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The Carter Museum Explores the Complexity of American Identity

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Since the 1975-64-87_web2012 presidential election, much has been said about America’s shifting demographic makeup and its deeper political and cultural meanings. Texas has seen some of the most dramatic of these shifts, so it’s only fitting a Texas museum would present exhibitions exploring America’s continuously shifting notions of identity.

Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum has put together a double header of sorts on the subject. “We the People: Picturing American Identity” takes a decidedly wide focus approach, surveying painting, photography, sculpture and other media from the 1850s to the 20th century and beyond for insights into four questions: Who is America, Who is the American Woman, Who Shapes America and Who Defines America? The questions are both rooted in history and urgently contemporary, and the works on display provide a kind of visual timeline for our country’s complex, contradictory and always dynamic struggle with its self-conception. “We the People” runs until September 6.

Also at the Carter Museum is “Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey,” another rumination on identity that is both more tightly focused in its subject matter and ambiguous in its implications. In the late 1970s, Bearden created magnificently-colored, highly-stylized depictions of Homer’s Odyssey with water color and collage, depicting all the characters as black women and men. The work both universalizes the epic poem and presents a  jumping-off point for discussion about the long journey black identity has taken through a world usually dominated by white artists and writers. “Romare Bearden” runs until August 11.

Both exhibits contextualize and complicate debates going on at state and national levels, giving viewers new (and historic) perspectives on America’s ever-dynamic identity crises.