Access & Inclusion at The Tang Teaching Museum
Skidmore College Saratoga Springs, New York
Letter from the Director Ian Berry
Trust and Storytelling June Paul talks to Jess T. Dugan
Lorna Simpson, Cloudscape Rachel Seligman
Demetrius Oliver, Messier Mary Crone Odekon
Analytical Chemistry in the Museum with Kimberley A. Frederick
Unrecorded Nupe artist, vessel Ruth Opara
Wangechi Mutu, Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors Molly Channon
Accelerator Series: Culture Now: Appreciate | Appropriate Isolde Brielmaier, Jessica Andrews, Renee Cox, and Matthew Morrison Renee Cox on Representation and Demolishing Stereotypes Interview by Monica Andrews ’19 and Cassie Taylor ’19
Jeff Sonhouse, Condoleezza Rice Minita Sanghvi
Wangechi Mutu, Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors Lara Ayad
Deborah Luster, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana David Karp
Accelerator Series: Get Up, Stand Up: Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship Isolde Brielmaier, Sam Durant, Eric Gottesman, and Minita Sanghvi
Jane Irish on History Painting as Activist Art Interview by James Rothwell ’19 and Katie Salk ’19
Yun-Fei Ji, Bon Voyage Ryan Richard Overbey
Yun-Fei Ji Meets Students from the Chinese School at the Chinese Community Center of the Capital District of New York Sunny Ra
The Artist Interview
Shifting Poses with Geoffrey Chadsey Interview by Bailey Mikytuck ’20 and Emery Spina ’20
Accelerator Series: On Navigating Forgiveness, Redemption, and Rejection Isolde Brielmaier, Alexandra Bell, Lyle Ashton Harris, and David Karp
Accelerator Series: Food Futures: Food Justice, Sustainability, and Well-Being Isolde Brielmaier, Kate Daughdrill, Anthony Hatch, and Leah Penniman
Beck Krefting on Empathic Looking
James Barnor, Untitled, Accra, Ghana Jada James ’18
William Kentridge, Tango for Page Turning Tom Yoshikami
Beauty & Bite Rebecca McNamara
Jim Self on Beehive Interview by Ian Berry and Rebecca McNamara
About Black Joy: Daesha Devón Harris, Luis Jimenez Inoa, and Kambui Olujimi on Family Photos
I, Too, Sing America: On Race in Leonard Bernstein’s Songfest Organized by Sylvia Stoner
Joseph Cermatori on Touching Feeling with C. P. Cavafy and Duane Michals
E. J. Bellocq, Untitled (Storyville Portrait) Jess Lincoln ’20 Josh Faught on Adding Flair to Sadness Interview by Evan Hasencamp ’20 and Julia Rinaolo ’19
Sarah C. Stevens on Preserving Josh Faught’s Housecleaning
Nancy Grossman, Rust & Blue (Yuma) Rebecca McNamara
Sarah DiPasquale on Celebrating Difference and Seeking Pleasure through Integrative Dance
100 Dyke Action Machine! Carrie Moyer 102 Gwen D’Arcangelis on 1970s Feminism in Wimmen’s Comix 106 New Ms. Thang Dayna Joseph ’19 108 Tending Our Mothers’ Gardens Daesha Devón Harris 112 Hayman Melora Wolff 114 Christa Clarke on Barbara Tyrrell 118 Siobhan M. Hart on NAGPRA and the Museum 122 Off the Shelf: Carolyn Anderson and Garett Wilson on Creating Immersive Theater in the Museum
Paul Mpagi Sepuya (born 1982), Mirror Study (_Q5A3505), 2016 Archival pigment print, 33 × 22 in. Purchased with generous funding from Nancy Herman Frehling ’65 and Leslie Cyphen Diamond ’96, 2016.2
Accelerate # 3 2019
Editors Ian Berry, Dayton Director Rebecca McNamara, Mellon Collections Curator
Published in 2019 by The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College Accelerate: Access and Inclusion at the Tang Teaching Museum is a project of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any other information storage and retrieval system, or otherwise without written permission from the publisher. The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery Skidmore College 815 North Broadway Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 518 580 8080 www.skidmore.edu/tang © 2019 The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College All artwork is copyright the artists. All interviews and recorded conversations have been condensed and edited. Original transcripts are available to researchers at the Tang Teaching Museum.
Assistants Jane Cole ’21 Olivia Sessions ’19 Design Linked by Air Photographers Arthur Evans Michael P. Farrell Laura Frare Jim Gipe & Stephen Petegorsky Daesha Devón Harris Annelise Ptacek Kelly Sue Kessler Shawn LaChapelle Jeremy Lawson Dan Lubbers Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery
Christopher Massa Megan Mumford Cindy Schultz Courtesy Jim Self Courtesy Lorna Simpson and Hauser & Wirth Nick Spadaro Raymond Stockwell Courtesy Tilton Gallery, New York Jean Tschanz-Egger
Printer Shapco Cover image Phyllis Galembo (born 1952), Claudette, Rara, Artibonite, Haiti, 2005 Fuji crystal archive print, 33 × 30 in. Tang purchase, 2018.31 Inside cover images Installation view, The Shelf, 2019
Ian Berry Dayton Director This volume, the third in a series, marks the end of the Accelerate project at the Tang Teaching Museum. Inspirational creativity and bravery were witnessed across many events, exhibitions, publications, outreach efforts, research projects, new classes, and all manner of dialogues, and we are a different museum for it. At the culmination of this transformative time at the museum, we focus on important questions: What did we learn? How do we move that learning out beyond our Tang Museum staff, Skidmore faculty and students, and Saratoga Springs neighbors into a larger world? How do we best sustain the good work that we started, and in what ways will we continue working toward realizing the values of access, justice, and empathy that we’ve articulated? We owe a special thanks to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for supporting Accelerate: Access and Inclusion at The Tang Teaching Museum. As we continue to design exploratory uses of museum collections at Skidmore, we reflect on the catalytic power of the Foundation’s trust in us and support of our efforts. As in past years, we collaborated with new and experienced interdisciplinary-minded faculty, invited brilliant artists, and were honored by hundreds of diverse gifts to the collection. In this volume, you will read about activities around gender, race, and documentary, empathic looking, creative writing, innovative chemistry and conservation efforts, dance, film, and song as ways to break boundaries and build community, and deep dives into eccentric archives of 1970s feminist comics, 1990s Dyke Action Machine! posters, thousands of vernacular family snapshots, and a hundred drawings for the 1980s futuristic ballet and film Beehive. Three years ago, we welcomed Isolde Brielmaier as Curator-at-Large and Rebecca McNamara as Mellon Collections Curator to lead important parts of this project, and we offer them both our sincere appreciation. Isolde convened four more panels in the Accelerator Series this year—bringing the total of that impressive forum to ten. The memorable evenings included conversations on responsible citizenship, cultural appropriation, and navigating forgiveness and culminated with a packed
house for an electric night about the future of food, food justice, and sustainability. The innovative scholars, artists, and thinkers that gathered for these important community discussions remind us of the power of civil discourse and how the skills of careful listening, critical thinking, and honest speaking are key to building empathy and knowledge. Rebecca organized exhibitions and led the complete renovation of the collections section of our website. Her attention to detail during photography and digitization, cataloging each work, and editing dozens of entries, essays, and interviews was energizing and makes all around her better. Her collections work is driven by a curiosity about things and their contexts and a love for the research process that has made a lasting impact on scores of students and faculty. Among many accomplishments over these three years, Rebecca was my partner in editing this award-winning Accelerate journal—a key part of disseminating progressive programming at the Tang. The collection has grown this year as the result of major gifts from Jack Shear, Peter Norton, and Peter J. Cohen among many others, and the Accelerate program prompted conservation treatments, material analysis, and provenance research, including by a faculty member who completed our first NAGPRA review as a student collaborative project. We look forward to continuing to uncover untold meanings and creative possibilities with our collection and gathering new generations of faculty and students around these potent objects. We end this volume with an article about Off the Shelf—an ambitious collaboration across two semesters with our theater faculty, students, and museum staff. What was normally hidden in storage was on display, what was normally behind the scenes became the stage, and set narratives about artworks in our collection were opened up through new, creative responses. It was a wonderful example of how we can use teaching museums to offer distinctive and unique experiences that break down barriers to museums, build audiences, and nurture uncommon ways of navigating our complex world.
TRUST AND STORYTELLING June Paul talks to Jess T. Dugan
On June 10, 2019, Assistant Professor of Social Work June Paul interviewed artist Jess T. Dugan about her multi-platform project with social worker Vanessa Fabbre, To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults. The project includes a website, an exhibition, a book, and a portfolio of photographic prints and interviews, the latter of which is held in the Tang collection.
Jess T. Dugan I’m a photographer who works primarily with portraiture, and I’m particularly interested in issues of gender and sexuality. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve made several bodies of work within LGBTQ+ communities focusing on identity. I made To Survive on This Shore in collaboration with my partner, Vanessa Fabbre, who is a social worker whose research focuses on the intersection of LGBTQ+ communities and issues around aging. I met Vanessa in 2012, and we realized that although we worked in very different fields, we had overlapping
interests, and we decided to join forces and create this project together. It’s a collection of portraits and interviews with people who are transgender and gender nonconforming and over the age of fifty. I had never worked specifically with older adults before, and she had never interacted with photography in this way, so it was a unique melding of our backgrounds. June Paul How did you make contact with so many different people across the country for To Survive on This Shore? JTD The very first two portraits, taken in 2013, were of Grace and Chris in Boston, who I had known from my time living and working there. And then we connected with some people that Vanessa knew from her work in Chicago. Then the project spread by word of mouth. From the very beginning, we were committed to seeking out diversity in the people that we included. We sought diversity in terms of age, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, socioeconomic status, geographic location, and life narrative. For two or three years, we worked on the project slowly. By 2015, we had made about twenty to thirty portraits and interviews. I created a website for the project, we got some press, and the work was featured in the New York Times. After that, I got hundreds of emails from people all over the country wanting to participate, wanting to bring me to their towns; people were suddenly aware of the work on a national scale. Another way we found people was by attending the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference and the Gender Odyssey Conference in Seattle. I presented the work and found people to photograph there. We also relied heavily on person-to-person trust and word of mouth, particularly within portions of the community that we are less part of—people of color, people who live in rural places. As a photographer, I do a lot of lectures at universities and also have exhibitions, and when I traveled, I would reach out to the local nonprofit LGBTQ+ organizations and ask them if they had anyone they suggest I get in touch with. So I would partner with people locally wherever I went. Over the course of five years, we photographed and interviewed eighty-eight people ranging from age fifty, which was our minimum age, all the way to ninety. JP Can you talk about why you chose to focus on this particular age group? JTD I’m very aware that there is a generation of transgender and gender nonconforming and queer people who came ahead of me, and I felt like a lot of their stories were at risk of being lost. I was motivated to create these images and record these stories to preserve them and to fill a gap in representation. A lot of our culture focuses on youth, and a lot of the discussion around trans people in the media is focused on youth, on violence, or is somehow skewed. It’s not a humanist, complex representation.
JP I’m interested in your artistic process. You had to make some choices about not only whom to photograph but what you wanted to portray in those images. JTD My photographic process, in general, is such that I prefer to go to people’s homes or personal spaces. I take a long time making portraits. I’m influenced by painting, and in some ways, I think about my process of putting together a photograph as being akin to painting. I always have my camera on a tripod. I use natural light; I use slow shutter speeds. There’s a lot of collaboration between me and the subject. I traveled to each person’s home and spent time with them. We always conducted the interview first. That was important to the process because it allowed us to get to know one another before making the portrait. Sometimes people would share things in the interview that I would incorporate into the portrait. There’s a portrait of D’Santi who spoke intensely about music, so we incorporated his guitar. There’s a portrait of Bobbi holding a plane because she spoke about her long career in the military. After we conducted the interview, we would focus on making the portrait and I would look around for a space either in their home or right outside of their home that felt representative of them. From there, it was a lot of back and forth about pose and gesture. I do a lot of directing when I’m making a portrait, but I try to direct each person into the most authentic version of themself. I’m not asking them to perform, but I am trying to make a portrait that feels representative of who they are. It’s also a significant part of my work that the images themselves are beautiful and seductive. I want to pull a viewer in through the formal elements of the photograph before they even think about of the conceptual elements.
JP I love that you do the interviews first. Why was building that trust important in terms of what you ended up with in their photos and stories? JTD Trust and consent are really important in my work. With this project, in particular, I made sure that everyone understood on the front end what the project was going to be, that it was going to be public, and that we’d use real names and people would know they’re trans. However, the trust thing is even broader. There are so many issues that come up when you’re working within a marginalized community, especially as a photographer. Photography has a long history of the image maker having more power than the subject and that power being exploited and abused. I take the responsibility of being a photographer very seriously. I’m committed to making images that are respectful and dignified. Earning trust and a willingness to participate is a key part of my work. The photographs that I make require collaboration. I’m very grateful to everyone in the project for being willing to do that with me. Within trans communities, understandably, there can be distrust of people coming in from the outside and trying to make work. Although I did cross a lot of identity lines in this work, there was an important element of me being part of the queer community, me being part of the broader trans community and gender nonconforming community that was integral to making the work. For the most part, I didn’t share my own story or talk about myself because I felt like this project was really in service to telling the stories of the subjects. But there were times where I related to people on a very personal level and sometimes would share my experience. I think that really helped me build trust with the people that I was photographing.
