Black History Month seems especially vital in 2015, as protests continue around the actions of police officers in black communities and questions remain about the upcoming #Oscarsowhite awards ceremony.
Art has and continues to play an important role in African-American history. After the protests in Ferguson and other cities, many artists responded with poetry, rap, street art and photography. The movie “Selma” recently brought the story of Martin Luther King Jr. to the center of the silver screen for the first time. In revisiting the past in films like “Selma,” modern audiences are left to consider all that has changed, as well as all that hasn’t.
In Boston during the month of February, the art world joins the political and the historical. Many of the following shows, exhibitions and galleries provide a way to look at the past, question the present, and look toward the future.
See “Breath and Imagination.” Born to a former slave, Roland Hayes was one of the first renowned African-American classical vocalists. This musical play from ArtsEmerson tells the tale of his rise alongside spirituals and classical music. It’s playing through Feb. 8 at the Paramount Center.
See “Motown The Musical.” The Broadway musical centers on the life of Motown record label founder Berry Gordy. Expect to hear lots of familiar classics in this celebration of the Motown era. It’s at the Boston Opera House through Feb. 15.
See “Intimate Apparel.” This play, presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, focuses on an African-American seamstress as she makes her way in Manhattan at the dawn of the 20th century. It runs from Feb. 13 to March 14.
See "Father Comes Home From The Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)." The American Repertory Theater's world premiere coproduction (with New York's Public Theater) by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks tells the story of a slave who fought for the South in the Civil War. It's playing at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge through March 1.
See "Fufu & Oreos." The one woman show from writer and comedian Obehi Janice explores the experience of being a Nigerian in America. The Bridge Repertory Theatre production is at the Boston Center for the Arts from Feb. 6-27.
Visit the Museum of African American History’s new literature exhibit, "Freedom Rising: Reading, Writing and Publishing Black Books." Here you’ll find an array of seminal works of African-American literature, both historical and contemporary. In addition to displaying rare books by the likes of David Walker and Phillis Wheatley, it also showcases the work of contemporary poets like Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni. Civil rights activist and writer Bob Moses will be speaking at the museum on February 12th at 6PM. Admission to the Museum of African American History, located in Beacon Hill, is $5 for adults.
Visit the Gordon Parks exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts. The photography show just opened, and it showcases the work and life of photographer Gordon Parks, an African-American artist who documented the struggles of segregation in the 1950s. The exhibit will be in the MFA's Robert and Jane Burke Gallery until Sept. 13.
Also at the MFA, you can go on a curated tour focused on African American artists. Edmund Barry Gaither, the director and curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, guides the audio tour.
Check out “The Other Side of the Lens: African View Points and the Reverse.” This photo exhibition features the work of African-born photographers, shot in both Africa and the Americas. This exploration of diaspora is presented by Africans In Boston (AiB) and the West African Research Association. It can be found at the Strand Theatre Gallery in Dorchester Feb. 4-25.