A new traveling art exhibition, “Men of Change,” showcases the accomplishments of notable Black men who signify the powerful African American journey through contemporary art, photographs, stories, quotes and literary excerpts. The immersive experience weaves together the past and present to illuminate the impact of these men within the context of rich community traditions. Developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services (SITES) and funded by the Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services, the exhibition is on view at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan, until January 2, 2022.
Robert F. Smith is Featured in Men of Change
The exhibition explores seven themes — Storytellers, Myth-Breakers, Fathering, Community, Imagining, Catalysts and Loving — representing a unique point of view of contemporary and historical African American experiences. Visitors will see the work of 25 artists of color that celebrates influential Black leaders in politics, sports, science, entertainment, business and religion, touching every facet of society. Some of the noteworthy men represented in Men of Change include Muhammad Ali, Lebron James, Kendrick Lamar, James Baldwin and Robert F. Smith.
Each work of art depicts these trailblazers through an original and creative vision that take the form of portraits, audio visual installations or mixed media pieces. For instance, artist Mario Moore portrays philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith in a unique sculpture. Moore made an oversized replica of Smith’s head of silicone, plexiglass, hair and other materials. Surrounding Smith’s visage is a panel that reads, “You only see what you want to see.”
The panel deliberately limits the viewer’s access to the head. Moore explained in the description accompanying the work, that the “piece asks the viewer to question the reality of the sculpture and analyze societal perceptions of Black men.” And the work represents “how perception alters our view on what we see.” Even though Smith is one of America’s wealthiest men, he has still faced issues based on his skin color.
Recognizing Generational Uplift
Smith, founder, chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, is showcased in the exhibit because, according to the exhibit, “he has never forgotten the paths that were paved for him.” He uses his success in business to give back to underserved communities and uplift future generations.
- Smith is a major donor to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and serves Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights as a board member.
- Smith is also the founding director and President of Fund II Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the African American experience, safeguarding human rights, providing music education, preserving the environment while promoting the benefits of the outdoors, and sustaining critical American values.
- In addition, Smith was the first African American to sign the Giving Pledge — a commitment to donate half of his net worth to specific philanthropic causes over the course of his lifetime. Smith and his family have prioritized making a difference in the communities in which they live and work. It is central to his approach to life.
Find out more about the art world’s position in relation to social justice movements in the United States.