JP Talk about why you decided to include the oral history piece alongside the photos. JTD From the outset, I knew that this project had an educational mission, an activist mission, and a historical mission. And I knew that I couldn’t tell the story I wanted to tell with only photographs. I think photographs can do a lot of things, but they can’t tell this specific of a story. Having the text alongside the photographs enriches the experience of viewing the portraits, and it allows the viewer to feel like they get to know the subjects. I have a personal belief that a lot of discrimination or bigotry comes from a lack of knowing and understanding. Once you come to know someone and their story, it is so much harder to abjectly discriminate against them or discriminate against a whole group of people. Even if that knowing happens through a photograph, there is something powerful about allowing a viewer who might know nothing about the trans community, who might have actively negative feelings, to look at somebody and read their words. I think it’s impossible to hear someone’s story and not see the humanity and complexity in it. JP I find the same thing with the research that I conduct involving queer youth; they also want to tell their stories. There’s this relatively new interest in hearing these stories— although they have been going on forever. I think it’s powerful to be a part of that and offer people an opportunity to develop knowledge that is created from that venue. It feels amazing as a researcher. JTD Totally. I think a lot about representation. When I was coming out as queer there were very few images of people in the media and mainstream television who looked like me. That’s changed a lot in the past sixteen or eighteen years. Representation is a really powerful thing. And often, seeing someone represented or seeing a representation that you can relate to can be a powerful experience for coming to understand yourself and your identity. And if you grow up seeing yourself represented, it’s hard to understand the experience of living in a world where you never see yourself represented. The validation that a story with an image can provide can literally be a lifeline for people. I was moved by how much the subjects wanted to become that for someone else, particularly for younger trans people or for other older trans people who were struggling to come out or understand their authentic selves. That was another important piece of the work: we had people in the project who had transitioned at all different periods of their lives. People in the series transitioned as early as 1971 and others transitioned as late as 2016; some people transitioned in their thirties, some in their eighties.
there has been a history of photographers going in, getting the shot they need, disappearing, and having very little accountability to that subject and how they’re representing them and what they might feel about the photograph. It’s important to me to mitigate that as much as possible. JP You’ve mentioned before that you want to be in a world where people can be themselves. What does that look like for you?
Jess T. Dugan (born 1986) and Vanessa Fabbre (born 1978) Bobbi, 83, Detroit, MI, 2014; Sukie, 59, New York, NY, 2016; SueZie, 51, and Cheryl, 55, Valrico, FL, 2015 (from To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults), published 2018 Archival pigment prints on Hahnemühle FineArt Photo Rag Pearl, 18 � 13 ¹⁄₂ in. (each) Tang purchases, 2018.17.1.14b, .13b, .15b
JP The diversity you show in this project is so important to people’s understanding of the LGBTQ+ community in general. People make a lot of assumptions about who we are as a community. We are a very rich, diverse community; we have some similar struggles, but we also have an enormous amount of diversity within ourselves. I’m wondering if you could talk about how this project highlights the experiences of people who hold multiple marginalized identities? JTD Diversity around race and socioeconomic status was significant. A lot of the stories centered around lack of access to health care, lack of access to safe and affordable housing, lack of access to employment, and for people who embody multiple marginalized identities, that lack amplifies. We were aware that this community, in some ways, is not one unified community with the same concerns and struggles. Some of the most painful stories in the project center around class and people who are living in poverty or who are denied employment and housing. One story in particular is of Jay, who was a white trans man living in New York, living in poverty, and he was essentially never given his breast cancer diagnosis because his doctor was so transphobic. He passed about a year after we made his portrait. We left that story in his quote, and it’s one of the more difficult ones. He died as a direct result of transphobia and poverty. It’s important to understand the way those two issues interact. More globally, it’s important to me and my practice as a photographer that my relationship with my subjects doesn’t end when we make the picture. In photography, in particular,
JTD It’s a big question. For me, so much of my own thinking around gender and sexuality and expanding those categories centers around this idea of each person being able to choose what feels right for them, whether that’s clothes or activities or people they love or expressions or gestures or the way they talk. So many things in our society are restricted based on what you’re supposed to do based on your perceived identity. When I say I want to live in a world where we can all be ourselves, for me, that means I want people to be able to fully express their authentic selves in any way they want, at any time they want, without negative consequences. For trans and gender nonconforming people, just simply being themselves can be such a struggle. One of the subjects, Steph, spoke about transitioning and losing a well-paying job, losing her home, losing her son, losing almost everything. It was a really poignant story because on the one hand, it seems so simple: why would your gender make you lose all of those things? It doesn’t make any sense. But on the other hand, in the real world, it has a very real effect. I wish that people could feel free to be themselves and express themselves without fear of loss or discrimination or struggle. I want to break down all of these categories around gender and sexuality and make more space for all kinds of folks to express themselves however it feels most comfortable. JP I wish that, too.
Jess T. Dugan is an artist whose work explores issues of identity, gender, sexuality, and community through photographic portraiture. Recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and an International Center of Photography Infinity Award, among other honors, her work is collected and exhibited in museums nationwide. Skidmore Assistant Professor of Social Work June Paul worked in the field of human services for nearly seventeen years as a direct service practitioner, policy advisor, and statewide administrator in public child welfare and education. Her teaching is devoted to promoting strategies that aid students in advancing a more just and equitable society.
The eighth panel in the Accelerator Series was held on October 15, 2018. Curator-at-Large Isolde Brielmaier moderated a discussion with Teen Vogue Fashion Features Editor Jessica Andrews, artist Renee Cox, and New York University Assistant Professor in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music Matthew Morrison.
Isolde Brielmaier In an age where images, ideas, and sounds are widely accessible, the topic of cultural appropriation is a hot-button issue. How do we define cultural appropriation? To get to that, we have to define or identify how that does or doesn’t differ from cultural appreciation. Do we have to even talk about who owns culture, or if somebody owns culture? Jessica Andrews I’ve written about cultural appropriation so much at Teen Vogue, and a lot of people look at me as the cultural appropriation police. I’m not at Coachella running behind people telling them to take off their feather headdresses —I don’t do that. It’s actually a really nuanced conversation. In the fashion industry specifically, it’s about respecting other cultures and giving them credit when they inspire you. A lot of designers take inspiration from marginalized groups and then won’t acknowledge them. I say respect is the minimum. That’s a basic courtesy. And secondly, give who inspired you a seat at the table. When you’re taking from a culture that you aren’t a part of, it’s not going to seem authentic when you don’t have anyone in the room who represents that culture. Lastly, you see a lot of stereotypes in fashion. That’s a big part of how cultural appropriation offends. Designers will pull from African fashion, but it’s safari with people running around in animal prints and the idea that they’re all in jungles. If you’ve been to Africa or even read about it or Google-searched it, you know that’s not the truth. It’s a stereotype that’s really dehumanizing. And we’ve seen it happen over and over again in fashion. There was Gucci and Dapper Dan. And Dapper Dan wanted to be a part of the fashion industry. IB Can you give a quick snapshot about Dapper Dan? JA In the 1980s, he was embracing the logo trend that we see resurfacing now, and he’d do custom designs for affluent shoppers, who were mostly people of color. He’d take logos from Louis Vuitton or Gucci and design them in such imaginative ways —nothing like what was on the runway. He’s really a genius, but when the fashion industry got wind of his work, instead of embracing him and giving him an opportunity, they sued him and put him out of business. And he was out of work for about three decades. Fast forward to this year, Gucci puts a look on the runway in their Resort collection that is a clear copy of what Dapper Dan was doing decades before. And because social media gives people a
voice who didn’t formerly have one in the industry, people called them out. You’re saying his work is good enough to steal but not good enough to get him a job. Once they were called out, to their credit, Gucci did reach out to him, and they sponsored his atelier, which is now back and running in Harlem. So it is a success story, it does have a positive ending, but you wonder, without social media, would that have happened? Matthew Morrison Richard A. Rogers, a media theorist, gives a basic definition of cultural appropriation as “the use of a culture’s symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture.” We could think of cultural appropriation, as Rogers points out, in a number of ways. Often, we think about it is as a system of exchange where there’s some type of reciprocity being offered. As you said, after thirty years, Gucci is in conversation with Dapper Dan, and they have a reciprocal relationship now. Then there’s cultural dominance. Those who are marginalized are retooling, or finding other ways to use, the tools of those who are dominating them for their own purposes. This is what Dapper Dan was doing prior to being admitted into the structures of the fashion houses. And then there’s cultural exploitation, which is what we are having the most direct conversation about today, where those who are marginalized, often black and brown people in the United States, are not only not given credit for work, but are seen as being less than by enacting their own cultural creations. It’s this idea of appropriation to the extent
of taking on that of what bell hooks calls “eating the Other,” absorbing one’s other culture, one’s other practice, without dealing with the humanity and personhood of those folks. There is not a way to talk about appropriation without thinking about the dynamics of power involved in that exchange since the moment of the development of the West, which was developed out of the transatlantic slave trade and the genocide of Native peoples. Because of the globalization of American culture and entertainment in particular, that always is on the table when we think about how things are absorbed in popular culture at large. IB Even before we can talk about cultural appropriation, it’s important to think about ideas of privilege and power — history, capitalism, imperialism, assimilation, how those things come into play, the creation of culture, the consumption of culture, the spotlighting or upholding of one culture over another. Renee, I’m thinking of your work from the late 1990s, the superheroes work. Renee Cox When I was shooting for Essence magazine, they had me shoot somebody called Sunman, a superhero that they were trying to develop. I shot him and it was great, and then I never heard about Sunman ever again. Fast forward, I’m in Toys “R” Us and I have two kids, and they were little at that time, and I’m climbing over people and fighting with them to get Power Rangers. I’m walking around the store, and I’m like, “Whoa. There are no superheroes of color. What happened?”
In my art practice, when I see there’s a void, I feel like I’ve got to go in and do something. I’m really into the notion of revisionist history because, as we know, the victors have written the history books. If that’s the case, then I should be able to go in there and write my own history. In order to give it credence, I went and I did my research, and I came across the fact that back in the 1970s, there was a black Wonder Woman named Nubia who appeared on two or three covers. So I thought, perfect. This is the license for me to expand on Nubia. My character is Rajé, who is actually named Rage, but I knew if I named her Rage, I would cut off a lot of people because they’d see some angry black woman. I created scenarios and stories that I could illustrate using this character that I portrayed. I have her picking up taxis in the middle of Times Square. Another work in that series is called the Liberation of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. Why was this needed? Because Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were the desexualized slaves that lived up at the big house. My superhero goes in there and restores them and they become Roshumba, who at the time was a supermodel, and Rodney Charles, an actor, and I’m dragging them off of the box, and they join forces with me to cure the ills of the world. IB If there’s an element of critique, does that make appropriation okay? I want to identify this slippery space between appropriation and appreciation.
JA One of the articles I’ve written about the Kardashians is about the idea that they invented boxer braids. “Boxer braids” are not a thing. They’re cornrows. Boxer braids are a name that was given to them by a magazine that I won’t name but was not Teen Vogue, and Kendall or Kylie was credited with making them a trend. When I first learned to braid, my grandmother taught me on a doll on the floor of our kitchen. She learned down South with grass stalks and passed it down through generations. This practice has been going on in our culture for years. It’s erasure at its worst. That’s the kind of thing where it’s copying and then totally ignoring a sector of people and saying, your hairstyle is okay, but your humanity isn’t. That’s the message that it sends. IB But can appropriation be a good thing? When is it okay or “acceptable”? Who gets to decide if it’s acceptable? MM When we think about cultural appropriation, it’s always within a system. The cultural exchange is always happening within the system, a structure, a society, and the people who were part of these things. That’s why I, at the outset, tried to outline cultural appropriation with various stances. One takes into account reciprocity or reciprocation in some sense and the others involve dominance or exploitation. IB That’s a key element, the reciprocity.
RC You gotta credit.
Coachella? All those little white kids sitting up there . . . did they know about historically black universities?
JA You gotta credit.
JA They should have known.
MM You gotta credit.
RC I don’t think they knew.
RC History is a good thing—to know where things come from. They didn’t just happen yesterday.
JA And once she did “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” people were looking around being like, “Oh, I’ve never heard this song from her albums. What album is this from?” I’m like, “I’ve been singing this song since I was a kid in elementary school.” So a lot of them didn’t know, but the media did write about the history and inspiration. And she acknowledged it. That information is there. A lot of times with designers that information’s not even there, because when you ask them what the inspiration is, they’ll never say people of color or marginalized groups. With Bantu knots, for example, people will mention Björk or Gwen Stefani, not the Zulu tribe. I do credit her for giving acknowledgment.
JA A lot of times I get asked, “What’s the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation, and how is it appreciation?” I look at Beyoncé’s Coachella performance, which was incredible and paid homage to historically black universities and colleges, which she did not attend. She could be called out for appropriating HBCU culture. But she hired people who worked at HBCUs to perform. And after the performance was over, she donated money to schools. The culture is acknowledged, respected, and then you’re giving back and you’re giving them a seat at the table. That’s appreciation to me. When you’re robbing someone’s culture and you’re not giving anything back and you’re not hiring them and you’re not acknowledging them, that’s when it becomes an issue. RC But did the greater public know that she was doing that at
MM Be an active consumer, not passive. IB Right. It can take two seconds to find out about “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” James Weldon Johnson, the Black Na tional Anthem. Being active, educated, informed consumers is important.
MM These industries rely on us not to be. RC But people have to know the history. We’re brainwashed with stuff that is anti-history all the time. JA Fashion is always cyclical. There’s literally nothing new under the sun. There’s always an inspiration. You can go back into history and find out where something originated and how it became popular. I did that research for myself with Ankara print because I had a moment where I was really into that print and making it a part of my wardrobe, so I did the research and learned that actually it was invented by the Dutch. It wasn’t even invented by West Africans, but it is something that they embraced and they popularized and it became associated with that culture. Colonization obviously plays into it as well. RC It’s cross-fertilization. JA When I’m wearing Ankara print, I’m very aware of all the cultural connections that are wrapped into it, but also the stigma that’s attached to it in this country because black people embrace it in Africa. IB Even though it has Dutch origins. Joey Freeman ’19 (Audience) You talked about reciprocity. In music, a lot of people talk about how if you’re just being your authentic self, you can do whatever basically. But for someone who grew up in a world being socialized by appropriated culture, what might come out can be problematic. I wonder how you think a person with a lot of privilege can approach music in a way that could potentially empower people, because it feels like I don’t really have anything to give that’s not stolen, basically. RC Look at the Beastie Boys. IB A lot of us are recycling through things and putting our own imprints on them. Our guests touched on the idea of not only reciprocity but acknowledgment and being informed, so that if you’re DJing or you’re painting or you’re creating fashion, you know that there’s a rich history. Inform yourself. Know your history and be able to articulate it. That’s a good starting space. RC But tell your story. If you’re white and privileged, tell it, find a beat for it. For me, as an artist, I have a responsibility. Some artists say they don’t have a responsibility. Some artists say, “I’m not a black artist,” whatever that means. I take issue with that. I’m black and I’m proud to be black. I’m not going to sit up here and tell you, “I’m just an artist.” Everything that I do revolves around my blackness. So why shouldn’t I own that?
