Photo: Josh Weilepp/NMAAHC
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will install three sculptures created by acclaimed artist Elizabeth Catlett. Beginning in March, the more than 5-foot-tall sculptures “Offering Education,” “Offering Life” and “Rejecting Injustice” will be on long-term display as visitors enter the museum through Heritage Hall. The installation of these sculptures, which symbolize motherhood and the dignity, struggle and uplifting of African Americans, is one of many ways in which NMAAHC will celebrate Women’s History Month in addition to amplifying stories through its Hidden Herstory initiative. The pieces will join a selection of her groundbreaking woodcuts currently featured in “Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience.” in the Rhimes Family Foundation Galleries on the museum’s fourth floor.
“From the ordinary to the extraordinary, our institution has always sought to tell the story of the lived experiences of African Americans,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “This Women’s History Month, we’re honored to showcase the works of Elizabeth Catlett, the trailblazing artist whose work reflects the stories housed in our institution and whose ideals and actions inspired a generation of artists.”
Catlett (April 15, 1915–April 2, 2012, b. Washington, D.C.) was a 20th-century African American and Mexican artist whose work crossed the intersections of race and feminism. Shaped by stories her mother and grandmother told her about the hardships Black people faced, Catlett used her art to showcase issues she felt were underrepresented in the mainstream art movement. She believed that art could bolster the public’s awareness of injustice and prompt people to consider how they could detach themselves from oppressive systems. Catlett decided to permanently reside in Mexico after seeing how progressive artists were persecuted in America due to rising Cold War tensions. While in Mexico, she joined the Taller de Gráfica Popular, an artists’ print collective, which inspired her to create works that aligned with the freedom fighters in the civil rights and Black Power movements.
Throughout her career, Catlett explored multiple media for her art, including lithographs, linoleum cuts and sculpture in wood, stone, clay and bronze. Created in 2003, the three sculptures “Offering Education,” “Offering Life” and Rejecting Injustice” were initially commissioned by the CarrAmerica Realty Corp. for Terrell Place in Washington, D.C. The building was formerly a Hecht’s department store which, despite being popular with African American shoppers, maintained segregated cafeterias until a picketing campaign spearheaded by the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of the D.C. Anti-Discrimination Laws (CCEAD) compelled the store to completely integrate the building in January 1952. Terrell Place was named for Mary Church Terrell, who was the chairman of the CCEAD during the campaign. In the early 2000s, CarrAmerica Realty Corp. approached Catlett to commission artwork that demonstrated the building’s historical role in the struggle for equality and civil rights. Each of the three bronze sculptures reflects Catlett’s long-standing interest in African American dignity, struggle, motherhood and uplift.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum is operating under reduced hours of operation. The museum is closed to the public Monday and Tuesday and open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. However, timed-entry passes are required and available at https://nmaahc.si.edu/.
About the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 7.5 million in-person visitors and millions more through its digital presence. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.