Mississippi Museum of Art: New Symphony of Time Exhibit Opening

In an interview with Mississippi Museum of Art Director, Betsy Bradley, she introduced the Museum’s new mission statement. “To connect Mississippi to the World, and the power of art to the power of community.” Just this past Saturday, the Museum hosted a day of activities, to engage the public with its latest installation, the New Symphony of Time. The exhibit was inspired by “This is My Century: Black Synthesis of Time” a poem written by celebrated poet and longtime Jackson, Mississippi resident, Margaret Walker. Let’s take a moment to look at the connection between the Museum’s new mission and their latest museum exhibit opening, New Symphony of Time.

We arrived at the Mississippi Museum of Art just before the doors opened on Saturday September 7, 2019. CAPE Art & Coffee, hosted by the Museum’s Center for Art & Public Exchange was scheduled to begin at 10:00 am. Dr. Robert Luckett, Director of the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University, gave a presentation demonstrating the life of Margaret Walker using photos of the Center’s archived collection. Walker was born in 1915 in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1935, Walker earned a bachelor of arts degree from Chicago’s Northwestern University. During her time at the University, she was a participant in the Black Chicago Renaissance. In 1936, Walker began work with the Federal Writers’ Project under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. Walker was an instructor at HBCU, Jackson State University, from 1949 – 1979. During that time she founded the Institute for the Study of History, Life, and Culture of Black People. Additionally, Walker recorded three albums of poetry with Folkways Records.

Kay Holloway, Margaret Walker, ca. 1998 (printed 2018). archival print, 12 x 12 in. Collection of the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson

The Museum’s decision to plant one of Margaret C. Walker’s poems at the root of their latest ongoing exhibit, is indicative of their desire to “connect Mississippi to the World.” Walker’s poem “This is My Symphony: The Black Synthesis of Time” was written in 1983. The exhibit’s lead curator and Museum Curator of American Art, Elizabeth Abston described it as a “brilliant poem that is very epoch in nature.” Walker was 68 when she wrote it. Walker’s words invite the reader to think about various happenings in American History and what that meant for black lives, and to reflect on African ancestry as well. The Museum developed four themes based on Walker’s poem and was able to frame those themes around a selection of 170 artworks. So here you have a Mississippi artist whose poem is coupled with a selection of visual artists, which will hopefully encourage visitors to give thought to “ancestry and memory; migration, movement, and home; shared humanity; the natural environment; and liberty for all.”

Download Transcribed Interview with Elizabeth Abston. She discusses importance of Mississippi Museum of Art’s latest permanent collection the “New Symphony of Time” 

The Mississippi Museums of Art’s mission to connect the “power of art to the power of community” is being actively pursued by the Center for Art & Public Exchange (CAPE) and its Community Advisory Council. Managing Director, Monique Davis, pointed out an exhibit panel that includes photographs of people pictured with objects that are significant to them. Director Davis’s husband Melvin is pictured with a cow-bell that belonged to his great-great-grandmother who died when she was 113. She was the first free person to be born on one side of his family, graduated from Selma University, and road a horse everyday across a river to get to her job. Davis expressed, “that very ordinary object has a lot of significance for my family because it represents strength and resilience and just the gifts of the previous generation.”

Download Transcribed Interview with Monique Davis. She discusses the contribution of the Community Advisory Council to Mississippi Museum of Art’s latest permanent collection the New Symphony of Time

Davis has a vision – the Community Advisory Council (CAC) receiving full curatorial authority to co-curate an exhibit. She expressed, CAC’s small yet extremely important exhibit area allows for them to pilot the kind of “co-curation and sharing trust and authority” which is a huge part of the Museum’s new strategic plan. Abston believes the New Symphony of Time will illustrate to visitors that “we are really trying to broaden the narrative.” Bradley believes the New Symphony of Time is just what the Museum needed to “forge these connections between people who may not have come together before. People who may not understand each others stories, ancestries, and histories. And do it in a way that artists can provide inspiration.”

Download Transcribed Interview with Betsy Bradley. She discusses the contribution of the Mississippi Museum of Art’s new mission and significance of New Symphony of Time 


Titus Kaphar (b. 1976), Darker Than Cotton, 2017. oil on canvas. 63 x 36 in. Collection of Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson

A few suggested questions to ask yourself while visiting the Mississippi Museum of Art and the New Symphony of Time exhibit:

  • What place(s) do you have the most memories of?
  • If you had your choice, how would you illustrate your memories of that place through art?
  • What are some of the connections you recognized between the artworks featured in New Symphony of Time and the themes that were framed around them?
Hank Willis Thomas, single, enlarged photograph and encased in African mahogany, Flying Geese

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