Set in a revolutionary apartment in the cosmos, Kerry James Marshall's Keeping the Culture optimistically anticipates a future that pays homage to the past. Ushering in a new stage of the artist's output, Keeping the Culture shifts focus from the failed utopia of urban renewal and the commemoration of civil rights era heroes in favor of a more technically refined meditation on the preservation of the traditional and spiritual values that shaped a culture. Placed in an ultramodern environment, two siblings marvel at a projection of the earth--in which Marshall has aptly positioned the African continent toward the viewer-while their affectionate parents dance in the foreground. Overlooking the milky way, Marshall's space-age flat is decorated with earthly relics-wooden tribal sculptures, rugs and tapestries-a meaningful marriage between old and new.
Marshall's pictures use a unique adaptation of the narrative tradition to condense aspects of the African American experience. As an artist raised in Birmingham, Alabama and later raised in Watts, his own life has taken place on the turbulent axes of black history in the States; in his artworks, Marshall commemorates this mixed and often troubled legacy through story and history, through the translation of personal experience. "I've always wanted to be a history painter on a grand scale like Giotto and Gericault" he reflects " but the moment when that kind of painting was really possible seems so distant, especially after Pollock and Polke. Nevertheless, I persist, trying to construct meaningful pictures that solicit identification with, and reflection on Black existential realities" (Kerry James Marshall in a letter to Arthur Jafa in the summer of 1994). Keeping the Culture pays homage to the past, letting us appreciate the importance of the consequences of positive actions in order to promote an optimistic vision of the future, celebrating the values that will stand true for generations to come.