“How can we play to that historical foundation through a contemporary lens? That is the role we’re really going to try to encapsulate in the next three to five years as we make this transition,” Arnott said.
That new mission is reflected in the upcoming exhibition, “This is My Home,” opening June 3. On the second floor, the museum built five temporary rooms resembling half-sized shipping containers, and asked five artists to install each one with concepts of what home means to them.
Washington, D.C. artist Zsudayka Nzinga covered every inch of her room with African and animal skin patterns, furnishing a living room stuffed with symbols and books and records and artifacts of a family descended from the African diaspora. A partial list of imagery includes Muhammad Ali, President Barak Obama, Malcolm X, Miles Davis, Angela Davis, and the Harlem Globetrotters.
“How we decorate our homes has become an exercise in exploring the intersection of identity between Africa and America that reaches across the diaspora,” the artist wrote in a statement.
Opposite Nzinga’s room, North Jersey artist Ellen Hanauer installed an homage to her Jewish ancestry. “The House the Children Built” is filled with mostly sculptural objects crafted from paper and fabric, evoking the hardship and legacy of both of the artist’s grandfathers — maternal and paternal — who immigrated to America in the early 20th century as children.
“What this exhibition is inviting us to do is to step into someone else’s world, step into someone else’s reality, and try to understand how they live,” said chief program officer Elizabeth Grant. “It’s really a call for empathy and understanding. These are two critical practices in the work of liberty: We have to be willing to open our minds to the experiences of others to understand the world from their perspectives.”
Philadelphia artist Sean Lugo, who spent a period of his life experiencing homelessness, left his room empty, instead installing one of his signature figures — a person with the head of a stuffed bear — sitting outside the room with a cardboard sign asking for money.
A similar absence of a home is evoked by Philadelphia dancer and artist Hagudeza Rullán-Fantauzzi, who in 2017 was living with their grandmother when a house fire destroyed all of their family mementos.
For many, a modern home is technological, where wifi, gaming, social media, and information are plentiful. Philadelphia artists Ana Mosquera and Evan Kassof created an interactive audio processor that records and distorts the voices of the visitors. “Deadflipping” features a wallpaper pattern suggestive of blockchain gaming systems wherein players can earn cryptocurrency.