Outdoor exhibition “Behold, Be Held” celebrates the power of community and connection

“What are you most in need of right now?”  This question and prompt is at the center of a new special exhibition now open outside Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art. 

Behold, Be Held, on view April 19 through August 22, 2021, uses the exterior windows of The Block, the neighboring Ethel M. Barber Theater, and community partner Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) as an outdoor gallery, presenting a selection of works guided by themes of self-care, self-authorship, and community.

Made up of large-scale reproductions, the exhibition invites visitors to reflect on how art holds us through moments of crisis.  “While the past year has altered so much in our lives, it has also highlighted how art remains a vital window into our feelings and experiences. The reproduced works capture gestures that we may have taken for granted prior to the pandemic, but we have missed dearly,” notes exhibition curator Rikki Byrd, the 2020–21 Block Museum of Art Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow.

Byrd hopes that visitors and passersby will find connection and solace in the exhibition’s selections, pulled from the museum’s permanent collection of 6,000 artworks.  Some works, like Elizabeth Catlett’s Gossip (2005) and Margaret Burrough’s Mother and Child (1996) explore subtle moments of touch and interpersonal connection.  Others, like Milton Rogovin’s Girl With Earring (1961-62) and Catherine Opie’s Skeeter (2011) showcase their subjects in private moments of meditation and peace. “Within these works, people hold each other through life changes, create spaces of sustenance, and raise their hands to declare “I am still here,” Byrd notes.

“In the course of the last year The Block Museum has learned a great deal that will be transformative going forward,” says Lisa Corrin, The Block Museum Ellen Philips Katz Director. “This exhibition ties together many of those connective threads; including the recognition that we don’t have to be bounded by our walls, the deep value of our community partnerships, and the importance of having a collection that reflects the lived experiences of our diverse audiences. At the Block we believe that art is a springboard for exploring current issues and ideas. We hope that Behold, Be Held might spark moments of personal recognition and conversation about how we are experiencing this moment together.”

Behold, Be Held is free and open to all on view at The Block and Barber Theater (30-40 Arts Circle Dr, Evanston, IL) and Youth and Opportunity United (1911 Church St, Evanston, IL 60201)

The exhibition was developed in partnership with The Leadership Project at Youth and Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) in Evanston, IL, with the participation of: Malik Agee, Cherie Animashaun, Saliha Ansari, Isabel Horek Gualtier, Michia Kenderick, Aaliyah Knox, Jocelyn Maldonado, Ciara Nicole Phillips-Gentle, McKenzie Royal, James Thoussaint, Mia Williams, Nia Williams. Generous support has been provided by the Northwestern Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts; the Black Arts Consortium; the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities; and The Graduate School, Northwestern University. Visit http://beholdbeheld.org/ for images and details.

Within these works, people hold each other through life changes, create spaces of sustenance, and raise their hands to declare “I am still here

Rikki Byrd,
2020–21 Block Museum of Art Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow

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A Collaboration with The Leadership Project

As access to The Block remained limited in Spring 2021 due to the pandemic, the museum challenged itself to think imaginatively about engaging visitors and partners through its permanent collection.  In the creation of Behold, Be Held, curator Rikki Byrd worked with Erin Northington, Block Museum Susan and Stephen Wilson Associate Director, Campus and Community Education and Engagement, to collaborate with the Museum’s longtime partner Youth, Opportunity United (Y.O.U) and its program The Leadership Project.

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The Leadership Project is a student-led space for students at Evanston Township High School to explore the intersections of race, gender, and class through engagements with art, research, and discussions. This spring the students reflected on the diversity they see in their community and focused on how white supremacist structures, like the school-to-prison pipeline, impact Black and Brown young people. They worked with curator Rikki Byrd to select two artworks from the Block collection to support these ideas as part of Behold, Be Held. These selections, Romare Bearden’s Mother and Child (1971) and Margaret Burroughs’ Two Worlds (1996), appear on the windows of the Y.O.U building (located at 1911 Church Street) in Evanston as part of the exhibition. Two Worlds also appears on the windows at the Barber Theater on campus, acknowledging the partnership between the two organizations.

On the exhibition website, students of The Leadership Project offer their personal reactions to the selections, tying the artworks into their personal experiences.  Of Two Worlds, The Leadership Project participant Nia Williams wrote: “I am two different people, one at Y.O.U. and another at home or say at school. Y.O.U. lets me be me with no judgement from others whereas society does not.” Thinking about Mother and Child, Cherie Animashaun notes “Typically, you are able to see your parents in yourself, whether we like it or not. That could look like physical traits, but I also think it affects how we think and the way we are brought up affects who we become.”

Join the Conversation

Behold, Be Held remains on the windows of The Block Museum and partner spaces through August 22.  Byrd sees the project in conversation with public art projects nationwide such as Carrie Mae Weems’ Resist COVID / Take 6. “I have been inspired by the countless projects undertaken by artists, museums, art galleries, arts advocates, community organizations, and more, who have developed creative, critical, and compelling ways to respond to this moment” she notes.

The exhibition seeks to model a new way of engaging audiences within and outside of museum galleries––even beyond the pandemic. Byrd and The Block invite audiences to join the conversation by emailing block-museum@northwestern.edu or using the hashtag #BeholdBeHeld to post a message that captures the spirit of the exhibition. Audiences are invited to share moments, communities, or creative works—whether a picture, poem, or song—that have held them at this time.  Submissions will be archived on the exhibition website at BeholdBeHeld.org 

Byrd reflects on the potential impact of this interaction; “I hope that the reproduced works on the windows of these three buildings encourage passersby to explore and tap into their own creative responses that draw them closer to the things that they are most in need of right now”

“I hope that the reproduced works on the windows of these three buildings encourage passersby to explore and tap into their own creative responses that draw them closer to the things they are most in need of right now.”

Rikki Byrd
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