Center for Art and Social Engagement

Columbus Museum of Art

Justice in America: A Visual Inquiry

“Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person—ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it.” —James Baldwin, from No Name in the Street, 1972

Posed in the wake of the Black freedom struggle of the 1960s, Baldwin’s question about the nature of justice in America has lost none of its urgency. As civil rights activists have long argued, the concept of justice enshrined within America’s legal system allows for numerous forms of oppression and discrimination, especially based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, and immigration status. In spite of this contradictory legacy, the love of justice continues to inspire, just as the persistence of injustice in American society remains a source of outrage. 

The Center for Art and Social Engagement (CASE) is an initiative to forge deeper connections between the Museum, its collections, and communities near and far. This related installation features a dialogue between works from the collection and 2020–21 CASE Artist Fellow Sa’dia Rehman. Expanding in February 2021, it is the first phase of an evolving conversation that asks visitors to reflect upon the past, present, and future of justice in America. 

Inspired by her research into CMAs permanent collection, Center for Art and Social Engagement (CASE) Artist Fellow Sadia Rehman has created The Land of Promise. In line with Rehman’s practice, the wall drawing engages the gallery architecture, and combines motifs from a range of sources. Decorative patterns, typical of art of the Islamic world, interweave with images of migration, incarceration, and protest. Visitors may recognize some of these motifs from works in CMA’s collection.

Rehman describes The Land of Promise as a border. The term evokes the geography of migration and detention, but also traditions of decoration and adornment. Stenciled and hand-drawn onto the gallery walls, Rehmans drawing will expand over the course of her yearlong fellowship and engage feedback from visitors.

Rehman has designated each of the four walls with a specific theme: Horizon; Land; Future; and Afterlife. Ultimately, the drawing will run continuously around the room.

The Center for Art and Social Engagement is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, through their Museums for America program. CASE was designed through new, experimental, cross-departmental collaborations by Daniel Marcus, Roy Lichtenstein Curatorial Fellow, Hannah Mason-Macklin, Manager of Interpretation and Engagement, and Jennifer Lehe, Manager of Strategic Partnerships, Learning and Engagement.
Photos by Luke Stettner
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