“They Sing for the Negro” by Brittney Leeanne Williams. Image courtesy of Northwestern University

On Feb. 16, Northwestern University’s Dittmar Memorial Gallery will unveil an exhibition of new paintings titled “Neither Free | Nor” by Brittney Leeanne Williams, exploring the chasm between blacks and whites and the notion of black femininity and redemption.

The exhibition will be on display through March 28 at Norris University Center on the Northwestern campus.

Ms. Williams’ inviting pastoral scenes are at odds with the suffering and memorialization of its black subjects, but the possibility of transcendence is also present. Fairfield Porter’s “The Plane Tree” (1964) serves as the muse for her dramatic take on 20th-century landscape paintings, turning pastoral scenes into memorial ground.

The tree leaves, blossoms and branches become ceremonial objects through their proximity to the black body. Others sources of inspiration include Alex Katz and David Hockney.

The series engages narratives of “whiteness,” frequently situating contrasting images within the same frame as black subjects, creating a visual tension that exposes the chasm between black and white communities.

As one community feasts, the other grieves. The work also explores the role of black femininity within the iconography of the female form. The images evoke the possibility of salvation as women bow in prayer or weep.

Ultimately, “Neither Free | Nor” addresses the inevitability of physical suffering co-existing with the inescapable hope and possibility of redemption.

Originally from Los Angeles, Brittney Leeanne Williams attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 2008 to 2009 and is currently a HATCH resident at Chicago Artists Coalition.