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Derrick Adams

Derrick Adams’s long-running traveling show “Sanctuary”—first exhibited at the Museum of Art and Design in New York City in 2018—has opened at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

The body of work, on view through September 10, began with Adams wanting to create a tribute to Victor Hugo Green, a New York mailman, and his wife Alma Duke for their accomplishments in creating the annual The Negro Motorist Green Book. The annual travel guide, published from 1936 to 1966 during the Jim Crow era, provided Black travelers with a list of businesses across the country that served Black patrons.

Adams praised Green for “connecting patrons with Black business owners” around the country during the Jim Crow era with “innovation and problem-solving.”

“It was very important to see someone who took an initiative in a tumultuous time in history when violence and oppression were existing all around Black Americans,” Adams said while discussing his two years of research into the topic before his body of work was completed.

“Mr. Green and his wife Alma decided to create possibility through a publication that will connect people as a counter-response to the conditions of society at the time. For me as an artist, I was excited about responding to that history.”

The works in “Sanctuary” include large-scale sculptures as well as mixed-media collages and assemblages on wood panels. The collages use pages from the Green Book and other documents, while some pieces feature visual recreations of the locations listed in the travel guide, which served as refuges for Black Americans.

The artist also studied Black migration from the South to the North over time and particularly was inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series “and the mapping around that.” Adams said his work was inspired by Jacobs’ formal aesthetic and color palette, as well as the visual culture at the time.

“The issue of Black travel is something that is continuous because it is something that is still challenging depending on what part of the country you go to,” Adams said. “The exhibition was really acknowledging the Black traveler, centering them as a primary subject in the work.”

At the exhibition’s wrap at the Wright, Adams will be debuting new work at “Come As You Are,” his first show with Gagosian, on September 14. The exhibition will feature his new portraits and vignettes centered on the Black figure, whether real or imagined, and incorporating materials such as textiles.

According to Adams, this new body of work synthesizes ideas previously explored in his practice “in a way that is more seamless and layered formally and conceptually” than in the past.

“I think this particular body of work, beyond all others, fully utilized various color palettes spread across that are uniquely executed for individual works versus the series overall,” he said. “This particular body of work is my best work to date. I am excited to have it exhibited with Gagosian and I am looking forward to my new relationship with the gallery.”

See more images from “Sanctuary” below.

“Derrick Adams: Sanctuary” is on view at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 E Warren Ave, Detroit, through September 10.

Written by Adam Schrader

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