To me, an ah hah moment is one that dramatically and viscerally stuns you into a new perspective—a challenge to your world view. While art gives me great pleasure, I do not expect an art exhibit to provide such an experience. However, the one I attended last week did.
The exhibit, The Obama Portraits Tour, changed for me the messaging behind the presidential portraits. The High Museum offered three free days to see the exhibit. Parking alone, if you were not a member, cost fifteen dollars! In January, I reserved a slot for March 9 and borrowed my brother’s membership card so that I could park for free. At the time, I was not aware that the exhibit was worth more than the usual cost of admission and parking.
I woke up the morning of my reservation with a pulled back muscle, and walking upright was a painful challenge. I almost blew off the exhibit, but I was already in Atlanta and figured that I would just run in, take a quick look, and leave. I placed a heating wrap around my back and set off to the museum. Just walking from the parking lot was painful. Happily, I arrived at the right time and was directed to the gallery.
The paintings are lovely, colorful, and expansive. However, it is not until you read/listen to the voices of the artists that you really begin to understand what symbolism lies within. Perhaps if I were a woman of color, I would have recognized much more without the assistance of the curator; instead, my blinders challenged my understanding. My ah hah moment happened while watching a video of the hall of presidential portraits in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. I saw painting after painting of powerful men in their rigid power suits and stock traditional settings. Not so with President Obama or First Lady Michelle. Their portraits were full of symbols from their personal journeys and heritage. They were real and approachable, yet powerful and full of grace.
Was it because of the artists, the curator, or the subjects? I’m not sure. But certainly, the juxtaposition of the traditional portraits and these two conveyed a powerful message of change, the future, and equality.