Enlivened, Aware, Awake: Symbols of Activism explores the origins and representations of three symbols—the Black Power fist, LGBTQ+ Pride rainbow flag, and the Wide Awakes eye—derived from and used in social justice movements in the United States. The raising of one’s fist as a sign of protest against oppression was adopted by the Black Power Movement and Black Panther Party in the 1960s, cementing it as the Black Power fist. Artist and LGBTQ+ rights activist Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in 1978 for the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade, and it was soon embraced as a broader symbol of LGBTQ+ Pride. Now, both symbols are widely recognizable, deeply-rooted emblems of racial and LGBTQ+ justice. The Wide Awakes, meanwhile, are a nascent network of artists and activists committed to using art, education, and protest to incite widespread political and social change. The movement and its visual symbol—an eye—are inspired by a nineteenth-century abolitionist youth organization of the same name. The exhibition title is taken from a quote by Wide Awakes founding member Rujeko Hockley, who explains that in her occasional moments of joy during the Covid-19 pandemic and concurrent period of intense sociopolitical polarization, she feels “enlivened, aware, awake”; these sentiments maintain a strong presence throughout the exhibition.
Through photographs, painting, and posters, drawing primarily from the Tang collection, the exhibition asks: What power do these symbols carry, and what has made them effective in galvanizing activism? How can visual material be effective in solidifying a cause’s identity?