The late Madison community activist Dr. Anthony Brown collected an amazing collection of African-American artwork during his lifetime. His son, photographer Shia Fisher, was originally planning on having his own photography displayed at an exhibit at UW Hospital when he came up with the idea to have his father’s art collection displayed at the hospital instead to celebrate African-American culture.
“There’s so much going on in the world right now even prior to the officer-involved shooting in Kenosha. Our whole nation has been shaken by many of these things related to the unequal treatment of people of color. I had been discussing with friends and family and neighbors and people who knew my father about what he would be saying and doing if he was alive in these times,” Fisher tells Madison365. “It clicked for me that perhaps we could tell the story of civil leadership and organization and the stories of people who are marginalized and do it through a different kind of lens.”
Fisher came up with the idea for the exhibit and curated pieces from his father’s personal art collection that is now being displayed in the hallway between the transplant clinic and the cafeteria at UW Hospital and Clinics. Brown’s prints are famous pieces of art that feature African Americans or were created by African American artists. There is a small summary of the artwork next to each print.
“My dad collected so much art, so there was all this great artwork that was just kinda sitting there and I began to learn more about the individual pieces,” Fisher says. “I started doing some research on it and, sure enough, there were some really rare and iconic pieces to have. Some of this artwork my dad has had since the ‘70s and ‘80s. This was his collection. I know he saw that as contributing to the Black economy and helping Black artists.”
The UW Hospital Art Exhibit that displays Brown’s artwork also honors the former director of Madison’s Equal Opportunities Commission with newspaper clips about him from articles in The Madison Times and Umoja Magazine (pictured below) and a lifetime achievement award from the city.
“I’ve always appreciated that about the University of Wisconsin Hospital. The culture there is very reflective of our community. It’s very diverse and there are many individuals who value diversity,” Fisher says. “I think that’s really important, especially if you are a person receiving care there to see the greater Madison community reflected within such an essential environment.”
One of the pictures of the collection that is important to Fisher is the portrait of a young man in a cap and gown receiving his college diploma.
“The reason why I picked that picture was because my father was big on education growing up – especially for people of color,” Fisher says. “It’s so important to do that for yourself. The one thing that he instilled in all of his children is that they could be anything. ‘You can do anything you want,’ he would say, ‘you put the work in and it will pay off in dividends.’”
Brown graduated with an A.S. from Diablo Valley College in Concord, Calif. and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in educational guidance in counseling psychology from the University of Pacific in Stockton, Calif. Dr. Brown would go on to earn his Ph.D. in educational administration, higher education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“That’s the same guy that was once told by a teacher that he was only going to be a janitor in life and then he ends up earning his Ph.D.,” Fisher says. “He always took education very seriously and he really believed in contributing to society and helping other people see the importance of education.”
Brown passed away from liver failure while receiving a liver transplant on March 13, 2010. He was only 59 years old. The memories of him and his beautiful collection of African-American artwork now lives on at the UW Hospital.
“It just seemed like a great way to not only remember my father but to also think about the current times that we’re in and how Black people have contributed so much to our society,” Fisher says. “I think sometimes people just think it’s athletics or music entertainment, but there is so much more.
“It’s a chance to remember the work and the life of Dr. Brown and the continuing work that is necessary, and in another respect, it’s also about recognizing Black culture through these creative outlets such as framed artwork,” he adds.