e Pluribus: Out of Many

Robert E. Lee Monument, photographed July 1, 2020. Photo: Mk17B / CC-by-SA-4.0.

In 1782 the United States adopted e pluribus unum (out of many, one) as its motto, signaling the country’s global emergence as a new, united nation comprised of thirteen different colonies with very diverse populations. Behind the Latin phrase was the great American ideal of unity through diversity, an ideal so epic in the framers’ minds that it completely disregarded the abject oppression and violence committed against indigenous, enslaved, women, immigrant, poor, and disabled Americans.

As we navigate our contemporary moment and the various ways that the COVID-19 pandemic, continuous demands for social justice and racial equity, and the 2020 presidential election have manifested as vestiges of America’s inability to fully realize its initial motto, e pluribus: Out of Many, the 190th Annual Exhibition of the National Academy of Design purposely omits unum from its title to explore whether unity or oneness can truly be achieved in a nation founded upon principles that have always been inherently flawed and discriminatory when applied to its citizenry. Hence, the show asks: What new futures can we create if we end our pursuit of a mythological national unity and accept our reality as an incongruent collective?

The first digital Annual exhibition in the National Academy’s history, e pluribus is organized as a completely virtual experience to emphasize the opportunities in collectivity. Specifically, the show utilizes the virtual realm to celebrate the various ways that National Academicians have demonstrated both the benefits of collectivity and the detriments of group singularity throughout the Academy’s history.

Dr. Kelli Morgan