In 2007, the Smithsonian announced plans to build the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). This February, the museum broke ground to begin construction on what will be most likely be the final building on the National Mall. The museum, designed by Ghanaian-born architect David Adjaye, is scheduled to open in 2015.
The exhibition Let Your Motto Be Resistance, which first opened in February 2008 at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), was the NMAAHC’s first traveling exhibition. The exhibition toured fifteen cities and was created in collaboration with the International Center of Photography in New York. Let Your Motto Be Resistance featured a selection of portraits from the Gallery’s collection, ranging from Sojourner Truth to James Baldwin. The exhibition focuses on the power portraits have to resist cultural stereotypes and communicate the self-worth and dignity of the photographed individual.
The photographs highlighted in the exhibition are of people whose lives and portraits resound with the famous abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet’s words:
Let your motto be Resistance! Resistance! RESISTANCE! No oppressed people have ever secured their liberty without resistance. What kind of resistance you…make you must decide by the circumstances that surround you.… *
Accompanying the exhibition was the catalogue Let Your Motto Be Resistance. The catalogue includes essays by Cheryl Finley and Sarah Elizabeth Lewis and biographies of the writers, statesmen, artists, scientists, abolitionists, and entertainers whose portraits are featured in the publication. The National Portrait Gallery created an online museum venue for the exhibition, where visitors to the website can see portraits of Frederick Douglass, Asa Phillip Randolph, Lorraine Hansberry, and others whose lives manifested the resistance, creativity, and hope that early African American abolitionists championed.
Marquand Books produced the exhibition’s 184-page catalogue, designed by Jeff Wincapaw. We are pleased to note that we are working on a reprint of this stunning publication.To see portraits from Let Your Motto Be Resistance or to purchase a copy of the catalogue, visit the virtual exhibition at the NPG. Visit the NMAAHC online for more information about the museum’s construction and current events.
*Deborah Willis, Let Your Motto Be Resistance. (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2007), 11.
photography by Ryan Polich