Black Lives Matter

A message from Paul Provost, CEO and the Art Bridges staff

Read more

Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot

In 2018, the Delaware Art Museum commissioned artist Hank Willis Thomas to respond to the powerful and community-changing public response that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. Combining historic newspaper photographs with the historic pamphlet Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot, Thomas created a powerfully unique physical and visual viewing experience. The resulting work of art sheds light on the past in the context of today.

Available Sept 2021 through March 2023, 12 week loan

Exhibition Images

  • How to Live Through a Police Riot [Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot], 2018, left: without flash, right: with flash, Hank Willis Thomas, screen print on retroreflective vinyl with aluminum backing, 62 x 48 in. Delaware art Museum, F.V. du Pont Acquisition Fund, 2019. Commissioned by the Delaware Art Museum. Photograph of Wilmington Riots and National Guard Occupation by Frank Fahey, 1968. Courtesy of The News Journal. Text from Northeast Conservation Association, Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot, c. 1960s. Daniels Collection, courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society. © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

  • First Stages [Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot], 2018, left: without flash, right: with flash, Hank Willis Thomas, screen print on retroreflective vinyl with aluminum backing, 62 x 48 in. Delaware Art Museum, F.V. du Pont Acquisition Fund, 2019. Commissioned by the Delaware Art Museum. Photograph of Wilmington Riots and National Guard Occupation by Godfrey C. Pitts, 1968. Courtesy of The News Journal. Text from Northeast Conservation Association, Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot, c. 1960s. Daniels Collection, courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society. © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

  • Other useful items [Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot], 2018, left: without flash, right: with flash, Hank Willis Thomas, screen print on retroreflective vinyl with aluminum backing, 62 x 48 in. Delaware Art Museum, F.V. du Pont Acquisition Fund, 2019. Commissioned by the Delaware Art Museum. Photograph of Wilmington Riots and National Guard Occupation by Godfrey C. Pitts, 1968. Courtesy of The News Journal. Text from Northeast Conservation Association, Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot, c. 1960s. Daniels Collection, courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society. © Hank Willis Thomas. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

About the Exhibition

The past is always present. It is not always visible, but like the molecules that we are composed of, it is everywhere, ever-changing, and always part of us. – Hank Willis Thomas

In 2018, the Delaware Art Museum commissioned artist Hank Willis Thomas to respond to the powerful and community-changing public response that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. Protests were held throughout the nation and the world, and the civil disturbances in Wilmington were followed by a nine-month-long occupation by the National Guard that left an indelible mark on the community.

For this project, Thomas combined historic News Journal photographs with the historic pamphlet Black Survival Guide, or How to Live Through a Police Riot. Informed by the uprisings of 1967, Cold War-era nuclear fallout pamphlets, and guides published for African Americans to navigate institutional racism during segregations laws, the booklet serves as a practical manual for surviving an occupation. The guide outlines that police and media response will be followed by business closures, electricity outages, and travel restrictions. Provisions—food, water, and basic medical supplies—must be gathered, and those under siege must also know how to provide basic care for medical emergencies.

Thomas created a powerfully unique physical and visual viewing experience by combining image and text on retroreflective vinyl – a material widely used in road signage. The pages of the survival guide are activated when a flash of light catches the News Journal photograph underneath. Events on the verge of being lost to historical amnesia are revealed again. With this rediscovery, the viewer is placed in the position of the many individuals who directly or indirectly experienced these events—city residents, firefighters, and National Guardsman. For Thomas, this is how the past remains current, and how the “holes of narrative history” are exposed.

Specifications

  • Organizer

    Delaware Art Museum

  • Loan Duration

    Sept 2021 through March 2023, 12 week loan

  • Space Requirements

    60 running linear feet/1,600 square feet, Darkened gallery space, Dedicated guard

Availability & Touring