IS THE SUN RISING OR SETTING ON THE EXPERIMENT OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY?
The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) present Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America, a multi-venue exhibition of new works examining the provocative and timely question: “Is the sun rising or setting on the experiment of American democracy?”
Installations by 20 celebrated artists explore themes of equality, free speech, and other tenets of democracy. In a time when perspectives in the U.S. are radically disparate, we invite you to explore how art inspires us to reflect on, challenge, and expand our own lived experiences.
The exhibition title is inspired by the profound words of Benjamin Franklin and poetic lyrics from James Weldon Johnson. Franklin pondered whether the sun was rising or setting on the country’s future during its formative years, and Johnson encouraged us to face “the rising sun of our new day begun” in his lyrics from Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, also known as the Black National Anthem.
In a time when perspectives on equality, free speech, and other democratic principles are radically disparate, 20 artists were invited to create new works that respond to the critical question: Is the sun rising or setting on the experiment of American democracy?
Each artist takes their own approach to addressing this question using a wide array of media and techniques including painting, sculpture, photography, collage, and video. Some artists incorporate mixed media with performative elements, some blur the lines between figuration and abstraction, while others activate archival documents with site specific installations that reexamine and even challenge the historical record. There are works that highlight historic figures and personal family narratives, while others create mythical figures and rely on spirituality to reimagine life in the future. Some require audience participation, while others create space for intimate reflection.
Through these diverse approaches, the artists empower us to reflect on important issues of our time— including the struggle for racial equality, equitable representation, immigration policies, nationhood and identity formation, and a societal commitment to freedom of expression. The result is a complete transformation of both museum spaces with dynamic works that challenge us to examine how we define democracy, freedom, and identity, both in the United States and beyond our borders.