Chicago Artists Depict the Likeness of Influential Black Writers from the Civil War Through the Civil Rights Era in Artwork Central to the Dark Testament Exhibit

Chicago Artists Depict the Likeness of Influential Black Writers from the Civil War Through the Civil Rights Era in Artwork Central to the Dark Testament Exhibit

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Dark Testament runs through Black History Month to September 17, 2023 at the American Writers Museum and features 16 dynamic portraits painted and quilted by local artists

CHICAGO (February, 2023) – The American Writers Museum (AWM) is celebrating the vast and important contributions of Black writers all February long during Black History Month with Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice and related author programs. General museum admission includes access to the special exhibit and a complimentary tour focused on Frederick Douglass that is offered daily at 3 p.m. when the AWM is open (Thursday-Monday, 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.).

The centerpiece of Dark Testament are 16 large multicolored portraits by local Chicago artists that were commissioned for the exhibit exclusively. These paintings and quilts—which commemorate the likes of Ida B. Wells, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and more—were created by painters Damon Reed, Dorian Sylvain and Bernard Williams and fabric artist Dorothy Burge. The works of art include augmented reality elements that bring these writers to life and allow visitors to dive deeper into the exhibit content.

“[Dark Testament] is a celebration of the power and impact of these writers. It is about their fortitude and resilience and the impact their work still has, which is why the large portraits make them bigger than life,” said AWM President Carey Cranston.

The selected artists for the project not only specialize in the vibrant use of color, but they share many commonalities when it comes to their art. Williams creates projects which investigate the complexities of American history and culture through painting. Sylvain has devoted her work to building the next generation of “cultural keepers” and has worked extensively on the South Side of Chicago on projects that empower community and expose children to art making. Reed is a true believer in the power of art and its ability to bring about positive change. Burge is inspired by history and current issues of social justice and uses her medium as a tool to teach history, raise cultural awareness, and inspire action.

February Programs:

  • Sunday, February 19, 1 p.m. (in-person) Award-winning poet Crystal Simone Smith reads from and discusses her young-adult collection “Dark Testament: Blackout Poems,” followed by an erasure poetry activity for attendees. Free for kids 18 and under.
  • Thursday, February 23, 6 p.m. (online) Author and activist Dr. Clarence Lusane discusses his book “Twenty Dollars and Change” about Harriet Tubman’s life and legacy with local journalist Arionne Nettles.

For more information and to register for a program, visit

Explore the AWM’s Black History Month resources page.


About American Writers Museum

The American Writers Museum is the first museum of its kind in the United States. The mission of the American Writers Museum is to engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, and our daily lives. The museum is located at 180 N. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60601, and offers something for every age group including permanent exhibits and special galleries highlighting America’s favorite works and the authors behind them. Tickets to the museum are $14 for adults, $9 for seniors, students, and teachers. Free for members and children ages 12 and under. To inquire about discounted rates for groups of 10 or more, including adults, student travel groups, and University students, visit or call 312-374-8765. Museum hours are Thursday – Monday 10 AM – 5 PM. For more information visit or call 312-374-8790. Follow AWM on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.


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