Dayna Joseph ’19 (Audience) Jessica, with the example of wearing West African textiles, you have educated yourself on the histories, but a West African woman walking down the street who sees you and identifies you as American could easily say, “She’s appropriating. She doesn’t appreciate my culture.” Do you think that appreciation has to be only on the inside, or if not, how do you express your appreciation while still wearing those kinds of fabrics? JA Because I’m a writer, I express appreciation by always writing about it and educating people. And even if it’s something where I’m not in my professional capacity, I’m just out and somebody remarks on the skirt, I’ll say, “Oh, this is Ankara print. This is where it comes from. I bought this when I was in West Africa,” and I’ll tell that information and really embrace it. Not everyone has to do that, but that’s what I do, and that’s what makes me feel comfortable when I’m participating in anyone else’s culture, whether that’s fashion or even food. There’s such a beautiful tapestry, especially in this country, and you can’t get caught up in the negativity and the racism and the bigotry and the xenophobia and all of that. There are so many people who participate in other cultures in a way that is respectful, in a way that pays homage and acknowledges other cultures. RC Totally about homage. My dog’s name is Dogon, and people say, “What’s the name of your dog?” And I say, “Dogon. They’re this ethnic group in Mali. They discovered the Sirius star long before Western astronomers,” and I say this whole thing about the star system and where they felt their ancestors came from. And people are blown away. I do that in the Hamptons all the time on the beach. I give people an entire freaking history lesson on the Dogon each and every time. I feel like it’s my responsibility to do that. I’m not going to let them walk away and think, oh, that cute dog’s name is Dogon. And I’m like, “Okay, now that I gave you that little background information, look it up.” JA And people do. That’s how information passes. It’s storytelling.
Jessica Andrews is the fashion features editor at Teen Vogue. Her essay on cultural appropriation at Coachella was one of the magazine’s most-read articles of 2017. Prior to joining Teen Vogue, Andrews contributed to ELLE, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Essence. She is also a blogger for the award-winning Glamazons blog. Photographer and mixed-media artist Renee Cox creates self-portraits of her nude and clothed body to at once celebrate black womanhood and critique societal attitudes about race, desire, religion, feminism, and visual and cultural aesthetics. Born in Jamaica, Cox grew up in Scarsdale, New York, and started her career as a fashion photographer for high-profile magazines before turning to more conceptual photography. Her work has been featured at numerous art institutions throughout the country, in the 2006 Jamaica Biennial, and elsewhere. Matthew Morrison is an assistant professor in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He has held numerous fellowships throughout the United States and in London, and his writing has appeared in the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, the Grove Dictionary of American Music, and elsewhere. His forthcoming book, American Popular Sound: From Blackface to Blacksound, considers the implications of positing sound and music as major components of identity formations, particularly the construction of race.
RENEE COX ON REPRESENTATION AND DEMOLISHING STEREOTYPES 14
On October 16, 2018, Skidmore students Monica Andrews ’19 and Cassie Taylor ’19 interviewed artist Renee Cox as part of the course “The Artist Interview,” led by Dayton Director Ian Berry. Monica Andrews ’19 You grew up in Scarsdale, New York, an overwhelmingly white community. Renee Cox Oh, God, yeah. There were seven black families when we lived there. I went to the prom with the eligible black guy in my class. I had to educate myself on my blackness down the road, because in high school I was listening to New Riders of the Purple Sage—not cool at all. And then, senior year, I had an epiphany and was introduced to rhythm and blues and soul music, Billy Cobham, Herbie Hancock. Cassie Taylor ’19 You worked in fashion photography before working in fine art photography. What was that transition like? RC I did fashion photography for ten years. There was a pretty pivotal moment that happened. I started getting more conscious about my reality and what was happening in the world. I was in Soho at this restaurant named Jerry’s, and I was already starting to question how fashion was going to pan out. When I did an editorial story, my photographs only had a twenty-eight-day lifespan. After twenty-eight days, they were garbage. You’re putting your heart and soul into this. And at the end of the shoot, the fashion editor would say, “Okay, this is the next shoot.” I didn’t even have time to wallow in a pleasurable way of my accomplishment. Anyway, I’m at Jerry’s. I’m having dinner with a bunch of folks. We’re all just bullshit fashion chatting. You talk about a shoe for, like, ten minutes, saying, “Blah, blah, blah.” Nothing relevant. It was the day that Nelson Mandela got released from prison. And I say to them, “This is amazing. Nelson Mandela finally got released after twenty-seven years in prison.” My God, this is a big deal for me. And they turned to me and said, “Donald and Ivana are getting a divorce,” which was the front-page story in the New York Daily News that day. I was like, “Donald and Ivana? Are you freaking kidding me?” When they said that was the important thing that had struck them on that day over Nelson Mandela, that was the moment where I said, “I gotta get out. I can’t be here.” As it would happen, the art director from Essence sent over Lyle Ashton Harris, who was a photographer as well. But at that time, he wanted to know about fashion. We ended up having lunch, and he showed me this artist that was doing photography. There was a big catalog and everything. I was like, “Really? I could shoot this with my eyes closed.” I wasn’t even looking at it from a conceptual point of view. I was looking at it just as straight photography. That was the moment when I realized, this is my trajectory.
This is how I have to do it. At that time, people didn’t care if you had a great mailing list; they wanted credentials. I’d already had my first kid. I started looking at grad schools. And the School of Visual Arts was a good spot. CT You felt like you needed to go to grad school? RC You had to go to grad school. Otherwise, nobody would take you seriously. CT Do you feel like you learned anything in grad school that actually helped you pursue your career in the arts? RC Definitely. Grad school gives you that time without pressure to explore your ideas. My first semester I didn’t really know what my direction was going to be. And then, by second semester, I started getting much more into racism and identity. And that’s what really made the work come together and have a focal point. Even though I grew up in this white neighborhood, I never experienced racism in my face. But during that first semester, I had an incident where I experienced racism in my face. It was shocking. That moment changed me completely. I started to explore the history of African Americans, of Afro-Caribbean people, and in doing research and learning about it, I was getting angry and realizing that the history that we’ve been taught has been biased. I was asking, how can I go in there and make a change in terms of representation? Had I not gone to grad school, I don’t know if I would have come to that. CT You made Do or Die, which is in the Tang collection, when you were in grad school. Do you remember the day that you took that photograph, where you were, and what brought you there? RC I don’t remember the date. I know that it was warm because I was standing outside naked. That was the beginning of the second year, September, maybe early October. The premise
Renee Cox (born 1960), Do or Die (South Bronx-The End), 1991 Gelatin silver print, 6 ³⁄₄ � 6 ³⁄₄ in. Gift of Peter Norton, 2014.7.13
was really simple: we’ve broken the chains of slavery, and now we’re free and we’re doing our thing. It’s a diptych. The image you have here is called Do or Die. And it’s the side where you see her with the chains and her face is covered. Even though I had become racially super-conscious at that point, I still had the lingering fear, so to speak, of going to the South Bronx, taking my clothes off, standing on this rubble, and shooting this thing. I took maybe five or six of my classmates with me to watch my back. This area was so depraved. You had crackheads burning the plastic off copper wires to sell the copper. We started doing my photograph, and all of a sudden, there was this Jeep that comes by at, I don’t know, sixty miles an hour and there were four or five black guys in there. And the beats are pounding. That Jeep, you feel it. It’s like a huge heartbeat. They see me standing in this field naked. And they stop to a screeching halt and back up at sixty miles an hour and come running across the field. At this juncture, I’ve got maybe thirty people there watching me. And I’m like, “Oh, shit.” It was a really interesting moment for me because I was harboring these stereotypes. I was that white woman in the elevator clutching her pearls. Those guys came over and talked to the people that were watching, who told them what we were doing. And they waited until I was finished with the shot. And they were the most respectful, coolest guys ever. They were like, “Yo, sis, much respect. We appreciate what you’re doing.” MA You’ve said previously that your work is reactionary. I’m wondering how this impacts your creative process and what planning the vision for a work looks like. RC If we’re talking about Liberty in the South Bronx or Do or Die, I had a very distinct idea of what I wanted to do. With The Discreet Charm of the Bougies, which is my housewives series, there was a pivotal moment that happened for me photographically. I wanted to be able to allow a photograph to happen (à la Henri Cartier-Bresson). For one in particular, I was in Bali. All I had was the dress, the shoes, and my cameras. I knew I wanted to do a shot for the housewives series, but I had no idea what that was going to be until I stumbled upon it. I was with my son, and we’re driving in these mountains. And the fog was so thick. I mean, it was eerie. So I say, “Stop the car. Pull over.” Throw the dress on. Throw the shoes on. That’s much more exciting than knowing and having a sketch of what the shot is going to be beforehand. CT So you transitioned from planning shots to being more spontaneous? RC Yeah. That’s more fun. Life should be fun. There should be joy. You shouldn’t be stressed out. But mind you, it took me some decades to figure that out. When I was your age, I was a total nutjob. I was very competitive, I wanted to
get to the top, be the best. Then you realize, it’s not really that important. CT How do you feel about being labeled one of the most controversial contemporary artists? RC I can roll with that. CT You’re interested in controversy? RC I’m interested in the discourse. I’m not about propaganda or anything like that. I’m not trying to force-feed anybody. But it’s nice to be able to learn something from you, and you learn something from me. I think there should always be this exchange where we as human beings can evolve and explore things and go to different areas that maybe we wouldn’t otherwise go to if we had not seen a particular image or had not engaged in a specific conversation. Otherwise, what am I doing? I’m just making pretty pictures? I know how to make a pretty picture. But does it say anything? I want the photograph to say something, to start some kind of discourse. If you see one of my photographs, generally speaking (unless the people are totally vacant), when you walk into the room, you’re going to say something about it. And you’re probably going to ask the owner, “What’s this about?” So, there will be a discussion. I know that. That always happens. And for me, it’s super important that it happens and continues to happen.
Photographer and mixed-media artist Renee Cox creates self-portraits of her nude and clothed body to at once celebrate black womanhood and critique societal attitudes about race, desire, religion, feminism, and visual and cultural aesthetics. Born in Jamaica, Cox grew up in Scarsdale, New York, and started her career as a fashion photographer for high-profile magazines before turning to more conceptual photography. Her work has been featured at numerous art institutions throughout the country, in the 2006 Jamaica Biennial, and elsewhere.
Jeff Sonhouse Condoleezza Rice, 2007
Minita Sanghvi Assistant Professor of Marketing, Management, and Business When an artist who largely focuses on depictions of black masculinity in contemporary America, with all its complexities, creates work about a woman, it is noteworthy in itself. That the artist is Jeff Sonhouse and the woman is Condoleezza Rice makes it all the more interesting to me as someone who researches gender and intersectionality in politics. Condoleezza Rice (2007) was included in the single-artist exhibition Pawnography at the Jack Tilton Gallery in New York in 2008. According to Sonhouse, the title was intended to underline the investigative aspect of his paintings and their subject, the study of the pawn. Examining the multidimensional role of the pawn, Pawnography attempts to engage the complex nature of power, the individuals or groups behind the scenes who are involved in deception, the pawn who knowingly or unwittingly agrees to manipulation, and the media and the viewers who consume that manipulation or try to uncover it. There are two paintings in Pawnography specifically related to members of George W. Bush’s cabinet. One depicts Rice and the other Colin Powell, the latter called The Sacrificial Goat. Powell served as the 65th Secretary of State (2001–2005), the first African American to do so; Rice served as the 66th Secretary of State (2005–2009), the first African American woman to hold that position. They were part of important decisions on the world stage, yet Sonhouse depicts them as pawns. Perhaps he does so because they were to some extent the public faces of the decision to enter into war with Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe it is to highlight the fact that these two black Republicans were anomalies among African American voters, only 3 percent of whom were registered as Republican.1 Perhaps it is to
showcase the hollowness of their power—especially if someone else was pulling the strings. In The Sacrificial Goat, Powell is not easily recognizable; his face is aggressively masked in not one but two layers. Rice, though her face is cut off at the chin, is easily identifiable with just one layer of mask. I find this single mask to be the most interesting aspect of the painting. Research shows that women in positions of power often face backlash, sexism, and media bias. More specifically, the idea of a woman in power creates anxieties among those who feel that the woman is transgressing gender hierarchies, and thus they attempt to diminish her substantive value by focusing on her appearance and/or her family. A woman in political office is often subjected to added scrutiny on her parenting, sexuality, and gender expression. One of the ways powerful women are “taken down a notch” is by being cut off or interrupted. The first 2016 presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in which he interrupted her over fifty-one times is an example of this phenomenon.2 Other examples are that of Senator Kamala Harris being interrupted by two of her male colleagues when questioning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or Senator Elizabeth Warren being cut off by Senator Mitch McConnell when she spoke against Jeff Sessions’s confirmation as attorney general. In the painting by Sonhouse, Condoleezza Rice is quite literally cut off at her chin. Is this compositional choice a mode of taking her down a notch? Sonhouse’s portrait of Rice was apparently the first time he painted a woman.3 It is possible he chose then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice because she was considered to be one of the most powerful women in the world at that time by Forbes magazine. Or was it because she was the first African American woman serving as a top US diplomat? Maybe that power made her more masculine in his eyes. Was her ascent to power as a black woman a commentary on masculinity? Or femininity? Or lack thereof? African American women face both sexism and racism, and their intersectional oppressions are often not captured on a single-axis perspective. They often face different forms of discrimination than black men or white women. Black women face stereotypes of being hyper-sexualized or fetishized as exotic or, conversely, stripped of any sexuality in the role of mammy. Rice knows something about such stereotypes and the focus on her appearance. CNN ran a segment about lipstick on her teeth at the 2012 Republican Convention.4 Discussion about her sexual orientation and commentary about her “tight” buttocks ran in various media outlets.5
Even on the international stage, several men in power have commented about her in myriad ways regarding gender or appearance. Hugo Chávez called her “my little girl,” Muammar Gaddafi was quoted as saying, “I love her very much,” and Lebanese politician Wiam Wahhab was quoted as saying, “She should have her teeth straightened and her face fixed and should make herself look nice.”6 Sonhouse’s Condoleezza Rice is a fascinating study of gender, power, and race. The artist opens a door for discussion and interpretation on identities and stereotypes as well as on who is the pawn and who does the pawning. As Sonhouse has said, “Everything is up for interpretation.” 7
Jeff Sonhouse (born 1968), Condoleezza Rice, 2007 Oil and matches on board, 32 × 36 × 2 in. Promised gift of the Ann and Mel Schaffer Family Collection
1 “Black Party Affiliation,” Black Demographics, accessed March 5, 2019, https://blackdemographics.com/culture/black-politics/. 2 Emily Crockett and Sarah Frostenson, “Trump Interrupted Clinton 51 Times at the Debate. She Interrupted Him Just 17 Times,” Vox, September 27, 2016, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/9/27/13017666. 3 Ben Davis, “Pawn Shop Conceptualism,” Artnet, n.d. (c. 2008), http:// www.artnet.com/magazineus/reviews/davis/davis12-11-08.asp. 4 “Condi Rice’s RNC ‘Make Up Malfunction,’” CNN, August 30, 2012, video, 2:16, https://www.cnn.com/videos/offbeat/2012/08/30/tsr-pkg-mooscondi-rice-lipstick.cnn. 5 Bella DePaulo, “Piers Morgan Really Wants to Know Why Condi Rice Isn’t Married,” Psychology Today, January 21, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/living-single/201101/piers-morgan-really-wants-knowwhy-condi-rice-isn-t-married; Andrew Belonsky, “Condi and ‘Best’ Girl Friend Have Home,” Queerty, September 14, 2007, https://www.queerty. com/condi-and-best-girl-friend-have-home-20070914; Michael Rogers, “Yes, Condi, It Is Relevant,” Huffington Post, September 14, 2007, https:// www.huffpost.com/entry/yes-condi-it-is-relevant_b_64491. 6 Juli Weiner, “More Horrendously Creepy Details about Qaddafi’s Condoleezza Rice Obsession,” Vanity Fair, October 21, 2011, https://www. vanityfair.com/news/2011/10/more-horrendously-creepy-details-about-qaddafis-condoleezza-rice; “Hugo Chavez: Memorable Moments,” BBC, March 6, 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/ world-latin-america-20712033; “Former Lebanese Minister Wiam Wahhab Donates Assets Frozen in the US for Rice’s Teeth Straightening and Bush’s Admission to a Mental Asylum,” Memri TV, https://www. memri.org/tv/former-lebanese-minister-wiam-wahhab-donates-assetsfrozen-us-rices-teeth-straightening-and-bushs/transcript. 7 Jeff Sonhouse, quoted in Isolde Brielmaier, “Double-Take on Pawnography,” in Ian Berry, Jeff Sonhouse: Slow Motion, Opener 26 (Saratoga Springs, NY: The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, 2015), 45.
