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Shift Key Visual Green© studioblue

Shift: Music, Meaning, Context

Shift: Music, Meaning, Context explores how music changes in form and interpretation as it moves across time, bodies, and place. Co-presented with the Museum of Contemporary Photography, this exhibition brings together an international group of artists exploring music and social history through video, sound art, and photography.

Music, like any artistic medium, can be subject to modification, transformation, and even perversion of its original intent. Folk songs can be used for propaganda, pop hits are deployed as tools of torture, and cultural origins are erased – or reinvested – in particular songs, instruments, and genres. At the same time, music can also become a site of play, serendipity, and healing. 

The exhibiting artists for Shift include: Bani Abidi, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Tony Cokes, Jeremy Deller, Hassan Hajjaj, Sven Johne, André Lützen, Cecil McDonald, Jr., Emeka Ogboh, and Taryn Simon. Shift was co-curated by Leonhard Emmerling, Director, Goethe-Institute Chicago; Leah Gallant, Program Curator, Goethe-Institut Chicago; and Asha Iman Veal, Associate Curator, Museum of Contemporary Photography. 

More about the exhibition

Upcoming Events

Shift Installation Image Main Level Installation photos courtesy of MoCP

Reception | Thu, Aug 03, 5-7PM | MoCP
Closing reception for 'Shift: Music, Meaning, Context'

Join us for the closing reception for Shift: Music, Meaning, Context, on August 3, 2023. This exhibition explores how music changes meaning when it travels through different geographic, cultural and political contexts. Refreshments will be served, and at 6pm, the exhibition's curators will lead tours of the show.

Past Events

Why Scales Matter © Cecil McDonald Jr. Why Scales Matter © Cecil McDonald Jr.

Fri, Apr. 14, 5-7PM | MoCP
Opening Reception & Artist Talk

Join us during EXPO Chicago Art Week to celeberate the opening of Shift. From 5:30-6PM, exhibiting artist Cecil McDonald, Jr. will discuss his work. McDonald studied fashion, house music and dance club culture before receiving an MFA in photography at Columbia College Chicago where he currently serves as an adjunct professor. In 2016, the first edition of his monograph “In the Company of Black” was published and shortlisted by the Aperture Foundation for the 2017 First PhotoBook Award.

Still from Resistimos © Diana Quiñones Rivera

April 20, 6PM | Ferguson Theater, MoCP
Resistimos (We Resist)

Resistimos (We Resist) is a documentary about current socio-economic issues and mass protests in Puerto Rico, as seen through the lives of Bomba practitioners. After the screening, filmmaker Diana Quiñones Rivera will be in conversation with Ivelisse “Bombera de Corazón” Diaz, founder of La Escuelita Bombera De Corazón, an Afro-Indigenous diasporic performing arts school in Humboldt Park dedicated to the preservation of Bomba.  

RE*VER*BER*ATE © Chicago Public Schools

April 30, 2:30-3PM | MoCP 

The Museum of Contemporary Photography will host a day of solo and duet a capella musical performances by Chicago Public Schools students as part of their citywide multi-disciplinary arts festival. 

Priscilla Layne, PhD  © Priscilla Layne

May 4, 6PM | Ferguson Theater, MoCP  
Injecting Old Europe with New Ideas: Appropriating Black Music in Germany

Join Priscilla Layne, Professor of German at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, for a talk exploring how German appropriation of African American music relates to Germans’ fear and simultaneous love of Blackness. In this lecture, Dr. Layne examines how music has influenced the construction of Blackness in Germany in different historical moments.

The Song of the Germans, artist Emeka Ogboh, 2015, Ten channel sound installation © Emeka Ogboh

June 15, 12PM CST | Online
Remaking the Anthem

Join exhibiting artists Emeka Ogboh and Bani Abidi for a virtual conversation about how contemporary art can recontextualize national anthems, opening questions about patriotism and cultural belonging.

Shift on Screen Collage © Goethe-Institut

Film Screenings| Tuesdays in June & July | Goethe-Institut Chicago
Shift On Screen

Immerse yourself in a captivating film series accompanying the Shift: Music, Meaning, Context exhibition. Dive into Berlin's music scene during the 1980s, follow a jazz musician from New Zealand as he discovers the vast variety of German folk music, and learn about the rich history of Turkish-German music, from disco to hip-hop.

Tue, 06/13, 6PM: B-Movie: Lust and Sound in West Berlin
Tue, 06/20, 6PM: Sound of Heimat
Tue, 06/27, 6PM: From the 84 Days
Tue, 07/25, 6PM: Love, Deutschmark and Death

Duane Powell © Duane Powell

July 20, 6PM | Goethe-Institut Chicago 
The Foreign Exchange: Dance Music Culture from the Midwest to Across the Pond

In this talk, DJ and music historian Duane Powell will illuminate Detroit techno’s and Chicago house music's connections to Europe, from the influence of German band Kraftwerk to UK music festival Southport Weekender.

Related Partner Programs

Spirituality in Song - Mexican Choirbooks of the Newberry Library
April 18, 6PM | Hybrid – Ruggles Hall & Zoom

Join the Newberry Library for an in-depth conversation about the Newberry’s rich holdings of choirbooks from colonial Mexico, which combined European forms with Indigenous traditions to produce new spiritual music. Clips of recordings of music from these historic books will serve as the soundtrack for the event.