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As a Marquette alum, I can say (with pride) that the Haggerty Museum of Art (530 N. 12th St.) brings in fabulous exhibits. From last year’s “Persian Visions” to the recently opened “The Black Panthers – Making Sense of History,” these relevant, socially charged photo exhibits are right in line with its “Be the Difference” […]

As a Bobby Seale.Marquette alum, I can say (with pride) that the Haggerty Museum of Art (530 N. 12th St.) brings in fabulous exhibits. From last year’s “Persian Visions” to the recently opened “The Black Panthers – Making Sense of History,” these relevant, socially charged photo exhibits are right in line with its “Be the Difference” slogan.

Formed during the height of the Civil Rights movement in Berkeley, the Black Panthers’ activism spread throughout the country, exemplifying a universal American experience – fighting for freedom and your beliefs. Award-winning photographer and honorary member of the movement Stephen Shames had intimate access to the Black Panther Party through his friendship with founder Bobby Seale, whom he remembers as a father figure at the time. “They wanted me to photograph because they understood the importance of images and the media to spread their message,” Shames says.

The story of the Black Panthers is fascinating, and it’s even more poignant and visceral through this photographer’s lens. Forty years after the photos were shot, they’re making their way into a book and an exhibit. And they’re absolutely still relevant. “The ’60s can still be alive if you want them to be,” Shames says.

If I could rename the exhibit, it’d be the “Softer Side of the Black Panthers.” From the typical understanding of history, it sounds like an oxymoron, but Shames’ photographs show Party members as regular people, looking out for their community. They provided free breakfasts for kids, established medical centers and a school, and even held coat and food drives for families in need. “The Panthers really saw themselves as a political party.” Shames says.  “After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the voting rights act in ’65, they felt nothing else legally could be done to bring power to the people, so they had to be cutting edge. But the media only showed the militant side.”

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Huey Newton and Elaine Brown.The photos are black and white, but the issues they depict weren’t always so. The images evoke hope, strength and unity during a tumultuous time in U.S. history. His collection of photographs from public demonstrations to more private Black Panther Party meetings and moments is on display at The Haggerty Museum of Art through Jan. 12.

Also on display at the Haggerty: “Let There Be Light” – stained glass and drawings from the collection of Oakbrook Esser Studios andHoliness and the Feminine Spirit” – paintings by Janet McKenzie.

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