Deborah Luster One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, 1998–2002
David Karp Professor of Sociology and Director of the Project on Restorative Justice Two pictures, dated 1998 and 1999. Two men incarcerated at the East Carroll Parish Prison Farm in northeast Louisiana. One man is Zack K. Oakes (Date of Birth: 9/20/73). The other is James Willis (Date of Birth: 7/27/77). That’s what we know. Who are these men? What is their story? Why were they in prison? Where are they now? Prisons are humanity made invisible. These photos make them visible, but not known. Deborah Luster took these and many other portraits for her project One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (1998–2002). Her motivation is connected to the murder of her mother: “I have come to understand that, while it was the fear and anger generated by my mother’s murder that in great measure ignited this work, it is the loss and hope I feel—that we each feel, one and all—that has fueled it.”1 Making sense of tragedy. Confronting loss. Finding hope. Seeking humanity. A murder victim’s daughter was compelled to photograph prisoners. She was looking through her lens to see something about them and to reveal that for others. What can be seen? Luster suggests, “These photographs belong to the eyes of the free world viewer—citizen, voter, gallery goer, broker of social policy.”2 As a sociologist, I see their stories reflected in cold facts. East Carroll Parish Prison Farm was a minimum-security prison for men. It is now closed. It housed just two hundred men, most for less than five-year terms.3 When Luster took her photographs, Louisiana ranked number one in imprisoning its citizens.4 Note the geography of the top five: Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma,
Mississippi, and Alabama. Compare that with the states incarcerating the least: Minnesota, Maine, North Dakota, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. There is something special about the American South. It is the front-runner in crime and in punishment. Sociologists measure incarceration by comparing the number of prisoners to the number of citizens. In 1999, 776 of Louisiana’s citizens were incarcerated for every 100,000 people living in the state. Minnesota’s incarceration rate was 125 per 100,000 Minnesotans.5 Not much has changed. In 2016, Louisiana was still number one at 777. Minnesota’s rate rose to 196, and Maine, with 132, replaced it for the lowest rank.6 Would these men have been imprisoned in Minnesota or Maine? Maybe not, or, at least, not as likely. Zack K. Oakes was twenty-six years old in this photo. James Willis was twenty-two. These men were at the peak age for crime, but most crimes don’t get you to prison, or even jail. What did they do to land in prison? The most robust statistical fact in criminology is called the “agecrime curve.”7 Criminality rises as children grow into adolescence and then subsides as they mature into adulthood. Generation after generation, we know that criminality is most likely between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four. But there is a gap between peak criminality and peak incarceration: prisoners are most commonly in their thirties.8 To be sent to prison usually involves multiple convictions for increasingly serious crimes. This takes time. Most young people will age out of their criminality before they accumulate such a record. What happened to these men to be incarcerated so young? These are photographs of men. That is so expected, we barely notice. Luster also took photos at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, which houses over a thousand women. But the story of crime and punishment is masculine. The national incarceration rate for males is 848 per 100,000 males in the population, but only 64 per 100,000 females.9 In 2016, the United States held 1,353,850 men in prison, but only 105,683 women. The government does not collect data on LGBTQ+ incarceration. But we know a bit about prison hypermasculinity.10 Deprived of many standard (though still limiting) markers of American manhood—having a job, providing for a family, having a bank account, wearing a tie, having sex with women—incarcerated men shrink their perceptions of manhood to the ugliest few—physical aggressiveness, homophobia, competition for status even when all rank at the bottom of society.
When they have sex with other men, whether for need of affection, relief of sexual tension, or a will to power, they will swear by their heterosexuality. What would these men have said about sexuality and manhood? What would have been safe for them to say? Although these men appear to be white, Luster tells us that 70 percent of East Carroll’s inmates were black (though only 32 percent of the Louisiana population was).11 This is no surprise. In 2016, the national incarceration rate for black men was 2,417 per 100,000 black men. The rate for white men was 401 per 100,000 white men.12 Over-incarceration of people of color is universal nationally. There is nothing special about Louisiana. It is true for Blue states. It is true for Red states. If we could ask these men questions about their lives in prison, what would they say? Deborah Luster photographed people whose humanity was hidden. Is it possible to see their humanity? To do so, we must know their stories, which are yet to be told. They have life histories—probably of hardship and victimization. There is also the accounting of their crimes and the harm they caused to others. Who was harmed? What is their story? What could these men have done (perhaps instead of serving time) to truly take responsibility and make amends? The restorative justice movement focuses on identifying and repairing harm rather than
Deborah Luster (born 1951), E.C.P.P.F. 1 (James Willis, Transylvania, Louisiana) (from One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana), 1999 Silver emulsion on aluminum, 4 ⁷⁄₈ × 4 in. The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2015.1.414
assigning blame and punishment. Rather than seeing crime as a violation of law, it views crime as a violation of relationships. Offenders and victims are linked and, often, their pathways toward recovery and responsibility are through dialogues of mutual understanding and the fulfillment of obligations to make things right. Luster called her project One Big Self. Offender and victim, inextricably linked. Two people, one big self. 1 Deborah Luster, “The Reappearance of Those Who Have Gone,” introduction to One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (Santa Fe, NM: Twin Palms Publishers, 2003), np. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Allen J. Beck, Prisoners in 1999 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000), https://www.bjs.gov/content/ pub/pdf/p99.pdf. 5 Ibid. 6 E. Ann Carson, Prisoners in 2016 (Washington, DC: US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2017), https://www.bjs.gov/content/ pub/pdf/p16.pdf. 7 Jeffrey T. Ulmer and Darrell Steffensmeier, “The Age and Crime Relationship: Social Variation, Social Explanations,” in The Nurture versus Biosocial Debate in Criminology: On the Origins of Criminal Behavior and Criminality, ed. Kevin M. Beaver, Brian B. Boutwell, and J. C. Barnes (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 2014): 377–96. 8 Carson, Prisoners in 2016. 9 Ibid.
Deborah Luster (born 1951), E.C.P.P.F. 40 (Zack K. Oakes, Transylvania, Louisiana) (from One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana), 1998 Silver emulsion on aluminum, 5 × 4 in. On extended loan from the collection of Jack Shear, EL2015.1.8
10 David Karp, “Unlocking Men, Unmasking Masculinities: Doing Men’s Work in Prison,” Journal of Men’s Studies 18, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 63–83. 11 Luster, “The Reappearance of Those Who Have Gone,” np. 12 Carson, Prisoners in 2016.
Get Up, Stand Up: Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship
The seventh panel in the Accelerator Series—and the first of the academic year—was held on September 24, 2018. Curator-at-Large Isolde Brielmaier moderated a discussion with artist Sam Durant, artist and For Freedoms cofounder Eric Gottesman, and Skidmore Assistant Professor of Marketing, Management, and Business Minita Sanghvi.
Isolde Brielmaier How would each of you define citizenship? And how do you think we as a society here in the United States generally define it? Eric Gottesman When I think of citizenship, I think of belonging. Something that we’ve been saying as part of For Freedoms is that citizenship is defined not through status, not through ideology, but through participating. I think of citizenship as a form of active participation. Minita Sanghvi I’m going to differ from Eric. To me, citizenship was $640. That was the price one pays for the N-400 form to get naturalized plus $85 for the biometrics test. And $725 is not necessarily accessible to all. And this is not including lawyer fees, the two days that I had to take off work—one day for the interview and test and another day once you’re approved to go and say the Pledge of Allegiance and become a citizen— or the business-casual clothes you have to buy to stand in front of a judge. A lot of people would want to actively participate and become citizens and cannot. For immigrants, there’s this thing called US citizenship that you aspire to. For a lot of people who come here as students or refugees or asylum seekers, it’s a long path. It’s a frustrating path, and it’s an aspiration. And we are participating in America in every single way all through that process, but we are not citizens. And when we go talk to our representatives, we are aware that our voice means little to them because we are constituents but not citizens, and so we don’t have the vote to say, “In November, I’m going to show you.” IB It’s interesting that you boil it down to purely transactional terms. Sam Durant In general, the idea of citizenship is different from the idea of rights, particularly the idea of human rights. Citizenship is something that can be given and taken away. Citizenship comes with obligations and responsibilities as well as rights. And we owe it to each other to live up to the ideals of what it means to be a citizen, to participate in the society that we have, fully, to give as well as take. If we don’t, then we’re going along with something that, especially these days, we might not be too happy with.
On Navigating Forgiveness, Redemption, and Rejection
The ninth panel in the Accelerator Series was held on February 11, 2019. Curator-at-Large Isolde Brielmaier moderated a discussion with artist Alexandra Bell, artist and New York University Professor of Art and Art Education Lyle Ashton Harris, and Skidmore Professor of Sociology and Director of the Project on Restorative Justice David Karp.
David Karp It seems to me like there are parallel pathways for forgiveness, and one is interactive. The other is personal and private, which is not about the other person or the system that was unjust. It’s about your own personal process and coping and transformation, whatever that may be. First steps can really vary depending upon what the goal is. Some people are motivated by a personal healing journey that’s independent and has nothing to do with the side that caused harm and everything to do with either an inward journey or an affinity group, your own community that you do the work with. So that’s one first step. The other first step would be interactive: I can’t move forward unless I hold you accountable in some way. I can’t forgive you unless you deserve the forgiveness. Isolde Brielmaier How much does accountability play into forgiveness, particularly when you’re talking about larger issues of racism, extreme violence, genocide? Can accountability and forgiveness occur simultaneously? Lyle Ashton Harris I don’t think we live in the world where those two are separate or one can make a distinction between them. Martin Luther King Jr. said it is integrated. One could not forgive the other without actually looking at oneself. That was the ethic of love in his platform. Think about truth and reconciliation in South Africa, Rwanda, Tibet. How do we do the necessary healing work as a way to reimagine, let’s say, being fully prepared and integrated to deal with these larger issues? Alexandra Bell The word forgiveness is a struggle for me because it feels like this final thing, like a period. And I always hear if you forgive someone, you’re freeing up yourself, and I’m wondering, in the absence of forgiveness, isn’t there something else, another emotion that may be sustainable? It’s not outright contempt or hate, it might not be active rage, but it doesn’t mean that there’s forgiveness. Accountability is a continuous, active thing. I don’t know if forgiveness is required for that to exist.
Food Futures: Food Justice, Sustainability, and Well-Being The tenth and final panel in the Accelerator Series was held on March 4, 2019. Curator-at-Large Isolde Brielmaier moderated a discussion with artist and urban farmer Kate Daughdrill, Wesleyan Associate Professor of Science in Society Anthony Hatch, and farmer and food sovereignty activist Leah Penniman.
