The Crown in the Classroom

Part theory, part experiential was the description given to us, the students of “Black Art, White Cube”, by Professor Ray Silverman on the first day of class in January. RayThis blog post is a reflection on the relationship between The Crown and the students of Afro-American and African Studies 458: “Black Art, White Cube”; the classroom: ours. The Crown provided our class with a learning experience. The exhibitions in GalleryDAAS and the Institute for the Humanities Gallery served not only as a way to engage in debates surrounding difficult issues in contemporary art (and its relationship to the modern display, the ‘White Cube’). Class discussions, assignments, and interactions with Peters, the curators Amanda Krugliak and V. Robin Grice, and visitors allowed us to discuss the issues at the heart of The Crown, including race, identity, the costs of a college education for Black and minority students, and most importantly, self-determination. Our discussions went beyond The Crown into ideas about race and identity in the art world today, but our class has had a wonderful opportunity to engage with Peters’s work in the way she imagined, even thought our class’s involvement is greater than usual.

As a college education has become ubiquitous in recent years, as students we have been told of all the benefits and advantages of obtaining a college degree. However, what has not been discussed—and what The Crown offers to visitors—are the costs associated with a college education, particularly for Black students. The “selfie” station, meant to draw visitors into the gallery, gives way to portraits that emphasize Black students who should wear the crown.  At the same time, the mix of African crowns and Western Crowns highlights the necessity of self-determination, as black students face a professional society that privileges a white social structure as the norm. The Crown can be a space for numerous LSA disciplines to discuss identity, race, self-determination, among others. Classes here at the University of Michigan should take advantage of this exhibit while it is still on campus, on view until May 3rd, 2015.

–Jaclyn Kline. AAS 458 Student, History and Anthropology