Colored People Time: Mundane Futures, Quotidian Pasts, Banal Presents

An orange wall divides the galleries featuring Sable Elyse Smith's "Coloring Book 33"

Installation view, Colored People Time, Banal Presents, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA, 2020. Photo: Peter Harris Studio

Hayden Gallery
Featured Artists
Aria Dean
Kevin Jerome Everson
Matthew Angelo Harrison
Carolyn Lazard
Dave McKenzie
Cameron Rowland
Sable Elyse Smith
Martine Syms
Explore all artists who have exhibited at the List in our Artist Index.

Colored People Time (CPT) offers a profound exploration into how the history of chattel slavery and colonialism in America not only shaped the foundations of our country but exists in our present moment and impacts our future. The group exhibition travels to the List Center from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, where it was organized by Associate Curator Meg Onli.

CPT builds on my ongoing curatorial investigation of how black Americans use language as a tool to navigate a society marked by inequality and racism. The title of the exhibition is drawn from the vernacular phrase ‘Colored People’s Time,’ which is simultaneously perceived as a joke within the black community and as a performance that allows an individual to exist within a temporality created by themselves. The phrase comes to function as a linguistic tool for people of color to control their own temporality even when placed within the construct of Western time. –Meg Onli

Broken into three distinct chapters—Mundane FuturesQuotidian Pasts, and Banal Presents— the exhibition’s sequential framework roots itself within this malleable and fluid concept of time and builds new narratives and public discourse around the everyday experiences of black people in the United States. Unexpected connections between contemporary art, historical objects, and archival materials inform and activate each chapter, fostering innovative dialogue between the Penn Museum’s African Collection and a wide range of media and new commissions created by emerging and established artists, including Aria Dean, Kevin Jerome Everson, Matthew Angelo Harrison, Carolyn Lazard, Dave McKenzie, Martine Syms, Sable Elyse Smith, and Cameron Rowland. At the List Center, all three chapters are presented simultaneously.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue in the form of a reader published in early 2020.

Listen to ‘A Conversation Between Aria Dean and Meg Onli’.

Colored People Time is organized by Meg Onli, Andrea B. Laporte Associate Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. Quotidian Pasts is co-curated with Monique Scott, Director of Museum Studies, Bryn Mawr College.


Original support for Colored People Time was provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia. Additional support has been provided by Dorothy & Martin Bandier, Arthur Cohen & Daryl Otte, Cheri & Steven Friedman, and Brett & Daniel Sundheim.

Exhibitions at the List Center are made possible with the support of Fotene & Tom Coté, Audrey & James Foster, Idee German Schoenheimer, Joyce Linde, and Cynthia & John Reed.  In-kind media sponsorship provided by 90.9 WBUR. 

General operating support is provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the Council for the Arts at MIT; Philip S. Khoury, Associate Provost at MIT; the MIT School of Architecture + Planning; the Mass Cultural Council; and many generous individual donors. The Advisory Committee Members of the List Visual Arts Center are gratefully acknowledged.