Isolde Brielmaier Let’s start with the basic concepts of food justice and food security. Where and how do we conceive of these ideas, how are they connected to us as individuals, in your work, and in communities locally and globally? Leah Penniman We need to start asking not just who’s eating food, but who controls the land? Who gets to farm? Who controls the seed? Who controls the markets? Who decides what’s grown? What profit share is going to the farm workers as compared to multinational corporations? As my daughter, Neshima, says, the food system is everything it takes to get sunshine onto your plate. It’s about justice all the way through. Anthony Hatch The term food security is a US government term meant to give the government a way to describe patterns of access to food where one is either food secure, meaning you have access to food locally, within a mile or so, or food insecure. That was the central metric by which the government was looking at questions of food, health, nutrition. It was all about access and proximity. The term food security places food in the context of a discourse of war and of the state and its power. Some of my thinking looks at food as a technology of war and how we wrestle that out of the hands of people who seek to make war on us through food and take it in another direction. And this is more the food sovereignty direction where we actually have a place to grow and a place to have some control over our food. We want to shift the conversation away from thinking about securitization and who is secure and insecure. We already know who that is largely. Kate Daughdrill I bought a house in Detroit, and there were vacant lots next to it. So I said, well, it makes sense to garden. Let me invite my neighbors to garden with me. We started gardening, and growing food completely changed my life. My art practice and my gardening practice fused, and I began to see how food could bring people together as a creative medium around dinners, around edible creative activities. My neighborhood is really diverse—Bengali, Yemeni, black, white. It used to be Polish and Ukrainian auto-worker homes. That mix of different people coming together and seeing how each person has something to contribute to the garden, and also to their own gardens, has been very magical. I came to food justice very organically and from a sense of, here is this important, elemental, life-giving thing that we all need—how are people taking control of that for themselves? And with people from all these different backgrounds, how are we working together to do that? Where are the limitations? Where do we have strengths to help one another?
on empathic looking
Associate Professor of American Studies Beck Krefting curated the exhibition When and Where I Enter with students in her spring 2018 “Critical Whiteness” course. The relationship between you and art is active—you make meaning of the object you see in front of you. The exhibition When and Where I Enter sought to guide that meaningmaking process by tasking visitors with empathic looking. Imagine how it feels to fight in a war for democracy while serving in racially segregated divisions like the African American men of World War II, depicted in Joachim Schmid’s found photography work, did. Empathic looking means to simultaneously engage with racialized, gendered, and classed histories, connect them to the present, and pause for self-reflection. In those pauses, ideological winds stir and fires of change ignite. Fifteen Skidmore College students and I co-curated When and Where I Enter as part of coursework for the upper-level American studies seminar “Critical Whiteness.” Students applied course concepts to art objects, researching nearly fifty works from the Tang collection. The twelve works selected displace the white subject, call attention to histories of colonization and exploitation, reflect shifting constructions of race, and beg questions of cultural appropriation. Students learned about the curatorial process and wrote the introductory text and extended labels for a brochure that accompanied the exhibition. For most students, this experience was their first time analyzing and writing about art. In a society that casts white as the invisible norm, as the default, as the unspoken, this exhibition attempted to make whiteness strange. Critical whiteness studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines race as historically, geographically, and globally contextual and contingent; and it examines whiteness as a system of privilege and part of a larger constructed racial order. In the course, we use historical accounts, legal cases, literature, and art to examine the shifting constructions of race in the United States at various points in the country’s history. We attend to the ways science, law, government, and religion colluded in the creation of a racial order predicated on white supremacy. Artists have long sought to capture and recapitulate these realities back to the masses. Carrie Mae Weems’s When and Where I Enter the British Museum (2006) depicts a stationary Weems dressed in black facing the foreboding facade of the immense British Museum. Pensive and stoic in this standoff between individual and institution, she is eclipsed by the immensity of the structure, a signifier of imperialism and conquest, the objects inside extracted by the British from other nations and cultures. This photograph offered an arresting visual around which the exhibition crystallized. Imagine what it is like to enter a museum and be misrepresented or not represented at all.
The title of the Weems photograph references Paula Giddings’s book When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (1984). The text examines African American women’s place in US history and, like Weems’s photograph, Giddings’s book implicates past historical accounts as inchoate and problematic in their depictions of black women. Similarly, read as sites of knowledge acquisition, museums fashion narratives around national identity occluding racialized Others. This can make it uncomfortable for Carrie Mae Weems to enter the British Museum. Will sacred objects from her ancestral lands be on display and in what context? Will she find evidence of her history here at all? We wanted visitors to enter the gallery conscious of the ways identity
informs one’s experience of all public spaces, but especially heritage sites, government buildings, universities, and museums. Scholars Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s racial formation theories are foundational to learning to approach history as a series of racial projects. They define a racial project as “simultaneously an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics, and an effort to reorganize and redistribute resources along particular racial lines.”1 Social groups struggle over the redistribution of resources as a way to maintain or challenge the racial order—this plays out in media, politics, popular culture, and fine arts. Examples of racial projects meant to equitably reorganize and redistribute the racial order include affirmative action programs, cultural and financial reparations, and mixed-race coalition building. Examples that reify the racial order include voting laws that disproportionately and negatively affect the disenfranchised, racial profiling, and harmful media representations. Consider the staying power of the mammy or jezebel stock characters and the hold such representations can have over our collective imagination, shaping beliefs that inform our laws and institutions as well as our social interactions. If stock characters function as a racial project that redistributes resources in an ideological sense, what happens when you use the same stock characters to the
Andrea Robbins (born 1963) and Max Becher (born 1964), German Indians: Meeting, 1998 Chromogenic print, 16 ¹⁄₈ � 23 ¹⁄₈ in. Gift of the Ann and Mel Schaffer Family Collection, 2017.22.11
Student co-curators: Nora Carden ’20 Eve Gertzman ’20 Magden Gipe ’18 Maria-Lian Glander ’18 Max Grossman ’20 Reshma Harripersad ’19 Dana Keyes-Gibbons ’19 Devon Kilburn ’18 Grant Landau-Williams ’19 Ali Milazzo ’18 Devika Nambiar ’20
opposite effect? Artist Kara Walker uses black caricatures from the antebellum South and connects them to contemporary racisms by depicting scenes that are often described as lewd, lyrical, and horrific. Her work demonstrates the uncomfortable ways racist and sexist stereotypes influence our everyday lives. Kara Walker’s The Bush, Skinny, De-boning (2002)— three steel silhouettes cut with exaggerated features typical of racist caricatures—shows African American women doing daily plantation work: gardening, caring for children, and cooking dinner. However, there are inversions of racial power as each of the women own the means of violence traditionally used against them. One woman wears a Klan hood and ominously feeds a kneeling child, and another wields a knife in one hand and a human head in the other, reminiscent of the more ubiquitous tableau of a woman decapitating a chicken. The third woman has gouged out her sexual organs with a garden hoe; she is, like the other women, in control of
Zoe Resnick ’18 Allison Trunkey ’18 Isaac Weiss-Meyer ’20 Rose White ’20
the violence and owner of her reproductive capabilities. Imagine what it would be like to be a black woman in the antebellum South and consider that many of the same issues—white supremacy, sexual violence, and negative representations—persist today. 1 Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (New York and London: Routledge, 1994), 56.
Skidmore Associate Professor and Chair of American Studies Beck Krefting teaches courses that range in focus from comedic cultural forms to food pathways to disorderly women, and her research focuses on feminist comedy studies. She presents her work nationally and internationally and is the author of All Joking Aside: American Humor and Its Discontents.
James Barnor Untitled, Accra, Ghana 1975
Jada James ’18 For many women with Afro-textured hair, manipulation is a tool to fit in, to conform, and to feel beautiful. The realization that beauty can only be tangible after manipulation can stir a drive to create our own space and our own definitions of what it means to fit in, or a drive to make our own peace by feeling beautiful with our natural hair. We ask ourselves: How will this play out in society? How will it become normalized? The truth is, for centuries, it has been and, in many places, is “normal.” It’s all about perspective—perspectives that can be altered and pushed by a particular society’s view of black phenotypes. James Barnor presents a casual and familiar vantage point of a normal girl with normal hair. This photograph is about the viewer as much as it is about the subject. It brings forward ideas of the ways in which viewers feel about themselves and the beauty standards they’ve either accepted or rejected. Your reaction to the subject’s hair texture, the parting, the knots, and even the shorter strands in the lower back of her head is a reflection of your own values. Some folks would look at this hair and immediately want to brush or gel or “tame” the back section. Some may admire the parting; some are wondering if she wears the Bantu knots as is or takes them down for a spiral curl look. The date of the image, 1975, adds more depth. I see this photograph reflecting the present day. This hairstyle was one of the first that I tried when deciding to go natural. The photograph reminds us that someone somewhere is making a conscious decision to be their natural black selves, just like she was here, like I am now, and like many will in the future. White supremacy has shaken the diasporic black community so vigorously, especially in the United States, that “being natural” is a very specific
state. It acknowledges an uncommon, constant, and deliberate effort to not chemically manipulate your hair in aspiration for straighter strands. Barnor captures his muse just being—being a woman, being black, and being natural. This photograph is homage to the girls who would get home and hang their head down in their inner elbows, just like her, after a long day of bullying and ridicule for wearing their hair in styles that enhance rather than erase their Africanness. Barnor captures a still image of a very particular essence. An essence in her that many black women can relate to. The essence of being you.
James Barnor, Untitled, Accra, Ghana, 1975, printed 2018 Gelatin silver print, 10 ⁵⁄₈ � 10 ³⁄₄ in. Tang purchase, 2018.22.2
DAESHA DEVÃ&#x201C;N HARRIS, LUIS JIMENEZ INOA, AND KAMBUI OLUJIMI ON FAMILY PHOTOS
On March 22, 2019, Daesha Devón Harris, Luis Jimenez Inoa, and Kambui Olujimi sat down with Dayton Director Ian Berry and Mellon Collections Curator Rebecca McNamara to look through a recently acquired collection of vernacular photographs. Daesha Devón Harris I like these pictures of people enjoying the outdoors or flora and fauna in the photo with people. Luis Jimenez Inoa I am particularly drawn to photos that disrupt stereotypes. Black people don’t go near water, right? Black folks aren’t typically captured having fun, or . . . DDH Or going outdoors. LJI I don’t know if you ever took a picture in front of a car that wasn’t yours? Kambui Olujimi I have—ages five to eleven. LJI I’m curious about things that show possession, things that show wealth, or what it means for people who have historically and generationally been owned to begin to own things, and how that might be caught in photos. You see these car pictures, toy pictures . . . KO As a little kid, you do the same thing. You’re like, “This is mine.” DDH Yes! KO This is mine; let’s take a picture with it. DDH I feel it’s less about possession, and more, this is the fruit of my labor. This is evidence of my work and pride. Of course, we all have been in front of those fancy cars, where it’s just about the car. But look at this adorable couple in front of a home. I love these photos. Homeownership is still such a fight. I particularly love this one of the woman in the garden with her onions or potatoes and tomatoes. She’s so proud of the garden. I’m a gardener, so I know how that feels. That’s been in my family for as long as I can remember. Both sides, gardening. My cousins think it’s hysterical. It’s as if it’s gone out of our family memory from living in the city for so long. And so, when they come over, they’re like, “Oh, Daesha, you’re so weird.” But this is what our grandmother did to feed the family. We lose sight of the history that’s not so far back at all. These are the kinds of activities that you never see popularized.
KO The beach pictures stand out for me because elsewhere, you don’t see black intimacy much. Moments where you’re at the beach and it’s your body, but it’s not charged in the way that the black body often gets framed in America. It’s sensual, it’s jokey, it’s goofy. The continuum, the spectrum, is there. Like, I’m in the water, but I don’t want to get wet. I’m literally climbing on you, even though I’m grown. From this one, which is like, I worked all summer for us to make this fantasy of Virginia Beach, to okay, wait, wait, hold on, get it, I have, like, my leg, wait, put your leg, like, here . . . There’s an absurdity here. That’s the space of the beach—everyone is basically in their underwear, playing, laughing, doing all the things that the barrier of clothing holds down. LJI Those pictures are similar to these, where somebody is holding somebody else. There is typically a little bit more intimacy between people in the beach pictures. Not as often men with men. And even in the pictures of home, when you find people in the living room, and they’re holding each other, not often is a black male touching another black male. You might find these in army photos, but images of intimacy between black men and their children or family members are scarce. DDH I also wonder who is taking the photo. Because in my family, it was my uncle who was the photographer or my grandfather who was the photographer and always had the camera. LJI They’re there, but not in the picture. In my family, it was my father who was the photographer, and so he’s not in a lot of pictures. And when I see him in a picture, it’s special. And the same with my family, I’m the one that ends up taking the pictures. KO Unfortunately, I think part of it is homophobia, and the homo phobia of the time, and notions of upstandingness. Status quo plays into a lot of these, where you don’t want to record anything that is not on par. I think about this a lot. I want my nephews to see that I’m loved, and how I’m loved by my brothers. Some of it is awkward. I think we’ve seen the subtle awkwardness of the everyday in many of these pictures. LJI There’s something about finding the holy in the ordinary— you know, the things that make something special. And how often are those captured from day to day? DDH This whole collection in general has never been our public narrative, which is why it’s so lovely. All these different aspects that we’re still resisting and fighting against. Stereotypical images of us are so normal. I’m so happy that this museum has alternative imagery as references for the students.
