How would you describe this setting? What do the children's facial expressions tell us about how they are feeling in this moment? How do the figures in this painting seem to relate to one another and to their environment?
Do you think these children belong in this neighborhood? Do you think these children feel like they belong? Why or why not?
Kerry James Marshall’s work often explores themes of racial identity, community, and belonging. Our Town is part of his Garden Project series, in which low-income housing projects are ironically rendered as idyllic places. The carefully painted houses, manicured lawn, and bright sky coexist uneasily with graffiti scribbles and trees tied with yellow ribbons, suggesting war or tragedy.
Marshall contrasts the tidy scene, dominated by red, white, and blue, with deep black paint and minimal shading on the figures. Here, he emphasizes the blackness of his subjects in an art world that notably lacks images of African Americans. Our Town further evokes Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play of the same title, posing the question: for whom does this American ideal really exist?
What do you think Kerry James Marshall is trying to tell us about race in American society through his painting Our Town?
Why are so many American communities segregated? How can housing inequalities impact quality of life?
Exhibition sponsored by Kenneth C. Griffin
Learning and engagement programming for We the People: The Radical Notion of Democracy is sponsored by:
Sarah and Ross Perot, Jr. Foundation | Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates, & Woodyard, P.L.L.C. | Johnny and Jeanie Morris, Bass Pro Shops | Alturas Foundation | Harriet and Warren Stephens, Stephens Inc. | Sotheby’s | Bob and Becky Alexander | Marybeth and Micky Mayfield | Lamar and Shari Steiger | Jeff and Sarah Teague / Citizens Bank | Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities | Avis and Bill Bailey | Scarlett and Neff Basore | June Carter Family | Terri and Chuck Erwin | Jackye and Curtis Finch | The Harrison and Rhonda French Family | Jim and Susan von Gremp | Laurice Hachem | Shannon and Charles Holley | Valorie and Randy Lawson / Lawco Energy Group | Donna and Mack McLarty | Steve and Susan Nelson | Neal and Gina Pendergraft | Helen Porter | JT and Imelda Rose | Lee and Linda Scott | Stella Boyle Smith Trust, Catherine and Michael Mayton, Trustees | William Reese Company