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Ackland opens exhibit featuring commissioned painting in honor of Breonna Taylor

One of the murals at the Ackland Art Museum honoring Breonna Taylor. Photo courtesy of Ackland Art Museum.

Breonna Taylor is being memorialized in a new commission at the Ackland Art Museum that opened last week.

Officers from the Louisville Metro Police Department shot Breonna Taylor in March. Her death caused a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and inspired numerous protests that, when factoring in the total number of participants, could comprise the largest civil rights movement in U.S. history, according to The New York Times.   

"Holding Space for Nobility: A Memorial for Breonna Taylor," created by multimedia artist Shanequa Gay, is illustrated through black-and-white oil and acrylic paint and stretches over a generous amount of space, where four walls are occupied by hybrid images that are composites of Taylor. There are also various body images of African American women and zebra imagery. 

Gay said having the ability to express herself in the form of a mural provided space, both literally and figuratively, for her to speak out in protest and create a sanctuary that speaks to historical narratives and creates counternarratives.   

Gay said she believes this commission fulfills the initial purpose of the mural, which was to represent the language of creativity and of marginalization. She said it is bound to spark some uncomfortable yet necessary conversations fueled by the widespread racial unrest that the country is experiencing right now. 

“I see this more as a kind of ritual,” Gay said. “And the current emotions that are heightened right now will eventually dissipate. We grieve. We get past that, and we can get to a place of healing.” 

The Ackland is closed due to COVID-19, but the exhibit can still be viewed in a video format on the museum's website. However, Gay and Lauren Turner, the assistant curator for the collection at the Ackland, will be hosting a public conversation through Zoom at noon on Friday, Nov. 13. This discussion will provide an opportunity to engage with the artwork.   

Turner said she thinks the exhibit will be impactful and important for audiences to view. 

"It initially brings up sadness and anxiety for me, but I believe that, in terms of viewing the work, they can be productive responses," Turner said. "It’s a reminder not just to let matters of life and death be quickly distilled into news headlines, but to take the time necessary to think, to grieve and to heal. And then it offers the space to do so."

Lindsey Hale, the public programs coordinator for the Ackland, said the exhibit is a way for people to talk and reflect about art.

“We hope that they choose to venture into the museum and that they'll be able to complement the virtual experience with the in-person experience of the piece, because it is so powerful,” Hale said. 

Hale said signups for the Zoom event are available on the Ackland calendar, and the meeting will be recorded and uploaded to the museum’s YouTube channel after its conclusion. 

With the election around the corner, Gay said she’s inclined to be pessimistic. But she has hope for future generations’ ability to problem solve. 

She especially has hope in Generation Z.

"They love and they are open and that they're accepting," Gay said. "And so I'm believing for an accepting and loving future, where all people have some form of equity and these hierarchies that we keep trying to create with each other, through class and race and through gender."

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