Colonizing the Past: Constructing Race in Ancient Greece and Rome explores the representation and interpretation of race in Greco-Roman antiquity, from the fifth century BCE to the modern era. Ancient objects such as Greek vases and marble sculpture hint at how people in antiquity marked identity, often in ways quite different from our own. Artworks from the Renaissance through the twentieth century reflect the ongoing development of modern narratives about who the ancient Greeks and Romans were. The artworks on view in this exhibition, all from the collection of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, illuminate how such artists as Peter Paul Rubens, Thomas Ball, and Romare Bearden adopted, reinforced, and sometimes challenged accepted ideas about the modern world’s connection to classical antiquity and the role that race plays in that historical lineage. The exhibition invites viewers to consider how modern white supremacy and racist biases have influenced our interpretation of ancient Greece and Rome, and how the past is always present in our constructions of race.
The exhibition is curated by Kathryn Wilson, senior lecturer in the Department of Classics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University, in conjunction with her course “Race and Identity in Greco-Roman Antiquity,” offered in fall 2021.