The Heroes in Flight: Exhibit Honors Tuskegee Airmen
“We were fighting two battles,” Joseph Gomer recalled. “I flew for my parents, for my race, for our battle, for first-class citizenship and for my country. We were fighting for the millions of black Americans back home. We were there to break down barriers, open a few doors and do a job.”
Gomer, according to the African American Registry, was one of an elite classification of World War II pilots: The Tuskegee Airmen. The prowess of the airmen trained in Alabama was astounding, but what is perhaps more significant is the contribution these young men and women made in the struggle for racial equality.
The Southern Museum of Flight has spotlighted the Tuskegee Airmen with Enduring Legacy, an exhibit of paintings and drawings by Chris Hopkins on display until May 30. Before turning his attention to historical painting, Hopkins was an award-winning artist responsible for the iconic movie posters of “Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom” and “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.” He has produced work for clients like Nike, Pepsi, the NFL and the Olympics, and his cover art Styx’s album, Paradise Theatre, earned him an Academy Award nomination.
Hopkins began working on his Tuskegee Airmen Project after receiving funding through a Kickstarter campaign and a 2012 grant from The Artist Trust.
“The project is a tribute that consists of more than 40 paintings that accurately portray the foreign and domestic exploits of the first African American fighter pilots, their support crews, their families, their predecessors as well as their legacy,” the Southern Museum of Flight explained.
With the help of surviving Tuskegee Airmen, Pentagon personnel and historians, Hopkins meticulously documented the legacy of the squadrons that may have been the deciding factor in the Allies’ victory during the second world war.
The black pilots flew Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, and North American P-51 Mustangs in combat, and fought alongside white soldiers even though segregation awaited them back in the states. Hopkins’ work captures the feeling of pride and valor in action-packed scenes, the stark sadness of a hope inflamed only to be snuffed out, the serenity of quiet moments at camp at sunset and the startlingly raw depiction of how very young most of the pilots were.
In “Tuskegee Airman Cadet,” a youthful upstart composes a letter with a wry smile. His boots are for the most part neatly stowed under his cot. An inky sky is visible through the window. Surrounding his bunk are photos of not one, but eight, attractive women believed to be potential sweethearts. Viewing this piece, one can not help but imagine their little brother absorbed in a moment of teenage rhapsody: all bravado, all insecurity, all hopefulness.
The Southern Museum of Flight is located at 4343 73rd St. N. Birmingham. The Enduring Legacy exhibit is available Tuesday through Sunday, 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. For more information, visit southernmuseumofflight.org.
SUNDAY, MAY 24
Slow Art Sunday — Birmingham Museum of Art. “The Bathers” by Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater led by docent Marlene Wallace. 2–3 p.m. Free. For more information, visit artsbma.org.
THURSDAY, MAY 28
An Evening with the Artist: Frank Fleming — Aldridge Gardens. 3530 Lorna Road, Hoover. Aldridge Gardens is hosting a reception with sculptor Frank Fleming at the Eddie and Kay Aldridge Historical Collections Museum in celebration of a newly donated collection of Fleming’s bronze sculptures. The new exhibit makes Aldridge Gardens’ the largest collection of Frank Fleming bronze sculptures available for public viewing. Wine and light hors d’oeuvres will be served. 6–8 p.m. $100. For more information, visit aldridgegardens.com.
Know Thy Farmer Installation — Dr. Pepper Building. Second Avenue South and 29th Street. Pepper Place Market is celebrating its 15th anniversary this season with the theme “Know Thy Farmer.” In commemoration, a 36-foot high mural of a photo by Paul Jones III has been installed to greet marketplace shoppers arriving from the west. The mural is available fro viewing 24 hours, seven days a week. Free. For more information, visit pepperplacemarket.com.
O Mundo Negro — Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. 520 16th Street N. This exhibition of 14 posters traces 20 years of United Black Movement (MNU) from 1978–1998. The works address racism and slavery in Brazil and the U.S. Ends May 24. For more information, call (866) 328-9696.
The Way of the Dodo — Naked Art Gallery. 3831 Clairmont Ave. S. Michelle Reynolds and Shawna Ross are both “upcycling” artists who seem to have found a niche at Forest Park’s Naked Art Gallery. The duo are sharing their newest creations in The Way of the Dodo, a show that illuminates the capacity to see quirky beauty in discarded objects. Tuesday–Saturday, 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m. Free. For more information, visit nakedartusa.com.
Negotiated Identities/Saints and Tears — Space One Eleven. 2407 Second Ave. N. Space One Eleven is hosting an “art exchange” between artists from the South and Romanian artists. Historical artifacts from both countries are used in a variety of media to represent the individual among cultural traditions from communism to authoritarianism, from religion to contemporary American and Romanian societies. Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Through May 22. Free. For more information, visit spaceoneeleven.org.
Inherited Scars: A Meditation on the Southern Gothic — Birmingham Museum of Art. 2000 Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr. Blvd. Curated by University of Alabama at Birmingham students, this photography exhibit explores the complex history of the South through fine art representations and documented photography. Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sunday 12–5 p.m. Free. For more information, visit artsbma.org.