At the Brooklyn Museum’s 2021 exhibition The Slipstream: Reflection, Resilience, and Resistance in the Art of Our Time, recent acquisitions from the museum’s contemporary art collection were assembled into a prismatic collection reflecting the profound social and political weight of the year 2020. Centering artists of color, the exhibition explored the effects of the pandemic, police brutality and the movement for Black lives, the contentious and contested presidential election, and the looming threat of climate change. The works assembled utilized a vast range of mediums – from visual art to film installations – as well as a range of artistic modes – realism, abstraction, documentation. All the works on display, however, were connected by their fierce commitment to reflecting, and intervening in, our political and cultural present – by offering a space of reflection, documenting our contemporary crises, or imagining radical visions of a more just future.

This exhibition is just one of the myriad artistic contributions to come from the year 2020. It also offers, in an acute context, an example of how works of art – in any medium – have engaged in the politics of their time as forms of activism, critique, documentation, celebration, and visions of alternative worlds. Sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit, and encompassing all segments of the arts – including those deemed “fine arts” and those deemed “pop culture” – works of art have been vital form of transmission, reflection, understanding, and advocacy.

This website, Forum, aims to collect and celebrate works that reflect the power of the arts to engage in their politics of their time. This platform is an outgrowth of the Photocracy virtual gallery launched by ArtsEngine at the University of Michigan as a part of the university-wide Arts Initiative. In the Photocracy gallery, students and members of the university community were invited to submit photographs that reflected political themes – either literally or metaphorically – with captions explaining the images’ political resonance. An outgrowth of this gallery, Forum is an interactive online exhibition that invites the University of Michigan community to explore the history of political engagement through the arts up to our present moment.

The website is organized into “clusters” – individual pages with collections of works organized by a unifying theme. Clusters may include works in any medium – film, videos, music, literature, photographs, and others – and will often include commentary on both individual pieces and their interconnections. Following a similar format as the Photocracy gallery, University of Michigan community members are invited to submit works of art – either their own or ones they encounter – that in some way reflect political themes or ideals. These works may be placed into an existing cluster or necessitate the formation of a new one. In this way, this website aims to be an interactive exhibition that opens up space for an ongoing, ever-evolving conversation about art and politics.

Initial clusters, which will be posted throughout the Fall 2021 semester, have been curated by me. These are meant only to be a starting point; even these initial pages are open to contributions from the community. Indeed, a central tenet of this exhibition is to trouble the authority of “curation,” both to allow for submissions from viewers and to account for the real reverberations of any exhibit, which can be found in their aftereffects – the conversations, inspirations, and actions that follow from engaging with an exhibit. In this way, in addition to collecting works that emphasize the function of art in a political process, Forum aims to democratize the very act of curation.

You can make a submission to Forum on the Submissions page. Please follow along and join in the discussion as we begin a conversation about the role of arts in politics and social change.

Website design by Sarah Blumberg

Graphic design by Bailey Yonkman