ESTHER ADLER: Sound of Silence is interesting. It's a little bit surrealistic. You have this image that reads as a contemporary black man in contemporary clothing. He's got this natural hairstyle. And he's making this kind of open arm gesture. And then you have this shell. You know, it's just kind of floating there in the middle of his body. I think a member of Charles White's family suggested to me this idea of the shell as being hard on the outside, soft in the inside, which is of course another way of looking at a person. Someone who would be presenting a hard-edged exterior, but was actually still kind of a sensitive person on the inside. I think it's about questioning what it is we see.
He was someone who worked with young people quite a lot. And many of his students have gone on to have tremendous art careers of their own. I spoke to the painter Kerry James Marshall, for example, about studying with White:
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL: On some level, he was more influential as an inspiration for trying to make work about subjects that mattered to you. That's what most people would say, that that was the impact Charles White had on you. You should always be engaged with history. You should always be engaged with the politics of your time. And if you're not doing it directly, certainly to always make sure that was present in people's consciousness, that they understood something about history. And that your work should be in the service of helping to dignify people.