LJI It certainly made me think about what it means to have a subject, in terms of what you’re photographing . . . But these photos are meant for the family. Would it be too cheesy to say, “now I am family”? Or am I intruding on a private moment that was never really meant for my eyes? For these particular photos, this was meant to send to Grandma, meant for Grandma’s eyes. This was meant for her to be able to look back, not meant for Luis in 2019 to sift through. What does it mean for family photos that capture rather intimate moments to be out for public consumption, for the public gaze? KO I think about how time erodes privacy. You’re a kid, and you have this secret, and you fold it up, and you put it away. As time goes on, whether it’s a tomb in ancient Egypt or the attic with all your diaries, there’s a way in which time eats away at the shell of our privacy. And the same thing as things move. In Brooklyn, when I’m looking at found photographs in flea markets, a lot of times they’re estates. You die, and your forty thousand heartfelt photographs are now junk. It’s a shift of value, and that shift cracks open that shell of privacy. DDH Isn’t that the history of art, though? We are constantly reinterpreting images and visuals and mementos from the past. LJI One of the ways I try to teach classes in black studies, specifically for black and Latinx students, is to understand themselves as worthy of intellectual inquiry, to see themselves as art, to see themselves as beautiful, and to introduce that into the classroom. I’m not simply saying black lives, or black photos, matter, or that simply we
What does it mean to center black reality, black life, black joy . . . should see black lives as subjects in these ways. But there is something about black lives as beautiful. And them being captured in these various ways. I’m much more interested in how, if you brought your photo album in and you brought your photo album in, what the conversation would look like. What conversations between your own family photos and these photos look like offers really powerful possibilities for our students as a teaching mechanism—teaching or understanding or valuing the self—that would be incredible. KO Those intersections are there. I kind of grew up in a photo lab, and it was all about that connecting—these Russian ladies sitting out near Coney on their lawn chairs on the concrete sipping Bloody Marys, same-same. There’s
the Dominican men right around the corner playing dominoes, same-same. And maybe it’s like me growing up in Brooklyn, my notion of what it is to be black in Brooklyn, in Bed-Stuy; it was a woven space. It was lox and cream cheese, curry roti. And some people would say, “No, that’s only a Jewish thing.” Are you sure? We eat it every day. Ian Berry I like the idea of the collection as a catalyst for bringing your own stories in. That’s a great value. And sometimes the spec ificity of a thing, the focus of a thing, helps get that started. KO It’s hard to get found photos. Throughout the process of art making, you see it over and over in art books, you see it in figure drawing. It’s a tool, and it’s a way to time travel; it’s super useful. As an archive, it’s kind of wack. As a living thing that gets used, it’s really charged and energetic, especially when it can get mixed up. LJI I like the collection as is. It’s not to say that it shouldn’t be in conversation with other collections, but for me, what I’d like to do with students, independent of where they’re coming
Photographers, titles, and most dates unrecorded Top center, 1962; center left, 1987; lower left, 1975 Color photographs and gelatin silver prints Various sizes, ranging from 3 ¹⁄₂ � 3 ³⁄₈ in. to 9 ¹⁄₂ � 7 ⁵⁄₈ in. Gifts of Peter J. Cohen, 2018.12.176, .8, .500, .121, .9, .171, .77
from, is draw inspiration from these photos, and to then think through stories that they want to tell. What stories do you see, and what stories remind you of your own families, independent of where you’re coming from? And some of that is asking, what does it mean to center black reality, black life, black joy . . . KO American life. LJI American life, right! And to have that inform your thinking, moving forward, creating something. Too often we think about the number of shootings that we’ve had over this five-year span, and it feels like black folk are presented as subhuman, not human, and not capable of something else, right? And then you have to reckon with these photos. You have to really sit with these photos and understand and value the experiences, the stories, the lives of these individuals. There’s value in drawing inspiration from these photos as a collection. And then after that, what’s the conversation between these photos and other collections? Rebecca McNamara How do you think this collection of vernacular photographs does or does not fit with themes of black experiences or depicting joy? KO Black joy, black rhapsody, is not historicized in most academies, museums, or collections. And that’s conscious, and it speaks to the understanding of black experience within the narrative created by white Americans. But it’s crucial to have black joy within American cultural institutions. And some of these images really talk about that. LJI It’s clear that there’s multiracial representation here, but it’s probably just as clear for me that there may be multiracial representation over here as well, multiracial representation here . . . You can’t take a black family and it not in some way already be complex. Some of these also show this presence of whiteness. It’s interesting that she’s sitting in the middle here; what does it mean to center blackness in a room that
is white? Which reminds me of how I feel when I’m navigating Saratoga Springs sometimes. RM What does it mean if we keep these photographs of black family life as a collection, and as a collection, they’re viewed by our mostly white community? DDH I think it’s very helpful. Because this is a humongous portion of our lives that they probably have never seen or didn’t know existed. So it’s as important that they see it as it is that we see the reflection of ourselves. LJI Like anything that’s been memorialized, statues or photos, it’s thinking about the questions that you want people to be asking themselves as they’re looking at these things. What are you reflecting on as you’re looking? Simply viewing them for the sake of seeing black bodies wouldn’t be sufficient. But asking students to think through why this collection exists, what they’re thinking about as they’re looking through it, what they’re reminded of as they’re looking through it—I think would be really powerful. DDH It’s not just important to the students of color; it’s equally important for the rest of the students to know that we’re out there and of equal importance. It’s important for everybody. KO Diversity is the breeding ground of invention. It shows itself as truth over and over and over again. And I think history redefines and re-centers who innovates. These narratives describe the American experience. African American history is American history. It is critical to refocus how we describe humanity and understanding the full spectrum and resonance of what makes us, you know? This is what makes us. Who’s taking this photo of this guy in a KKK robe? I’ve seen pictures of KKK events, but where is this? Someone’s basement? LJI For me, this particular photo makes me think, can black joy ever escape? This image exists in a collection of black vernacular, black family photos, but there’s still this presence of white supremacy. The fact that it’s here in this collection is a stark reminder. IB Daesha, you talked about how you’re interested in inserting things in museums and archives that don’t already exist there. And you were describing how this works in some ways toward that. DDH It’s definitely a great start. It’s certainly not close to the
whole story, but there are moments. We had these photos arranged in different groups for whatever reason, and each one is a different topic of the black experience. And it’s wonderful. I had this pile here of little girls and dolls. I’m always interested in those photographs. LJI What kind of doll they’re holding? DDH Yeah, to see what kind of doll they’re holding. Thinking about the “doll test,” and in general, the European standard of beauty and how that talks about self-worth and internalized selfhatred and all that stuff. There’s this one where the girl has a new doll and then the old doll is over at a table with its head down. Her nice, new white doll has replaced her old black doll. KO For me, it’s always important to acknowledge not knowing the edges. I was thinking, this is not a collection of the black experience—it’s many black experiences. I’m not an expert myself. And that expectation comes out of a notion of essentialism. But we understand the balance of the boundlessness of human experience. And so this is a beginning of an acknowledgment of an unknowing. You didn’t really know. For example, these women. I felt like this photo talks about women in power and what that looks like. Is this a council of women? They could be principals. They could be writers. IB They could be war widows. DDH Spanish-American War veterans’ widows. My grandmother was in that auxiliary. KO World War II munitions workers. It’s important to have the collection expand and know that you’re not at the end. LJI I’m wondering if part of it is that these things have to be found, and somebody has to find value to bring them into a collection. Maybe it goes beyond illumination, which means that something sits on the surface and we’re shedding light on it, as opposed to it requiring a level of excavation. DDH Or interaction. LJI Yeah, there’s an unearthing of these things. They have to be found to see the light of day. That excavation has to happen. KO That also happens in the living, the working. The things we don’t touch die. In that touching we give things life again. DDH There are so many nuances of everyday life that you don’t
really see outside of your home or family. There’s a wealth of content in here. LJI The first time that I’d been exposed to this collection, it inspired me to go home to my mom and to my own collection of these same kinds of pictures. I ran into a picture of my grandmother whose face I hadn’t seen in a while, and she became alive in that moment when I unearthed this picture. Let it see light again, you know? But there’s a thread that exists between my old family photo albums and these photos, and the pictures I have on my phone as well that is important for me. These exist in conversation with your life, too. DDH And that life is valuable.
Daesha Devón Harris is an artist and photographer based in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her multicultural family and the unexpected death of her young father have greatly shaped her life while the gentrification of her hometown and its effects on the local Black community have played a major role in both her advocacy work and artistic practice. Harris has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship, and is Lecturer in MDOCS and Teaching Faculty for the Storytellers’ Institute at Skidmore College. Luis Jimenez Inoa is the associate dean of the college at Vassar College. He is the creator of “English Tongue, Latin Soul,” a one-person piece wrapped in story, photography, music, and poetry. Inoa identifies as a fortysomething, 2.5 generation English-speaking Latino, middle-class, grandfather, son, brother, father, husband, and lover of life. Kambui Olujimi is a multidisciplinary artist whose work focuses on social commentary and exploring systems of power, invisible hierarchies, and everyday life. His work has been exhibited at museums and galleries across the United States and at the Sundance Film Festival as well as internationally.
I, Too, Sing America On Race in Leonard Bernstein’s Songfest In 2018, the Skidmore music department cele brated the centennial of composer and social activist Leonard Bernstein in a festival of three unique performances. Concurrent with the festival, on November 30, 2018, the Tang collaborated with the music and sociology departments to foster a dialogue on racial issues explored in the iconic artist’s Songfest. Music Department Artist-inResidence Sylvia Stoner organized the event, which began with an introduction to the song-cycle by University of Kansas Professor of Musicology Paul Laird, readings of poems from the cycle, and performances of “A Julia de Burgos” by Victoria Botero and “I, Too, Sing America” by Christin-Marie Hill and Eric McKeever, with pianist Michael Clement. A panel discussion with the singers on issues of race within the song-cycle, moderated by Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of the Intergroup Relations Program Jennifer C. Mueller, followed.
Originally commissioned to be a celebration of the American Bicentennial Year (1976), Songfest is an orchestral song-cycle in twelve movements that celebrates the words of thirteen American poets. Behind the performers and panelists is a selection of photographs from the 1930s through the 1990s representing a snapshot of American life.
As part of the evening’s events, students read poems set by Leonard Bernstein in Songfest. Brittany Watts-Hendrixs ’20 read “I, Too, Sing America” by Langston Hughes Destiny Donaldson ’21 read “Okay, ‘Negroes’” by June Jordan Caroline Moe ’19 and Rachel Perez ’19 read “A Julia de Burgos” by Julia de Burgos
Christin-Marie Hill — Mezzo-soprano Solo “What my lips have kissed” (Edna St. Vincent Millay) To me, Songfest is a dynamic, inclusive expression of patriotism that simultaneously celebrates and laments the American experience in all its splendor and complexities. It is a collage of snapshots of America as it varies through the lenses of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. I am stricken by how timeless this piece is when viewed within the context of our nation’s current identity struggles. What does it mean to be American and who does the American dream belong to? In a time when what patriotism is has become a polarizing question in the national dialogue (e.g., NFL kneeling protests), Songfest reflects the idea that looking at one’s country and its injustices with an unflinching and critical eye is at the heart of what it means to be a patriot.
Nan Goldin (born 1953), Picnic on the Esplanade, Boston 1973 (from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency), Cibachrome print, 11 � 14 in., The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2018.39.1.93
Victoria Botero — Soprano Solo “A Julia de Burgos” (Julia de Burgos) As the daughter of immigrants—my family is originally from Colombia—it’s been a conversation my whole life of what it means to be an American. When I look at the trajectory of my parents’ immigration stories, I look at where they came from, and how they arrived here, the lives that they’ve created, and now, more than fifty years into living in this country, they are more American than I will ever be. My parents define the story of coming to this country and making it happen in whatever way that you can. Songfest is not a complete picture of America. But I see my parents reflected in the stories it tells. My mother tells me that, when I was little, I used to walk around the house shouting my name and pounding my chest. Bernstein’s setting of A Julia de Burgos is a more sophisticated version of that idea, asserting identity and agency by repeating one’s name, loudly! It’s important to me that Bernstein kept the poem in Spanish instead of translating it. I feel like he was acknowledging the uniqueness of Latinx contributions
to American culture. Julia de Burgos died in 1953, before she could witness the fullness of the civil rights movement for which she tirelessly worked. This song is a wonderful homage to all the women who nurtured the flame by writing honestly about their lives before people were really paying attention. Alexander Turpin — Tenor Solo “Zizi’s Lament” (Gregory Corso) It seems to me that Songfest is a piece that explores the common experiences that we all share as humans, be it unrequited love, uncomfortable coming-of-age encounters, despair and disenfranchisement, or the longing to create something of value. “Zizi’s Lament” concerns itself with potentially one of the most persistent and inevitable of these shared experiences: the search for a sense of belonging. In the poem, the speaker bemoans his lack of the “laughing sickness”; that is to say, he cannot seem to find his enthusiasm for life. It seems, however, that this is not for lack of trying. He has experienced any number of supposedly pleasurable things (“I have worn the splendid gowns of Sudan, / carried the magnificent halivas of Boudodin Bros. / kissed the singing Fatimas of the pimp of Aden, / wrote glorious psalms in Hakhaliba’s cafe”) but he has not found any such enjoyment. The singer is unable to join everyone else in such a dance because he has no zeal for life and feels he does not belong. Whether or not the others in such a “dance” think the same of him matters little; his own perception of himself has already locked him out of what he sees as a private club. I was struck by this photo behind me in which they all seem to be interacting with one another and having a really good time, but there’s this one person who’s looking off completely in the wrong direction. And maybe that’s that person. And then I felt like I was looking at it in too much of a simple way. All of the people in that photo are that person. Part of being an American is that wonderful uncertainty of what being an American is. That uncertainty strikes me as a really beautiful thing. Sylvia Stoner — Soprano Solo “Music I Heard With You” (Conrad Aiken) The sense of loss in Conrad Aiken’s “Music I Heard With You” resonates powerfully with me, and I cannot help but think of my mother when I sing this song. She passed away last November, and I am constantly confronting this new reality. His use of dissonance is quite appropriate in the disorienting feeling one has when processing grief, but his beautiful melody also indicates the love that will remain despite that loss. I developed the proposal to do Songfest at Skidmore while I was sitting with my dying mother at her rocking chair. As a single mom, she taught me to value all of the members of my inner-city community and treat
everyone with respect and understanding. I grew up in the midst of a Polish American community that was seeing an influx of new neighbors from Mexico and Vietnam, and she encouraged me to celebrate all cultures and traditions. She helped me understand that we are all Americans. She instilled in me a quest for justice, and very proudly told of her job transcribing various demonstrations against segregation in the 1960s. This performance is a tribute to her spirit and to all Americans who want to make this nation truly great. “Not needing a military band / nor an elegant forthcoming [ . . . ] But be In a defiant land / of its own a real right thing.” (“To the Poem” by Frank O’Hara). Eric McKeever — Baritone Solo “The Pennycandystore Beyond the El” (Lawrence Ferlinghetti) Duet “I, Too, Sing America” (Langston Hughes)/“Okay ‘Negroes’” (June Jordan) The duet “I, Too”/“Okay ‘Negroes’” is a fascinating look at how two African Americans, one male and one female, from different time periods, see the American experience. The Hughes text speaks of strength and being seen as an equal while the Jordan text seeks to show that no matter what is done, division will always be there. Musically, each voice is distinct with the Hughes text set for a more “classical” European style and the Jordan text combining sharp rhythms, jazz, and contemporary orchestration. Both voices are valid, separated by point of view and time. I figured out for myself what it is to be an African American gay opera singer who has to present themselves in a classical sense and simultaneously seek acceptance. I don’t know Bernstein’s intention in the
1970s when he put these two poems together, showing opposing thoughts of how to be an African American. But through a 2018 lens, we struggle as people who are of color and educated but at the same time don’t want to apologize for our culture and how we want to live. CMH — Mezzo-soprano Duet “I, Too, Sing America” (Langston Hughes)/“Okay ‘Negroes’”(June Jordan) The duet “I, Too, Sing America/”Okay ‘Negroes’” weaves together the words of two poems, each reflecting a differ ent reaction to racism and inequality in America. Hughes’s words give voice to a patriotic pride and hope—all while acknowledging the denial of the American dream to black people. Jordan’s words express a sarcastic disdain for such hope. The intertwining poems of the duet resonate deeply with my personal experience of growing up in this country. As Americans, we are raised to believe that if we work hard, we will have the same access to opportunity —“a seat at the table.” As African Americans, we are confronted with the reality that this belief is a promise not always kept but are nevertheless inspired by the faith that it can and will be fully realized. It is a bittersweet optimism. The other voice of the poem vibrates with a contrasting cynicism that mocks the naiveté of black people looking for “milk” from “a male white mammy.” These juxtaposed visions of America—hopeful patriotism on one side and defiant black nationalism on the other— resonate with the fundamental internal conflict of black America. It is in essence Martin Luther King Jr. facing Malcolm X. Bernstein gives musical life to this conflict, scoring Hughes’s prose with noble declaratory lines,
while Jordan’s words interrupt with mocking, biting, and playful defiance. I wanted to add that this was extremely personal for me. I came from Evanston, Illinois, which is a northern, super progressive, liberal suburb. When I went to the University of Illinois, most of the other black students were from the South Side of Chicago. I became politically active in organizations geared toward African American issues, and there was so much conflict. It was a battle for what it means to be black and who’s blacker. My idea was that I want to be a person. I just want to be a person. I want to be able to do what the white girls at school do. I probably would’ve been more on the Langston Hughes side, but it was a very real, visceral, oftentimes hostile battlefield for the identity of what it means to be black and how we go forth as black people. In the last two years something amazing and wonderful happened. I have never seen so many white people angry about what happens to people who look like me. I have never seen so many heterosexual people angry about what’s happening to the LGBTQ+ community. People are starting to look up and see that it’s important that we understand that it’s not a black woman over here and an Asian person over there. We are actually all Americans, and what affects one affects us all. If there’s a problem with any group, then it’s a problem for all of us. And we are responsible for that, and I feel that there is a collective responsibility here now that wasn’t here at the time that this piece was written.
