in celebrating and reframing the early contributions of African American individuals to the field of art. Talks will consider early material culture from global and historically marginalized perspectives, acknowledging gaps in history, knowledge, and care. This virtual symposium will also present new methods of preserving, acquiring, and exhibiting that address colonialist and racist ideologies while rethinking accountability, transparency, and language choices in interpretation. This will be a unique opportunity to approach the colonial past and its continuities in museums and public institutions.

We are inviting scholars to submit proposals in relation to the conference topic. Extended deadline for applications: November 27, 2023, 11:59 p.m. EDT. Read the symposium’s Call for Papers here. Public registration will open in December 2023.

A detailed schedule with speaker abstracts and biographies will be released soon.  For questions, please email

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