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What is an artist? A truth-teller? A decorator? An entertainer? In his lecture at the American Art Museum, Kerry James Marshall might have some ideas about that. A 1997 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s genius grant, Marshall has shown his works, based on elements of African-American culture, throughout the world. Many of them speak to the invisibility of black Americans in Western art traditions, which he challenges by working in multiple mediums: He’s as comfortable painting large murals as he is crafting a comic book. But it’s his subversive tilt that makes him fascinating. Take Voyager, his 1992 painting of a schooner. Looking at it, it may not be abundantly clear that Marshall’s subject is a boat that clandestinely transported slaves to America. But it’s that kind of commentary that proves how much Marshall understands about what art is, can be, and ought to become in the future.

The lecture begins at 7 p.m. at the McEvoy Auditorium at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and G streets NW. Free tickets available beginning at 6:30 p.m. (202) 633-7970. americanart.si.edu.