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No Single Answer

She’s passionate about sharing the questions art provokes

The exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” is the culmination of years of research and relationship-building by Zoe Whitley ’01—around the U.S., she met and spent “a huge amount of time” with artists, researched estates, and talked with collectors.

“We were very interested in how artists during 1963 to 1983 were thinking about the same questions but coming up with very different answers,” says Whitley. “Questions like: What does it mean to make art in this moment of extreme social and political upheaval? Is one’s first responsibility to self-expression as an artist, or do you have a greater responsibility to your race, your community, your gender?”

With over 150 works from more than 60 artists, the show embraces the fact that these artists “gave no single answer.”

Whitley knew from a young age she wanted to work in the arts, but it wasn’t until she was nominated for the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program by Connie Hungerford, the Mari S. Michener Professor of Art History, and Associate Professor of French Micheline Rice-Maximin that she felt it was possible.

“Getting their nomination letter in my pigeonhole,” says Whitley, “and learning that not one—-but two—of my professors believed that I might be able to do something with an art history degree—that led me to where I am today: a curator of international art at the Tate Modern in the U.K.”

Although the planning for “Soul of a Nation” was underway before Brexit or the 2016 election, Whitley has seen how it’s resonated with audiences who don’t typically feel connected to art, and hopes it will attract new visitors and interest.

“So many intelligent, curious, cultured people can’t name a black artist,” she says. “Maybe this is a way that we can help people know more.”