Slave shackles and silverware from Fred Wilson’s exhibition Mining the Museum at the Maryland Historical Society in 1992.
“By titling his installation “Mining the Museum,” the artist set up a three-way pun: excavating the collections to extract the buried presence of racial minorities, planting emotionally explosive historical material to raise consciousness and effect institutional change, and finding reflections of himself within the museum “Où est mon visage?,” reads Wilson’s label accompanying Joshua Johnson’s 19th-century portrait of a white family. An artist of African and Carib Indian ancestry, Wilson identified with Johnson, who was black, and of whom there are no known portrait.
“ Mining the Museum” occupied the entire third floor at MHS, extending through a linked sequence of eight rooms. The wall colors—successively gray, green, red and blue— were components of Wilson’s “palette,” as visitors moved through the “gray” area of historical truths, the “green” quarters of human emotions, the “red” environs of slavery and rebellion, and the celestial “blue” spheres of dreams and achievements. [x]