notes from the Curator
By Yolanda Wisher
Chronicling Resistance: The Exhibition was created by a group of Activist-Curator Fellows amidst local uprisings and gun violence, national protests and political division, and a global pandemic. Many of the folks who created this exhibition—fellows, staff, and partners—did so alongside a great deal of personal loss, anxiety, rage, despair, and uncertainty. We started with eleven fellows, and through the ups and downs of the project and life, we ended with eight.This exhibition was also created in the midst of many structural changes and upheavals at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The work of chronicling acts, communities, and movements of resistance is often done under duress and while resisting, undertaken by survivors who are forced to do the difficult work of looking back while moving forward.
This was not easy work physically, mentally, or spiritually. The ways that traditional archives can be built, guarded, and anointed requires a steeliness of purpose and unrelenting sense of hope to locate and uplift the marginalized stories of marginalized folks within them. The work of activating the research requires feats of the imagination to feel in the dark for a thread of the past that will be a lifeline for today. Some of these objects and artifacts were never meant to be
re-examined or re-interpreted in the way the fellows have done. They were not meant for our 21st century critical eyes, prizmatized by Blackness, Asianness, and queerness. For the fellows, these objects and artifacts are ripe with the loss of real mothers, sisters, brothers, and fathers, and real historical wounds that have never healed. The work behind Chronicling Resistance: The Exhibition sought to recover an intimacy with freedom seekers of the past that confronts and defies the barriers of trauma, time, and institution.
We have all learned some deep lessons about the power of libraries, solidarity, and looking back these past two years of creating Chronicling Resistance: The Exhibition. For one, a library can be a home and hub for the seeds of living activism and art, not just a mausoleum for the overanalyzed records and ideas of dead white men. Secondly, Black and Brown communities have competed through different points of Philly’s history for acknowledgement, resources, and space. In the work of looking back through archives of resistance, we can see missed opportunities for solidarity and mutual aid that don’t have to be missed again. Through the fellows’ work on this exhibition, we can sense the possible futures of community building between us.