A Unique Collaboration
A unique collaboration that began in 2016, the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) have come together to commission and present Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America.
Dejay Duckett, Vice President of Curatorial Services (AAMP);
Judith Tannenbaum, Project Curator (PAFA);
Mekhala Singhal, Curatorial Fellow (PAFA);
Michael K. Wilson, Curatorial Fellow (AAMP)
Curatorial Contributions by:
Jodi Throckmorton, Originating Curator (PAFA);
Juan Omar Rodriguez, Curatorial Fellow (PAFA)
How it Began
The ideas for this exhibition began in 2016 when Originating Curator Jodi Throckmorton (PAFA) took some out-of-town visitors to Independence Hall in Philadelphia amidst the polarizing US presidential election. During their visit, Throckmorton considered a moment from the Constitutional Convention with new resonance: when Benjamin Franklin remarked, “I have often looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting.”
“Rising Sun is a product of this time, at a moment when its central question—”is the sun rising or setting on this country”—seems too simple and too complicated all at once.” —Jodi Throckmorton, Originating Curator, PAFA
Conversations ensued considering how artists in the present would respond to the question: “Is the sun rising or setting on the experiment of American democracy?” In early 2019, the idea of a “rising sun” brought the lyric, “Facing the rising sun of our new day begun” from the Black National Anthem to mind for AAMP’s Curator, Dejay Duckett, who suggested looking to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” penned by James Weldon Jonson, for inspiration.
“… since the idea of “rising sun” brings the stirring lyrics of the Black National Anthem to mind. How does the anthem’s message resound in 2023?”
—Dejay Duckett, Vice President of Curatorial Services, AAMP
In 2020 both institutions were awarded a grant from The Pew Center For Arts & Heritage which allowed them the opportunity to move forward together, not to answer the original exhibition question definitively, but to commission artists who would engage deeply with the major issues of our time.
Why it Matters
In the spirit of breaking down boundaries both museums worked together closely on all aspects of this exhibition to transform their galleries.
Founded in 1976 in celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial, AAMP is the first institution funded and built by a major municipality to preserve, interpret, and exhibit the heritage of African Americans. Throughout its evolution, AAMP has objectively interpreted and presented the achievements and aspirations of African Americans from pre-colonial times to the current day. AAMP has given the Rising Sun artists unprecedented access to its spaces and will display their works in unique arrangements throughout the entire museum.
Located just blocks from Independence Hall where Franklin asked his rising/setting question, AAMP recounts the stories of and contributions made by people of African descent in their core permanent exhibition, Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776-1876, along with rotating gallery spaces of the museum’s iconic ramp.
Founded in 1805, PAFA is America’s first school and museum of fine arts. The PAFA Museum aims to tell the sweeping story of American art, expanding who has been included in the canon of art history through its collections, exhibitions, and programs. PAFA’s permanent collection, typically housed in their Historic Landmark Building—an architectural highlight by Frank Furness dating back to 1876—has been removed to allow the artists more freedom to experiment throughout the galleries.
This project also serves as a bold statement for PAFA, as they radically rethink its historic permanent collection. For the first time in fifty years, PAFA’s 1876-built museum will be emptied of the collection and free for new artwork by contemporary artists.
“Many of the artists created works that are about facing history and accessing it in order to change the future—but all this important work emphasizes that whether the sun is rising or setting, the consequences will affect us all.”
Moving Forward with Artists
AAMP and PAFA share a commitment to the necessary work of re-appraisal, reckoning and repair, as institutions and artists work together toward creating more equitable spaces for art.
The artists commissioned to create new works come from many different places and backgrounds, belonging to various generations. Unique differences in their work are linked by shared themes such as the struggle for racial equality, equitable representation and immigration policies, the commitment to freedom of expression, among others. They all demonstrate that art has the power to reflect on the most important issues of our time.
The intended impact of Rising Sun is to leverage the power of contemporary art to create immersive experiences making visible the reality that one citizen’s democratic utopia may be another’s lived dystopia. AAMP and PAFA have also developed robust, collaborative public programming to engage with the challenging conversations sparked by Rising Sun.
“The Rising Sun artists provoke us to think deeply about where the country is today and what we value about democracy both as individuals and as members of a community. Franklin’s question is as relevant and resonant today as it was 235 years ago. Despite the undeniably divisive state of the country today, the fact that we are grappling with Franklin’s question provides a glimmer of hope as we move forward.”
—Judith Tannenbaum, Project Curator (PAFA)
Founded in 1976 in celebration of the nation’s Bicentennial, the African American Museum in Philadelphia is the first institution funded and built by a major municipality to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage of African Americans. The museum is committed to telling the story of African Americans in all its permutations: family life, the Civil Rights movement, arts and entertainment, sports, medicine, architecture, politics, religion, law and technology. Learn more at aampmuseum.org.
Mission: The African American Museum in Philadelphia brings diverse communities together in greater appreciation of the Black experience through the combined narrative of art, culture and historical witness.
Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America’s first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers fine art degrees and exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art. The PAFA Museum aims to tell the sweeping story of American art, expanding who has been included in the canon of art history through its collections, exhibitions, and programs. The Museum amplifies a wide range of voices with the public, and the College and extended classes of the School of Fine Arts educate artists with a deep understanding of traditions and the ability to challenge conventions. Learn more at pafa.org.
Mission: PAFA is dedicated to nurturing artists at every stage of their career. Its vision is to be an inclusive, creative community of artists and audiences seeking education, contemplation, inspiration, and dialogue.