The Trout Gallery Review: “Tracing Slavery”

Hannah Levy '25, Guest Writer

On October 22, The Trout Gallery welcomed a new exhibit for students and spectators alike to enjoy. The exhibit is titled “Tracing Slavery” and features Moses Williams and Kara Walker. The exhibit is called “Tracing Slavery” for not only its study into the black experience and slavery, but also for the physical tracing of a silhouette – which is what each composition features. I had the opportunity to and sit in on a discussion of the compositions with Heather Flaherty, the Curator of Education at the Trout Gallery, and six of her Student Interpretation Assistants. They were able to guide me through the works of the headlining artists, and their knowledge was impressive and extensive. The exhibit is an overwhelming display of emotion centered around the goal to rewrite history with a black narrative.

The first artist I was told about was Kara Walker. Her art is contemporary and she is one of the biggest names that the Trout Gallery has welcomed in years. Her works superimpose silhouettes of black men, women, and children over top of illustrations from Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War. The silhouette acts as both an exposition and a concealment, obscuring parts of the image and bringing attention to others. What I loved about her exhibit is how introspective it is. Kara Walker’s art is displayed in a heavy glass frame which is no coincidence – it forces us, as viewers, to see ourselves in her work and what parts we did or didn’t play in creating that history.

Though Moses Williams has a considerably smaller contribution to the exhibit, his works are no less significant. As one of the first African American artists and former slave, this exhibition highlights Williams’ empowerment as an artist. Though he was denied the chance to learn the “higher artistic skills” of painting, his impressive silhouettes show a sense of awareness and attentiveness that is essential to the theme of the gallery.

Though I don’t want to divulge too much more information, as that is what the Trout Gallery staff does best, this collection invites us to open up a conversation and welcomes new interpretations. As the exhibit closes on January 22, 2022, I would not want to miss the opportunity to see these gripping art pieces.