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Promise, Witness, Remembrance

Reflecting on Black lives lost to gun violence in the US

The Speed Art Museum is Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum. In 2021, the Speed mounted a powerful exhibition titled “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” that reflected on the life of Breonna Taylor, her killing in 2020, and the year of protests that followed.

 

Team developed the visual identity for the exhibition in close collaboration with curator Allison Glenn and the Speed Museum, a National Advisory panel made up of artists, art historians, and activists, and a Steering Committee composed of researchers, community members, and Breonna Taylor's family.

Over the past year, American museums have been forced to consider how they might address anti-Black violence and center marginalized voices.

— Artforum

Guest curator Allison Glenn mapped out the show in three parts keyed to the themes in the title — Promise, Witness, and Remembrance — that naturally alluded to the tenses of past, present, and future. Dynamic typography shifts in relation to the segments of the exhibition, alluding to the moment without placing it within a concrete point in time. Throughout the exhibit, the placement of Promise, Witness, Remembrance is ever-changing — signaling to the viewer that we should view each work through a shifting lens of time and place.

“I wanted to create a historical framework of a century of protests for Black lives and to highlight the impact of these protests nationally and globally.”

— Allison Glenn, Curator

Typography plays a pivotal role in the exhibition. We iterated through a variety of type treatments and drew inspiration from Black type designers like Joshua Darden, who is credited as one of the first known African American type designers, and Tré Seals, whose work draws from the visual language of Civil Rights protest signs. In the end, we settled on Darden's Freight Display typeface.

 

We employed a deep purple for the exhibit to complement Breonna Taylor’s portrait and favorite colors, a mix of blues and purples. The heaviness of the deep purple is an appropriate match for the weight of the show, and the color’s subtle depth gives it a transcendent quality.

“Glenn’s vision pushed us to look at the exhibition and the individual pieces through the context of time. We used the dynamic positioning of the typography and the subtle palette to question the fundamental role time plays in understanding how we promise, witness, and remember.”

The exhibition's visual identity had to reinforce the timely, local, and pointed curatorial response to some of the most pressing questions facing cultural institutions today. We focused the design on a judicious application of type and color, as any superfluous elements might detract from the art and message. We collaborated closely with Allison Glenn and key community stakeholders to create an identity that would ensure the curatorial vision was front and center.

“Through this act of creating community, of calling people in, you in fact center them.”

— Allison Glenn, Curator