By Mrinal Gokhale
The long-awaited re-opening of the American Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) has recently gained two gifts: a bronze cast sculpture and a large donation from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation (GMF).
On Friday, Jan. 24, a press conference was held at ABHM, 401 W North Ave. During the event, GMF announced a three-year $120,000 donation on behalf of its grant program, and another one million dollars on behalf of an anonymous donor to ABHM.
The American Black Holocaust Museum was founded in 1998 by lynching survivor James Cameron. ABHM is the first and only museum in the United States that interprets a “holocaust” that Africans Americans have endured in America from the time of captivity in Africa to the present day. It closed in 2008, later going virtual, and has been in the works to reopen since about 2016.
Ralph Hollman, who sits on the museum board, said that GMF has been one of the museum’s most valued partners in helping to reopen nearly a decade after it closed.
“A number of people have supported us with their time, talent and treasure, but none has been more of a partner and a friend than the Greater Milwaukee Foundation,” he said. “And, for those of you who don’t know, very soon, the Foundation and Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin will be our neighbors across the street.”
Ellen Gilligan, CEO of GMF, said that the museum will serve as a means to educate and provide healing for the violence and injustices faced by African Americans in the past and present. She also commented on the significance of the museum’s location in the Bronzeville neighborhood.
“The investment in Bronzeville is an investment in place, an important place. We must continue to invest in and celebrate the rich history of Bronzeville and reverse the historic disinvestment that’s impacting far too many Milwaukee neighborhoods,” she said.
Robert Davis, CEO of the American Black Holocaust Museum, said that Milwaukee’s Bronzeville community is not unlike any Bronzeville in the country.
“Bronzeville communities in all urban cities serve as the epicenter for economics, arts, and culture,” he said. “We lost it, but now we’re re-emerging.”
During the press conference, the sculpture “BAM: Seated Warrior,” acquired by GMF from Sculpture Milwaukee, was unveiled.
New York based artist Sanford Biggers said that “Seated Warrior” represents a female “power figure” that resists violence by way of spirituality. The piece, he said, was part of a larger series called “BAM,” which he started years ago.
“I’ve been taking African sculptures from various regions to a shooting range and literally sculpting them with different caliber weapons,” said Biggers.
Biggers said that he feels such a close connection to the materials that he does not pull the trigger.
“Once those pieces and fragments are picked up off the ground after they’ve been shot, they’re cast through bronze and become fortified, strengthened, and that to me is a metaphor of resilience of Americans and those of those who are descendants of that very tragic time,” he said.
Biggers said that he feels that “Seated Warrior” has “come home” now that the museum has acquired the piece.
“I am very pleased that [Seated Warrior] is here with a community that already understands her significance.,”