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Kerry James Marshall, Souvenir IV, 1998  98.56
Kerry James Marshall, Souvenir IV, 1998. Synthetic polymer and glitter on paper on canvas with grommets, 107 1/2 × 157 1/2 in. (273.1 × 400.1 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Painting and Sculpture Committee  98.56 For Teachers

about this work

The 13-foot-wide Souvenir IV, painted in grisaille on unstretched canvas and shown pinned to the wall like a ceremonial banner, is one of a series of four works dedicated to cultural figures and Civil Rights leaders who died in the 1960s, most but not all of them African-American. At its center is a scroll listing important musicians; cloud-haloed heads above trumpet other artists, and additional figures are named in the banderoles at the upper margin. On a sofa in a well-appointed living room (based on those of Kerry James Marshall’s relatives and friends) sits a dignified older woman, her bearing so calm that it is easy to overlook the massive pair of wings on her shoulders. If much of the text in Souvenir IV is elegiac—especially the message “We Mourn Our Loss” at bottom—the image of this woman adds a note of poignant celebration. Marshall’s work sidesteps conventional or condemnatory summaries of African-American experience. Instead, he explores the rarely acknowledged optimism that flourishes amid difficult circumstances and the pride that outlives mourning for fallen heroes. 

Audio

Audio guide stop for Kerry James Marshall, Souvenir IV, 1998

look closer

What kind of place is this? Describe what you see.

Do you think this place is real or imaginary? Why do you think that?

Who might these people be?

Why do you think the artist titled this painting Souvenir?

Activities

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Kerry James Marshall, Souvenir IV, 1998  98.56 For Teachers

In his Souvenir series, Kerry James Marshall pays tribute to the artistic and political leaders of the 1960s, many of whom are African American. Marshall credits his interest in commemorating the civil rights movement to his upbringing, explaining that “You can’t be born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955 and . . . move to Watts in ’63, and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] near the Black Panthers headquarters and see the kinds of things that I saw in my developmental years, and not speak about it.”

Have your students research the civil rights movement. Who were some of the key players in the movement, and what actions did they take to promote change? Look at Souvenir IV and search online to find the three other works from Marshall’s Souvenir series. Who does Marshall choose to name or portray, and why might he have chosen those people?

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