kisses his comrade on the lips at parting, and I am someone who is kissed in return. But despite that attempt at being progressive, I don’t see myself ever living with the person that I love freely, openly, matter-of-factly because of perception. I’m looking at this photograph of these two fellas, these two cowboys, by Kurt Markus, and to my eyes, I look at these two gentlemen and see love. It’s a question as to what kind of love they share. It could be filial, it could be familial, maybe brothers, or it could be a romantic, sexual love. We don’t know. But, to me, there’s a mournfulness that’s unspoken here, and I think it’s beautiful. Skidmore Artist-in-Residence in Voice Sylvia Stoner teaches private voice, directs opera workshops, and maintains an active performance schedule throughout the country, including a recent tour of the recent work “Sister—Show Me Eternity.” She has performed with Orvieto Musica and the InterHarmony International Music Festival in Italy. In both teaching and performance, Stoner believes that we have an obligation to heal our world in song.
Dennis Blackwell — Bass-baritone Solo “To What You Said” (Walt Whitman) To me, Songfest is about freedom, love, and hope. These beautiful poems that Maestro Bernstein chose celebrate all three of these elements through the filter of various emotions: defiance, jealousy, restraint, longing, and, at the final movement, exuberance. The quiet solemnity of this movement is striking. It stands apart from the other solo movements in many ways, including the fact that it employs the entire sextet in a unique manner—the bass soloist sings the text of the poem while the other soloists hum a separate tune, a kind of wordless chorale. The affect is powerful: the recurring C minor triad lends a mournfulness, while the repeated bass line implies a quiet resistance that says, “I will not stay quiet about who I am, about who my community is.” The minor triad returns at the end to remind the listener that, in spite of the many steps that our country has made toward accepting people who are perceived as “Other,” we still have a long road ahead of us. Walt Whitman says, I want to introduce this new American salute. I’m a rough and simple person who
Kurt Markus (born 1947), Spanish Ranch, Biggs and Errington, 1983 Gelatin silver print, 19 ¹⁄₄ � 15 in. The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2016.1.73
Duane Michals is an American artist, a gay man, and an early pioneer of what the critic A. D. Coleman once termed “the directorial mode” in photography. By directorial, Coleman meant an approach to image making in which “the photographer consciously and intentionally creates events for the express purpose of making images thereof. This may be achieved by intervening in ongoing ‘real’ events or by staging tableaux.”1 That is, Michals is not concerned with photographic “realism,” capturing things or events in themselves; rather, he arranges the external world into a composition. His work has a cinematic quality, with Michals acting as a film director, often storyboarding images into a narrative sequence. Typically, his photos are accompanied by handwritten captions, which brings the images into focus as intimate, tactile objects.2 Beyond cinema, however, Michals’s work is also theatrical in the specific relation it creates with its viewer. His highly artificial images confront the beholder, dis tancing or interrupting our ability to see them as natural
slices of everyday life. They seem to hail the viewer like actors breaking “the fourth wall” of the proscenium stage;3 they are the photographic remains of a staging in which Michals carefully, graciously posed his subjects. The men who appear in his work seem to perform for us as they once performed for him behind the camera lens. The image becomes theatrical in that its meaning plays out, takes place in the space between the image and the viewer’s body standing (in the gallery) in the directorphotographer’s former position.4 This theatrical quality is apparent in Michals’s Homage to Cavafy (1978), which honors a homosexual author widely considered the greatest modern Greek poet. Constantine Cavafy (1863–1933) lived in the Egyptian city of Alexandria and produced a breathtaking body of lyric poetry that aims, as his most recent trans lator writes, to hold “the historical and the erotic in a single embrace.” 5 Drawing his subjects from memories of former lovers and from the ancient Hellenistic past,
Cavafy’s poetry gently entwines melancholy with arousal, the sensual with the scholarly. Typically, he would draft a poem, set it aside, only to finish it years later, when the remembrance of things past could take a particularly intensive form. His verse pays candid tribute to an experi ence of desire caught amid the flows of time, as in the early poem “Come Back” (drafted 1904; completed 1912): Come back often and take hold of me, beloved feeling come back and take hold of me, when the memory of the body reawakens, and old longing once more passes through the blood; when the lips and skin remember, and the hands feel like they’re touching once again. Come back often and take hold of me at night, when the lips and skin remember . . .6 Cavafy was in his forties when he wrote this poem, but, as with so many of his poems, these amorous lines look back
to his twenties. The imaged past reappears in fragments, as if by lambent lightning flash: a dimpled chin, tanned limbs, the relaxed posture of a slumbering body, the curvature of the lips over the teeth, waves of uncombed hair caught in a seaside breeze. Looking back from a great biographical retrospect as if to preserve those the past has already claimed, Cavafy’s Orphic poetry is marked by the nostalgia of late middle age and by the eros of distance. Michals created his Homage to Cavafy around this same time of life (and under different historical circumstances, amid the gay sexual euphoria of the postStonewall 1970s). It is a poetic sequence of ten images, under each of which appears a caption by Michals in Cavafy’s honor, and often in his “style.” Most of the ten photographs appear to have been shot in an anonymous New York apartment. One features two identical young men in their midtwenties, slender and bare-chested, facing the camera/spectator directly, standing with arms
linked and hands folded across their buttoned jeans. Behind them, there appears a hallway, and to their left, a torch lamp and the face of a piano, with a metronome and closed score. The two youths stare enigmatically— perhaps desirously—at the viewer. There is a mystery here. The caption reads: “There was something between them which they had always sensed, but it would remain unspoken.” Other images bring together the magic briefness of the fleeting moment—an idea so plangent in Cavafy’s work, which photography as a medium is uncannily able to expose—with the theatrical dynamics of voyeurism and exhibitionism. A nude man stands against a weirdly illuminated wallpaper backdrop, pulling his shirt over his shoulders in a blur of motion, obscuring his face. (Caption: “He was unaware that at the exact moment that he removed his undershirt, his body had grown to its perfection. With the next breath, the moment had passed.”) Another man poses, likewise caught in the blur of memory, leaning against a wall, like the statue of some Greek hero. His attitude is a pure come-on to the viewer. Conscious of being viewed from behind, he faces his body away from us, but tilts his head toward us, returning our gaze over his right shoulder. (“After his shower, he dried himself very carefully. And although he would never admit it, it had all been for my benefit.”) Still others seem almost an Homage to Caravaggio, full of chiaroscuro effects, misdirected gazes, inscrutable contexts, dramatic postures. Two shirtless men play cards in a darkened room near the stark light of what seems a basement window: “One is cheating.” Amid piles of detritus, an older man reads the palm of a younger one, both silhouetted against a glowing windowpane. The palm reader knows, “There would be a terrible tragedy.” In each photo, a miniature drama transpires before the viewer’s eyes. We are somewhere between theater and photography, performance and poetry, text and image, cruising the spaces between genres and mediums.
A self-sufficient meaning does not reside in any of these images—that much is clear because the captions are needed as supplements. Deciphering the allegorical clues Michals has left behind, one feels oneself viewing in an “indeterminate, open-ended” relation to the theatrical object of one’s gaze.7 In my favorite image in the series, a nude young man sits beside the bed of an older one, who is covered in white sheets and appears to be sleeping peacefully. The angelic youth drapes his left arm gently over his head, exposing his armpit and side. His right hand reaches out toward the reclining older figure. It is a gesture of simplicity and elegance, a sort of classical sprezzatura, and an emblem of desire and mourning. A large window at right illuminates the scene. Its brightness isolates and seg ments the young man’s extended forearm, the shape of his reaching hand as delicate as the stalk of an Easter lily, creating a sharp play of light and dark against the white wall behind. The boy’s fingers longingly approach the older man’s body: age, remembrance, and the smallest blank space separate them. Caption: “The son returned home in the afternoon, but he was too late. The father had died in the morning.” In Cavafy’s work, mourning and desire mingle within the theater of memory, an older man reaching out to hold the bodies of his ghostly lovers, longing for the embrace of their arms. In Michals’s Homage, a younger artist similarly reaches to enfold an older predecessor— a father he never knew, a youth he never loved, another self he never met. In the spaces between, their lives remain distanced, but their times touch. Skidmore Assistant Professor of English Joseph Cermatori teaches and writes about modern drama and performance. He is working on his first book, currently titled Baroque Modernity: Toward an Ever Original Theatrical Aesthetics. His critical writing appears regularly in the journal PAJ, where he is a contributing editor.
Duane Michals (born 1932), three prints from the portfolio Homage to Cavafy, 1978 Gelatin silver prints, 8 � 10 in. (each) The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2015.1.474.1, .9, .10
1 A. D. Coleman, “The Directorial Mode: Notes Toward a Definition” (1976), in Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present, ed. Vicki Goldberg (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988), 484. 2 Throughout this essay, my emphasis on the tactile quality of these works is largely indebted to the writings of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, notably Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003). 3 Here, I borrow and summarize Michael Fried’s well-known definition of theatricality in the visual
arts. Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood” (1967), in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 116–47. Michals’s inclination toward theatricality is even more pronounced in his recent book The Adventures of Constantine Cavafy (Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 2007), which stages scenes from Cavafy’s poetry and life with the Broadway actor Joel Grey in the role of the aging Greek poet. Fried, describing Robert Morris’s sculptures and the theatricality of what he calls “literalist” art more broadly, writes: “Whereas in previous art ‘what is to
be had from the work is located strictly within [it],’ the experience of literalist art is of an object in a situation—one that, virtually by definition, includes the beholder. [ . . . ] including, it seems, the beholder’s body.” “Art and Objecthood,” 135–37. 4 Daniel Mendelsohn, introduction to C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems, trans. Daniel Mendelsohn (New York: Knopf, 2009), xxxiii. 5 Cavafy, Collected Poems, 47. 6 Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” 128.
E. J. Bellocq Untitled (Storyville Portrait) c. 1912 Jess Lincoln ’20 Trained in commercial photography and posthumously gaining notoriety for his artistic portraiture of sex workers in early twentieth-century New Orleans, E. J. Bellocq created work that spurs discussion about empowerment and identity. This photograph is intimate; we are voyeurs of a private moment, but when considering that the image was rediscovered and only printed decades later,1 I realize the woman was not necessarily in control. The image documents her body but not her name or identity. Many sex workers in New Orleans at this time were accustomed to being photographed, largely for “Blue Book” publications that served as a kind of travel guide to the city-sanctioned area where sex work was legal, called “Storyville.”2 Blue Books advertised pleasure in many forms, placing names and faces of sex workers next to promotions for cigar and liquor brands and high-end rentable rooms, perhaps suggesting the women were simply another commodity or part of the decor. The unidentified woman’s affable disposition coupled with a homey interior breaks the boundaries of the frame; with her raised hand holding a glass, she seemingly invites her audience to step in for a drink. But this invitation has darker undertones. After researching Bellocq, the Blue Books, and early twentieth-century Storyville, I no longer saw a woman at ease in a home setting, but rather, a woman in a room staged to lure clients. The presumed moment of intimacy is transformed into a transient and impersonal transaction. Where I once heard the clinking of a glass, I now listen to the sound of customers trudging up and down the stairs. Fighting the urge to see sex work as a way for women to take control of their finances, I am reminded of the realities of women being pushed to the economic fringes when I look closer at her clothing, which appears to be a blanket thrown over her stockings and shoes. During this era, sex work was not an independent means of earning money. Between paying rent to brothel owners, general living expenses, and for higher-class sex
workers, the expenses of maintaining a fashionable and desirable exterior, even the highest-end prostitutes struggled to make ends meet.3 There is something taboo about sex work in our society, and to see it memorialized in a century-old photograph, it seems like an attempt to access the past through the portrait of this woman is further exploiting her body to satisfy our own curiosities. If exhibited in a museum next to the label Untitled, staged for patrons to stop and admire or just pass by, what would it mean to use this photograph to explore the agency women have over their bodies?
