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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Vicki Meek
American, born 1950
The Crying Room: A Memorial to the Ancestors
Mixed-media installation

Dimensions variable

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of AT&T New Art/New Visions and the Wilder Foundation

Arts of North America

The Crying Room: A Memorial to the Ancestors bears witness to the enormous human suffering of African slaves as they were transported against their will to the Americas. Artist Vicki Meek represents the terrible history of the Middle Passage through a sophisticated layering of sources, ranging from the bleak records of the European slave ships to musical chants that attest to the survival of traditional cultures in the New World.

Dominating The Crying Room is an elaborate Yoruba ideograph representing “The Lifting of the Plate,” or the final ascension that takes one from death into the realm of the ancestors. Another wall of the installation chronicles the horrifying mathematical calculations of slavers who estimated acceptable losses in human life; and the third is inscribed with symbols of hope and redemption. Upon leaving the gallery, the visitor is invited to add a personal comment to the memorial wall.

Public memorials are important because they allow a society or a community to reconcile its grief. The collective grief over the loss of the millions of ancestors lost during the Middle Passage and through the mass lynchings of the 20th century has never had an outlet. Consequently, this pent-up grief manifests itself in many inexplicable ways. . . . The Crying Room: A Memorial to the Ancestors is meant to allow us to remember and grieve for all those many ancestors whose lives were sacrificed.
—Vicki Meek