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Houston Museum of African-American Culture addresses racism with “A Burning House”

November 13, 2018

The way John Guess, Jr., sees it, this is no time for the Houston Museum of African-American Culture to present art that is merely thought-provoking. Given the climate of the country, he said he feels a duty to lead conversations about racism.

Guess and curator Dominic Clay will cap off a year of shows on a “museums are not neutral theme” with the opening of “A Burning House,” by New Orleans conceptual artist Ti-Rock Moore.

The works will include ice sculpture and live performance on a pedestal that references the removal of statues of Confederate War heroes. The show’s title comes from an historic conversation between Harry Belafonte and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during which King says, “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.”

Moore is a white Southerner. Her work reminds people that African-Americans are not alone in expressing outrage at the continuing racial divide. “She is not indifferent, and we see that as a hopeful sign in the museum’s conversation with its visitors,” said HMAAC CEO Gina Carroll.

Guess said a number of school and church groups have visited the museum’s “in-dif-fer-ence” installation, which has been extended through the end of the year. That show contains three small areas for watching a trio of video montages.

Clip after clip of news footage loops on one monitor, showing President Donald Trump using language that encourages violence and otherness. In a nearby cubicle, viewers can watch a montage of clips from social media showing intense ugliness and arguments between people of color and white Americans in grocery stores and restaurants.

“Every time he spews this stuff, there’s real human consequences, every day,” Guess said.

The chairs in the third cubicle sit behind a sculpture of a car — by Moore —that enables them to imagine they’re driving or riding as they watch the longest loop of all, more than an hours’ worth of footage of people of color being stopped by police for various reasons and injured.

Guess didn’t just want to anger viewers, so he and Clay also set up a room called “Democracy,” where visitors could register to vote. That display will also continue.

“If we don’t keep this up, to say it’s still going on, it gets lost,” Guess said. Racism will not change if we don’t acknowledge that it exists, he added.

“A Burning House” opens at 6:30 p. m. Saturday with a reception for the artist. Admission is free. He’s proud that HMAAC is holding “a constant multicultural conversation on race” as part of its mission to achieve “a common future.”

“A Burning House” opens with a reception at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Houston Museum of African-American Culture, 4807 Caroline. Admission is free or by donation; 713-526-1015, hmaac.org.

molly.glentzer@chron.com

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