The exhibition Go Down Moses is guest curated by Teju Cole. An acclaimed writer, photographer, and critic, Cole is the former photography critic of the New York Times Magazine and is currently the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard University. This is his first major curatorial project.
Go Down Moses presents a reinterpretation of the MoCP’s permanent collection that can be understood as a visual tone poem of contemporary America, exploring elemental themes of movement, chaos, freedom, and hope. In doing so, Cole uses the photographic archive to interweave the past and present, suggesting an aesthetic approach to understanding the current psyche. He writes:
Questions of liberation tend to interleave the present and the past. What is happening now is instinctively assessed with the help of what happened before, and both despair and hope are tutored by memory. The old Negro spiritual “Go Down Moses,” beloved by Harriet Tubman and generations since, sought to link the black American freedom quest with the story of ancient Israel’s struggle to be free of Pharaoh’s bondage.
Humanity is on the move. The ground beneath our feet is shifting, the skies cannot be relied upon, and even our own bodies bear the marks of the strain. Everyone is longing to be free, and everyone is curious about whether hope is still possible. The photographic archive contains evidence that thus it ever was, that we have always lived in this urgency.
Through an intuitive sequence of photographs, in images soft and loud, this exhibition proposes a redefinition: that hope has nothing to do with mood or objective facts, but is rather a form of hospitality offered by those who are tired to those who are exhausted.
The MoCP is supported by Columbia College Chicago, the MoCP Advisory Board, the Museum Council, individuals, and private and corporate foundations. The 2018-2019 exhibition season is generously sponsored by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, the City of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), the Efroymson Family Fund, the Philip and Edith Leonian Foundation, and Lannan Foundation.