The Souvenir series are history paintings about the 1960s. They commemorate different aspects of the Civil Rights Movement and Black liberation struggle and pay tribute to the many individuals who were murdered or died during this time.
The angelic figures with glittering gold wings in this series are modeled after Marshall’s wife, actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce.
History paintings were traditionally made for public spaces, often as a form of memorialization. By depicting the personal interiors of his relatives, Kerry James Marshall emphasizes how Black history has been omitted from public commemoration.
The individuals commemorated in the Souvenir painting series died between 1959 and 1970. This painting pays tribute to political activists and innocent victims who lost their lives during the Civil Rights Movement. Their faces are adorned with wings like cherubim—or angelic beings—from Baroque painting.
Medgar Evers, NAACP field representative murdered in Mississippi, 1963
Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, the four girls killed in the 16th Street church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963
Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, the three civil-rights workers also killed in Mississippi, 1964
Malcolm X, Black Muslim leader killed by rivals, 1965
Black Panthers, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, killed by the Chicago police in their sleep, 1969
"If you don’t understand the capacity of materials to carry meaning. . . . you’re limited in your range to simple expressions rather than complex ideas."
– Kerry James Marshall
Souvenir I (detail), 1997, Kerry James Marshall.
This series is on unstretched canvas and hung by grommets. These are similar materials to those used for a processional banner. The use of glitter and tassels connects to the look and feel of commemorative cards, as well as the processional regalia of the Catholic Church.
"I had to recognize that in that pantheon of Old Masters, there are no 'Black Old Masters.'"
– Kerry James Marshall
Images: Souvenir I, 1997, Kerry James Marshall, acrylic, collage, and glitter on unstretched canvas, 108 x 157 in., Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund, 1997.73, © MCA Chicago, photo: Joe Ziolkowski. Vignette #2.75, 2008, Kerry James Marshall, acrylic on PVC panel, 73 ¼ x 61 in., The Art Institute of Chicago, Through prior gift of Adeline Yates; Benjamin Argile Memorial, Cyrus Hall McCormick, Alfred and May Tiefenbronner Memorial, Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Prize, Pauline Palmer Prize, Broadus James Clarke Memorial, Norman Wait Harris Prize, William H. Bartels Prize, Joyce Van Pilsum, Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition, Ann M. Vielehr Prize, and Ada S. Garrett Prize funds; Flora Mayer Witkowsky Award for American Art; Boles C. and Hyacinth G. Drechney and Mr. and Mrs. J.F. Brower Prize funds; The Municipal Art League Prize for Portraiture; Marjorie and Louis Susman, Martin B. Cahn Prize, and Elisabeth Mathews funds, 2008.481.4, © Kerry James Marshall, The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY. School of Beauty, School of Culture, 2012, Kerry James Marshall, acrylic and glitter on unstretched canvas, 108 x 158 in., Birmingham Museum of Art, Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth (Bibby) Smith, the Collectors Circle for Contemporary Art, Jane Comer, the Sankofa Society, and general acquisition funds, 2012.57, © Kerry James Marshall.