By Karen Stokes
A new commissioned wall mural titled “On Site: Derrick Adams, Our Time Together” was unveiled on Oct. 29, 2021 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The mural was made specifically for the Museum’s east end overlooking Lake Michigan.
The mural is a 93-ft wide, 15 ft tall work that reframes historical Black narratives and examines the role of the media in shaping identity.
Baltimore-born and Brooklyn, New York based artist, Derrick Adams works in performance, video, sound, and 2D and 3D realms. His practice focuses on the fragmentation and manipulation of structure and surface, exploring self-image and forward projection.
The artist celebrates the everyday rituals of Black life and leisure, what normal Black life looks like and how to celebrate it.
“When he came to visit in 2019, we showed him this archive of photographs from the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel between 1951 and 1989, that were sold to William Gregory,” said Lisa Sutcliffe, Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts at Milwaukee Art Museum.
Adams was inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a travel guidebook for African Americans from 1936 to 1966.
The Green Book was a guide to services and lodgings that were relatively friendly to African Americans travelers, rather than face dangers and inconveniences along the road, from refusal of food and lodging to arrest and physical harm.
“The Green Book connected people in a way to allow them to feel just as American as everyone else at a time when everyone was pushing travel and leisure and Black Americans were still struggling with the idea of having access and safety because so many outside forces jeopardized life. That exists even today,” said Adams in an interview with Sutcliffe.
“For the past five or six years after doing the Sanctuary exhibition using art design that focused on the Green Book, I became fascinated with all of the listings and going to different cities and being in touch with different historians,” said Adams.
The mural includes references to Barbershop Gee’s Clippers, 2200 N. Dr. MLK, Jr. Dr., coffee shop and restaurant, Coffee Makes You Black, 2803 N. Teutonia Ave. and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, 2620 N. Center St.
“Meeting at barber shops or coffee shops historically have been meetings to organize marches and protests and discuss neighborhood development,” Adams said. “They’re not always about people talking and laughing, they are also a place for planning and strategizing.”
“It was a pleasure to become acquainted with this city and learn some of its history while developing this project,” he said. “There is so much more to be said about this rich history of Black America in Milwaukee and I’m hoping this mural can answer some of the questions.”
“On Site: Derrick Adams, Our Time Together” will remain on view at the museum through 2024.
Milwaukee Art Museum hours are Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Fridays–Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reserve your admission tickets and find information on parking, safety protocols, and more at mam.org/visit.