Contemporary Voices and Issues Teacher Resources

Integrate the voices and works of contemporary artists into your classroom

Artists Respond to Pivotal Events

Lava Thomas on Requiem for Charleston

With Requiem for Charleston, Lava Thomas honors the nine men and women who were murdered on June 17, 2015, inside the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Nick Cave on Soundsuit

Nick Cave created his first Soundsuit in response to the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles County Police Department officers. The Soundsuit in SAAM’s collection is one of approximately five hundred Soundsuits the artist has made over the years.

Alfredo Jaar on Life Magazine, April 19, 1968

Alfredo Jaar altered an iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s 1968 funeral procession to highlight the disparity between the number of black and white mourners.

Eric Fischl on Ten Breaths: Tumbling Woman II

Eric Fischl’s sculpture calls attention to the human dimension of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.

Shifting States: Iraq by Luis Cruz Azaceta

SAAM Curator E. Carmen Ramos explains how artist Luis Cruz Azaceta responded to the series of uprisings across the Middle East in the early 2010s collectively referred to as the Arab Spring.

Lalo Alcaraz’s I Stand with Emma

Artist Lalo Alcaraz created the striking digital portrait I Stand with Emma of Emma González after watching the high school senior advocate for stronger gun control in an impassioned speech days after surviving the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Learn how I Stand with Emma, an artwork that was created and distributed within the digital sphere, honors the traditions of Chicanx artists while also embracing new digital landscapes for printmaking.

Native Artists Creating during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Watch experts from across the Smithsonian come together to look at protective masks made by Native artists during the COVID-19 pandemic, including three masks acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum: Katrina Mitten's MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women), Vicki Lee Soboleff's Yellow Cedar Face Mask, and Marlana Thompson's Ononkwashon: a/Medicine Plants.

Artists Explore Identity and Representation

Mickalene Thomas on Her Materials and Artistic Influences

Mickalene Thomas discusses her gravitation towards non-traditional materials, her artistic influences, and the importance of seeing oneself represented in museums.

Kerry James Marshall on SOB, SOB

Kerry James Marshall, creator of SOB, SOB, explains his commitment to making Black figures the central subjects of his paintings: "There are not enough paintings in museums anywhere, really, that have Black figures as the central subject.”

Ginny Ruffner on Her Work as an Invitation to Think

From the elegance of fruit to the evolution of the bra, Ginny Ruffner offers insight into two of her painted glass sculptures that ask questions about the concept of beauty and the convention of gender.

Jaune Quick-To-See Smith on Maps as Storytellers

Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation, works to raise recognition of Native American art and peoples. The only names left visible in State Names are those that stem from indigenous sources.

Liz Larner on Bird in Space

Liz Larner explains how her sculpture Bird in Space asserts a feminine point of view in dialogue with Constantin Brâncuși's sculpture of the same name from the 1920s.

Tom Nakashima on Sanctuary at Western Sunset

Tom Nakashima discusses his relationship to Eastern and Western art and explains how the fish in Sanctuary at Western Sunset is a kind of self-portrait.

Mark Bradford on Amendment #8

Mark Bradford creates abstract work that engages with questions of race, class, culture, and politics. Amendment #8 comes from a series of works inspired by the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights.