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The Birmingham Museum of Art invites you to meet the man behind the Black Power Salute of the 1968 Olympics and the artist who created Bridge, a tribute to one of the most powerful visual icons of the 20th century.
Don’t miss the Birmingham Museum of Art’s latest contemporary exhibition called Third Space and the series of talks that go along with it. It’s a curated mix of iconic contemporary art plus a chance to meet the artists behind them.
Los-Angeles based conceptual artist Glenn Kaino will be hosting the first “Chapters” series on April 18, from 6 to 7 pm to talk about his work Bridge (Section 1 of 6). Bridge is a sculpture that commemorates Olympian Tommie Smith raising his fist at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
Bham Now had the opportunity to speak with both Kaino and Smith by phone, and the story behind their collaboration.
“Tommie has been an icon of mine for years, which is part of the narrative of how we met,” Kaino said. “I had a picture of him on my computer and a mutual friend walked in and say, ‘Hey, Coach! That’s my coach! Do you want to meet him?’ I said, ‘Heck, yeah! How do you know Tommie Smith?’ As it turns out Tommie was a track coach at Santa Monica College and taught a few of my friends. Long story short, he texted Tommie right there, Tommie invited us over and the rest is history.”
Kaino made plans and flew to Atlanta to meet Smith, who invited him into his home and put in a tape of his 1968 Olympic 200-meter race and gold-medal ceremony.
“He put in a tape, and we watched the race that he won,” Kaino said. “Step by step, he narrated it to me, almost in slow motion. It was really fantastic. A life changing experience. And then, at the end, his wife asked me why I was there—what my intentions were. I said, ‘I’m a conceptual artist, not here with an idea but I had an observation to make … It struck me that there was a discrepancy between the way history had recorded the event and the way his memory had recorded the event.”
Kaino proposed that the two of them make artwork that was “activated in the present tense” and somehow let Smith be the spectator. Several months after that meeting, Bridge came to life.
On Tuesday, April 18, you’ll be able to hear them recount their collaboration first hand, along with the poignant story about a young man becoming a human rights’ icon.
Smith’s experience on that podium was a life-changing event, a culmination of a boycott that was a part of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an organization established by sociologist Harry Edwards, Smith and John Carlos, another Olympian. Here’s a peek into his unforgettable story:
“It was the master cylinder of the whole boycott,” Smith told Bham Now. “Certain issues were brought to bear with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) that affected communities as a whole. People were contacted who needed to be contacted, and it didn’t work as well as we thought. I didn’t want to just leave it as a proposed boycott and have history continue to repeat itself.”
The gesture itself was part of a bigger plan to raise awareness about civil and human rights. To say that it worked is an understatement to this day. That salute is an unforgettable icon of the 20th century.
” … It was a last moment decision because of the importance of sending a non-violent love letter to the community and to really move our platform … We said nothing, but everybody received what they thought our feeling was. It was their feeling, a cry for explanation and not hate. It was a cry for freedom. It wasn’t anything malignant. It was not a hate message at all.”
More about Third Space:
Curated by Hugh Kaul Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Wassan Al-Khudhairi, the exhibition borrows Homi Bhaba’s term ‘third space,’ which he defines as a space that
“challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force, authenticated by the originary past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People.”