Stories Retold: Artist Whitfield Lovell’s “Passages” gives new life to history

Stories Retold: Artist Whitfield Lovell’s “Passages” gives new life to history

By Rachel Galvin

When a group of people disappears what stories remain? And who will tell their tales? Just as rings of a tree tell its history, the wooden canvases used by artist Whitfield Lovell tell the history of the African Americans he draws upon them. These wooden boards are just one form of canvas he used in his thought-provoking exhibit now on display through May 21 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Opened on Feb. 15, the exhibit, entitled “Passages” hints at the passage people took from their homes in Africa to the ports to then be transported forcefully to the United States via the slave trade, as well as how their journey continued from there.

Artist Whitfield Lovell

The images were created by Lovell based on photographs of unidentified African Americans taken between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Movement. He also incorporated found objects to further symbolize each person’s role or indicate items they may have used in life. We can only guess who they once were and the struggles they encountered.

Within the exhibit, he had a historic “home” created as well, compete with dining room table and piano.

Lovell also installed a multi-sensory display called “Deep River,” which documents the perilous journey freedom seekers took by crossing the Tennessee River to “Camp Contraband” in Chattanooga during the Civil War. The installation includes three immersive video projections of a river filmed at night, enveloping the viewers with the sound of waves lapping surrounding a large mound of soil embedded with vintage objects, ropes, lamps, weapons, utensils, a Bible and more. Looking as if it was a forgotten campsite, the mound is filled with objects people may have used and left behind. The room is also filled with 56 large wooden foundry molds, each depicting a nameless African American lost to the sands of time, except for his attempt to revive what their life might have been like. This is just one part of the overall exhibit.

The mood of the exhibit is a bit solemn and reflective but hopeful, bringing thoughts of people’s pride of self, perseverance and determination, as well as struggle for survival and quest for freedom and home.

Lovell, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, said, about the title of the exhibit, “Life is a series of passages, a series of trips, milestones. Good trips, bad things, all experiences — friendship, love.”

When asked what he hopes people will take away from viewing the exhibit, he said, “You know when you go to a theater and you find yourself humming a tune, something got to you…” He said similarly he hopes something reaches out to the people viewing his art and leaves them with something they can take with them, and leaves a lasting effect.

He added, “As an artist, the best thing I can do is to heighten awareness, make people feel, make people think … but, when I make the art, I’m just putting out my art. Hopefully, if I’m doing it the right way, it will do all those things. It will make people think and make people feel. It may just change some people’s minds.”

The exhibit was organized by the American Federation of Arts in collaboration with the artist. (See more pics below).

Also, upstairs in the museum, make sure to check out the exhibit of Oswaldo Vigas. The work of this Venezuelan artist incorporates such styles as surrealism, cubism and constructivism. His abstract pieces are vibrant with a multicultural and exotic feel. This exhibition comprises paintings from the 1950s to 1970s. His exhibit, also on display until May 21, was organized by the museum in collaboration with the Fundación Oswaldo Vigas and coincides with the recent launch of a catalogue raisonné of his work.

Art by Oswaldo Vigas.

Both exhibits were introduced at a special opening night event, at which Lovell was present. Guests could enjoy drinks and light bites in the courtyard, as well as live music.

To find out more about the exhibit and the museum, visit

In the courtyard…

More photos from Lovell exhibit:

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