Artist and social innovator Theaster Gates lives and works in Chicago. Trained in urban planning and ceramics, his artistic practice translates the intricacies of Blackness through space theory and land development, sculpture, and performance. Through the expansiveness of his approach as a thinker, maker, and builder, he extends the role of the artist as an agent of change. His performance practice and visual work find roots in Black knowledge, objects, history, and archives. His work focuses on the possibility of the “life within things” and redeems spaces that have been left behind. He is the founder of the Rebuild Foundation, an artist-led, community-based platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation whose mission is to demonstrate the impact of innovative, ambitious and entrepreneurial cultural initiatives enriched by three core values: Black people matter, Black spaces matter, and Black objects matter.
Gates will be speaking as part of the Arts & Resistance Theme Semester, which features the exhibition Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina, currently on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). This landmark exhibition includes more than 60 objects representing the work of African American potters in the decades surrounding the Civil War as well as several contemporary works from leading Black artists, including Gates, whose work connects the past to the present. The exhibition is a reckoning with the central role that enslaved and free Black potters played in the long-standing stoneware traditions of Edgefield, South Carolina. It is also an important story about the unrelenting power of artistic expression and creativity, even while under the brutal conditions of slavery. Hear Me Now highlights the joy, struggle, creative ambition, and lived experience of African Americans in the 19th-century American South.
Gates’ presentation also serves as the kick off to a day-long convening on the issues raised by the exhibition. Organized in partnership with exhibition co-curator and U‑M Professor of History, Jason Young, the convening will take place on Friday, December 1, at UMMA: find complete details at umma.umich.edu.
Gates has exhibited and performed at Biennale Architettura 2023, Venice, Italy (2023); Fondazione Prada, Venice, Italy (2023); The New Museum, New York, (2022); The Aichi Triennial, Tokoname (2022); The Serpentine Pavilion, London (2022); The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK (2021); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2013 and 2021); Tate Liverpool, UK (2020); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2019); Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France; Sprengel Museum Hannover, Germany (2018); Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2018); National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA (2017); Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2016); Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy (2016); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2013); Punta della Dogana, Venice, Italy (2013) and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012). He was awarded the Nasher Prize for Sculpture 2018, as well as the Urban Land Institute, J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development.
Presented in partnership with the University of Michigan Museum of Art, with support from the Inclusive History Project, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts in conjunction with the Arts & Resistance Theme Semester. This project was made possible by a grant from the Arts Initiative at the University of Michigan.
Hear Me Now is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with support from the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation. Lead support for UMMA’s presentation of the exhibition is provided by Michigan Engineering, the University of Michigan Office of the Provost, and Michigan Humanities. Additional generous support is provided by Larry and Brenda Thompson and Melissa Kaish and Jonathan Dorfman.
Series presenting partners: Detroit Public Television and PBS Books. Media partner: Michigan Radio.
In accordance with the University of Michigan’s Standard Practice Guidelines on Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression, the Penny Stamps Speaker Series does not censor our speakers or their content. The content provided is intended for adult audiences and does not reflect the views of the University of Michigan or Detroit Public Television.