Great Force is an exhibition that uses painting, sculpture, photography, video, and performance to examine the reality of race in the United States. It will feature new commissions and recent work by an intergenerational group of 21 established and emerging artists, including Pope.L, Sable Elyse Smith, Charlotte Lagarde, and Tomashi Jackson, Carrie Mae Weems, Glenn Ligon, Tony Cokes, and Paul Stephen Benjamin.

Borrowing its title from a quote by novelist and social critic James Baldwin, “The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do,” Great Force will explore how contemporary artists contend with persistent black-white racial bias and inequality in the U.S.

For the duration of Great Force, the ICA will convene community discussions about race, representations of the oppressed and the empowered, and how art can become a tool in pursuit of visibility.

The exhibition is curated by ICA Assistant Curator Amber Esseiva, an alumna of VCUarts. Great Force will be on view at the ICA at VCU from October 2019 through January 2020.

Great Force will showcase a variety of artistic mediums that ask audiences to consider how artists are choosing to appear in, engage with, and withdraw from racialized representations that dominate discourse in America. Emphasizing the perspectives of artists of color, the exhibition will feature new and recent work from a prolific group of artists that includes Carrie Mae Weems, Glenn Ligon, Tony Cokes, and Paul Stephen Benjamin, as well as a group of emerging artists, many of whom will have their museum debut as part of this exhibition.

Seminal works like Pope.L’s The Great White Way, 22 Miles, 5 Years, 1 Street (Segment #1: December 29, 2001), 2001-06 which documents the artist’s nine year effort to crawl the length of New York City’s Broadway while wearing a capeless Superman costume representing a Black man’s struggle to pursue the American dream, will be on view alongside new work commissioned by the ICA. These projects include:

A site-specific public drawing on the ICA’s glass-filled facade by Tomashi Jackson (b. 1980) that will displace images of private labor in public spaces through mark-making, figuration, and erasure.

A multimedia installation by Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974) including images, furniture, and sculptural works that present a vision of American policy through the lens of disenfranchisement and oppression.