doing martin proud
Groundbreaking showcase of centuries-old Black art makes milestone stop at Holocaust Museum Houston
As the world pauses to honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., the work of a widely impactful – but lesser known — Black family gets a major showcase in Houston.
Holocaust Museum Houston will showcase TheKinsey African American Art & History Collection, now through June. Widely acclaimed and groundbreaking, the exhibition celebrating the achievements and contributions of Black Americans from 1595 to present day.
Considered one of the most comprehensive surveys of African American history and culture outside of the Smithsonian Institution, the exhibition will feature over 100 of the shared treasures amassed by art collectors Bernard and Shirley Kinsey during their five decades of marriage. In total, the couple collected more than 1,000 works.
Houston marks the 40th show for the exhibit, which has been seen by more than 16 million people nationwide. The Houston stop features 20 percent of never-been-seen paintings and sculptures, photographs, rare books, letters, manuscripts, and more.
Prolific preservationists battling an ugly myth
Prolific and ahead of their time, the Kinseys, a Black couple, vowed to travel to 100 countries when they wed in 1967. As they began collecting to mark each journey, their collection became a repository for African American intellectual, historical, and artistic works.
Soon, the Kinseys realized that they knew little of their own history, largely due to the fact that for centuries, contributions made by African Americans in industry, art, science and politics have been omitted from history books.
To that end, a primary theme for this exhibit is to battle that "Myth of Absence," as they call it. The family — Bernard, Shirley, and son Khalil — believe their collection helps give a well-rounded look at the African American experience and the integral roles African Americans played in building this country, providing new perspectives on chapters of the nation’s history which have been ignored.
“The Kinsey Collection strives to give our ancestors a voice, a name and a personality, enabling the viewer to understand the challenges, obstacles, triumphs, accomplishments and extraordinary sacrifice of African Americans in building this country,” Bernard Kinsey noted in a statement.
“This is an American story, and most people only know a fraction of it,” Khalil Kinsey, who, serves as general manager and chief curator for the collection and exhibitions, added.
From slave ships to crowning achievements and moments
Representing the intersection between art and history, the exhibition covers the lives, accomplishments and artistry of African Americans, from the 16th century through the years of slavery and emancipation to the civil rights movement and today. Important objects include bills of sale, advertisements, letters, and legal papers documenting the slave trade; hand-colored tintypes from the Civil War era; art and literature from the Harlem Renaissance; and items spotlighting key moments in the civil rights movement, including the Woolworth store boycotts and the 1963 March on Washington.
A history of African Americans in art is charted through works by numerous celebrated artists, including Charles Alston, Richard Barthé, Bisa Butler, Elizabeth Catlett, Alma Thomas, Laura Wheeler Waring, Houston’s own Ava Cosey and many more.
Triumph over trauma
The Kinsey Collection has been cited in three national awards, including the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. Garnering national media attention and experienced by more than 16 million people, the groundbreaking exhibition has toured more than 35 cities in the U.S. and internationally, including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, EPCOT Walt Disney World, the University of Hong Kong Museum and Gallery, and California’s SoFi Stadium.
“The Kinsey Collection highlights the resilience of African Americans despite a long history of discrimination and trauma,” said Alex Hampton, HMH’s changing exhibitions manager, in press materials. “It also shows the vital contributions Black people have made to American society despite this history.
As a Holocaust and Human Rights museum, we want our exhibitions to bring communities together by illuminating the similarities in our histories while also keeping in mind the differences.”
The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection will run through Sunday, June 23 in the Josef and Edith Mincberg Gallery of the Holocaust Museum Houston (5401 Caroline St.). For information on schedules, tickets, and free events, visit the HMH website.