1 John Szarkowski, ed., Storyville Portraits: Photographs from the New Orleans Red-Light District, Circa 1912 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1970). 2 Pamela D. Arceneaux, “Guidebooks to Sin: The Blue Books of Storyville,” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 28, no. 4 (1987): 397–405, http://www.jstor.org/ stable/4232610. 3 Craig L. Foster, “Tarnished Angels: Prostitution in Storyville, New Orleans, 1900–1910.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 31, no. 4 (1990): 387–97, http://www.jstor.org/ stable/4232839.
E. J. Bellocq, Untitled (Storyville Portrait), c. 1912, printed c. 1970s Gold-toned gelatin silver printing-out-paper print, 10 � 8 in. The Jack Shear Collection of Photography at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2015.1.198
Josh Faught on Adding Flair to Sadness 50
On November 16, 2018, Skidmore students Evan Hasencamp ’20 and Julia Rinaolo ’19 interviewed artist Josh Faught as part of the course “The Artist Interview,” led by Dayton Director Ian Berry.
Julia Rinaolo ’19 What is your first memory of art? Josh Faught The strongest memory I have of seeing art in a museum space was probably when I was in high school or junior high school and I went to the Tate in London. I saw this incredible exhibition of Mark Rothko’s paintings. And it was the first time that I ever felt truly emotional in front of a work. The lights were dimmed. These paintings glowed, and I sat there and just wept in front of this painting. It was a really beautiful, moving experience that I still can’t get out of my head. Evan Hasencamp ’20 In terms of the materiality of your work, what brought you to combine so many different materials? You often com bine painted elements or sculptural elements; in the case of Housecleaning, there are buttons, a flyer, and plaster. JF I’ve definitely benefited from looking at the work of other people. When I first started making work in textiles, I was highly influenced by the Art Fabric Movement of the 1960s and 1970s as well as the Pattern and Decoration Movement. I still am. These artists were thinking about textiles as surrogates for political activity or for a political spirit. By extension, I was thinking about feminist theory and queer theory and ways that I could merge or create a kind of historical fantasy around those works. I could think about if those works were made today, how would they look? How would they represent politics? How would they represent the ambiguity or the ambivalence of certain political ideologies? And so that was where I got permission to make the work that I make, for lack of a better phrase. But there are so many different influences. Miriam Schapiro’s work is fascinating to me because it is really garish and really ugly and it stayed ugly for a long time. That is hard to do as an artist. It’s
hard to make something that stays ugly for decades because trend has this way of turning everything around into something that’s beautiful or trendy or dazzling. I think that’s a strength of her work. I aim for some ugliness in my work. Part of my strategy as an artist is to try and make work that doesn’t look great on Instagram because I really believe in the importance of visiting artwork and experiencing it in real life and having a bodily relationship with an object. I always think that I’m not ready to let a work leave my studio until I’m embarrassed by it. That’s when it’s ready to go. JR I’ve never heard an artist say that before! How does your sexuality inspire the work that you make? JF I came of age during the AIDS crisis, and I was young enough that I didn’t know anybody that was dying, but I was old enough to think that if you came out as a gay man, you were signing your own death certificate. My family responded by saying, “We support you, but you’re going to die.” There was always this specter of death that was looming around queerness for me. Now we’re in a different place in terms of how AIDS functions. It is a different conversation today than it was in the 1990s. A lot of the things that were created and the pop culture that dealt with queerness and gay male sexuality in the 1990s feels hopelessly out of date, but it really taught me to be who I am. I think about the construction of sexuality as it relates to a generation and to visibility or illegibility. In my recent work, I’m thinking about modes of decoration and how they could be considered gay or queer. I found this book called The Unofficial Gay Manual that was printed in the mid-1990s. It’s a jokey, humorous book. It says every gay man should have a Sinead O’Connor cassette. It’s very tongue-in-cheek, but in the back of the book are legitimate social resources, financial resources, places where you can live if you get kicked out of your house, health resources. So it’s both earnest and snarky at the same time, and that’s a strange sentiment. In the middle of this book are gatefold images, hand-drawn illustrations of what a gay living room is supposed to look like, or a gay kitchen or a gay bedroom. And a lot of the things listed are things that, at this point, anybody would have in their house. It’s totally illegible from a contemporary standpoint. But at that particular moment, this was a process of signification of thinking about how objects or gay trappings speak to the inhabitant, how objects speak queerly. Now we’re in this place where I don’t know if there’s such a one-to-one signification anymore. JR Can you tell us about Housecleaning? JF It was produced for my first solo exhibition in New York, at Lisa Cooley Gallery. The show was called While the Light Lasts, and the title was appropriated from a short story that Agatha Christie published in 1924. I was interested in this
earnest, naive idea about staring out of your window watching the sun set and everything’s falling to shit around you—this idea that there’s something hopelessly romantic about your life falling to shambles, which is what happens in Agatha Christie’s stories. It’s normal people’s lives gone terribly awry, but there’s always this hazy, jolly vibe that’s tinged with manslaughter. I wanted to bring some of that weird atmosphere around Agatha Christie’s books into the work. This particular piece began with a garden trellis, which is the armature that serves as a support. I made this piece during the market crash, and I liked the idea that the garden trellis was something that was immediate or urgent. You could stake the armature into your front lawn like a foreclosure sign, but then there is this other side of the piece that is labored and human and intimate, and that is the construction of the textiles, knit and hand-dyed, hand-crocheted hemp. It’s like a sweater fitting the body. The fabrics are actually smaller than the structure itself, so just like when you put on a sweater, it stretches around your body. I wanted that sense of a worn-out sweater, and that notion has been exaggerated over time. I produced this piece in Eugene, Oregon, where I was surrounded by hippie shops and weed paraphernalia. The
culture of hemp and cannabis was definitely all around me, but this material became really ubiquitous in Eugene. Eugene is a place where people pride themselves on their ability to disconnect from the rest of culture and where they create their own culture within this little bubble. On the one hand, it’s this place where you can learn all of these really esoteric textile techniques. I participated in this event called Fiber in the Forest where you learn how to indigo dye in the woods, which was incredible and special, but it’s also a place where people don’t want to have anything to do with anything that’s going on outside of Oregon. There’s a cageyness there. It’s also very self-helpy, and there are lots of bulletin boards all over the place. I found this flyer in a weird waffle restaurant—very stoner food. This woman was advertising that she would help you clean your life up and do some housecleaning for you. It was on this bulletin board that I thought of as an abstract painting, with all these voices that were trying to speak at you, but collectively, they drowned themselves out. I wanted to recuperate that flyer and put it onto the piece, again, as this fast antidote to an otherwise slow process. I started thinking about how I could queer this object. One of the first things that I thought of was pins or badges from the 1990s. It felt very daring to wear a gay pride pin, but it also felt like something you would wear if you worked at TGI Fridays. There’s this ambivalence: it’s flair, but it could easily say, “Ask me about my appetizers.” I liked that push and pull and how quick it is to put a pin onto something to claim your allegiance to something even though usually we feel messy about everything that we feel. I’m always thinking about how I can sabotage my own work. It starts in one tone, but then maybe the pins take it into another place. I collect DIY pamphlets from the 1970s on how to make craft objects. It’s how I taught myself to make work in textiles on some level. There’s one on how to make denim bows, and I just thought everything needs a bow or a ribbon on it. It was a way to make this piece more festive when the fabrics are lethargic and sad. Everything is trying to bolster them back up, like the pins or the bow or the sequence that has been crocheted and then spray-painted. This piece initially was dipped in indigo dye, which has mythologies around sadness. I was thinking, how can I drown this piece in sadness and then put a polish on it? JR When I first looked at this piece, I had no idea that it was dipped in indigo dye. You were saying that’s meaningful, but if it’s not seen directly by the viewer . . .
Josh Faught (born 1979), Housecleaning, 2009/2018 Hand-crocheted indigo-dyed hemp, machine-knit acrylic yarn, spray paint, political pins, laminated poster advertising housecleaning service, denim, sequins, and garden trellis, 96 � 48 in. Gift of Eileen and Michael Cohen, 2018.1.62
JF I rely heavily on the materials list. I think the materials list is an amazing device for storytelling. I’m usually very descriptive with the materials. The worst thing I could ever imagine for my work is that there’d be a materials list reading “mixed media.” Instead, I want all of the lived histories of these materials to come forth. So I would say the piece is handcrocheted, hand-dyed in indigo. If I’ve used cochineal dye,
matched all the fonts and remade this woman’s flyer. Then I laminated it and did this Japanese shibori method on the paper itself, and then dyed it again. I felt like I enacted the same methodology on it that I did the first time around, which is asking, how can I wake this piece up? How can I make a party when there’s sadness? This new flyer is my way of responding to the aging of the piece. Maybe I should be alive forever so I can just keep adding things to the surface to liven it up. It’s part of that push and pull of something that’s hopeless and something that’s celebratory all at the same time.
I’ll say, “cochineal made from ground-up bugs.” There’s storytelling that goes on within the materials list. JR Can you talk about the contrast between the title House cleaning and the loose ends that you left on the piece? JF A lot of it has to do with my methodology in processing the work. My parents thought I was going to be a hoarder. Maybe I am a hoarder. I’m always building things back up and adding things to the surface of the piece, but there reaches a material tipping point where I start to feel really suffocated. And I’m like, “Oh, actually, no. I want to wipe everything clean and just have a textile.” There was a piece I made where I had wiped everything clean and it was mostly just hemp on a trellis with sequins, but then, inevitably, I started building it back up again. So I like using the term housecleaning as a way to imply hyper-embellishment instead of removal, which is what housecleaning typically suggests. Here, cleaning is about building things back up. I read this quote that housecleaning is the semiotics of boundary maintenance. I like that idea that you clean your house as a way to protect your boundaries. I’ve always thought that’s kind of magical.
JR The original flyer was a white sheet of paper in a blue laminated sheet. This looks different. What are your ethics on changing your piece? Is it completely new now? JF I’m not quite sure, because this is actually the first time I’ve ever revisited a piece like this and actually made something new for the work that wasn’t there before. For me, it was a testament that this object is very much about the ideas that are here and the spirit of the piece more than it is about needing to look this exact same way. There’s this great book by Svetlana Boym about the future of nostalgia. And she divides nostalgia into two different types. There’s reflective nostalgia and restorative nostalgia. Restorative nostalgia is when you go to Colonial Williamsburg and everything is perfectly remade to go back to that time period, even if it’s totally inauthentic. And then there’s this idea of reflective nostalgia where you acknowledge the cracks in the sidewalk, you acknowledge age, and you respond to it in the present. You think about how the past influences the present. For me, it was this reflective notion of asking what this piece is really about. How can I respond to it and still complete the work? Even though what I made wasn’t what was there, it keeps the same spirit.
JR Can you describe how this work has changed over the past ten years since you originally made it? JF Housecleaning is part of a body of work that was about this idea of drooping or sagging. I would stitch things onto canvases and then they would, even by the time of the exhibition, start to droop and sag. I like the idea of these fabrics being weighty or having a relationship to gravity. This work is definitely a witness to that. The fabric was a bit higher before, and now it’s sagging. And when this piece arrived at the Tang Museum, the flyer wasn’t attached anymore; it had gone missing. At first, I was nervous about that. Most of the things added are one-of-a-kind originals. I started making copies of things because of this issue. That flyer was so important. I found a picture in my old iPhone photos that I took of the bulletin board in the waffle shop, but I couldn’t just print it out and make another flyer because it was a really bad image. I went into Microsoft Word and I meticulously
Josh Faught is a fiber artist whose work triangulates the space between textiles and sociopolitical and personal histories. He is associate professor and chair of textiles at the California College of the Arts and lives and works in San Francisco.
on Preserving Josh Faughtâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Housecleaning
Housecleaning (2009) by Josh Faught was created with two layers of fabrics seamed along the top edge and resting on the intermittent upright bars of a readymade wood trellis. Both fabrics are stretchy—the front is mostly crochet and the back is knit. The front of the crochet fabric was spraypainted and has additional elements—a denim bow, gay pride buttons, a flyer tacked to a long slab of plaster held in a sewn pocket—attached in various places. The work is displayed vertically, so gravity has stretched the fabrics downward, especially the crochet. Although the spray paint reduced the fabric’s stretchy nature, the weight of the additional elements caused it to sag more than the knit fabric on the back. When an image from 2009 was compared to the work’s current state, the amount of sagging was clear, as the trellis was no longer visible at the lower edge, and the top edge had slipped down so that more brown knit from the back was visible on the front. Indicators of light damage were also apparent—the blue bow was lighter than it appeared in 2009. What should be done, if anything, for long-term preservation? We know the materials will continue to sag because of gravity. Thus, the consideration of the materials and construction of the work along with the artist’s intent begins. Is the sagging effect intentional? The first step was to ask Faught about his ideas for the work and then ask how his desires fit with the museum’s goals. Would the materials (synthetic or natural) help determine the treatment or would the construction of the fabric (knit and crochet) be more important? In response to these questions, Faught said he expected some sagging, but if we could slow it, that would be preferable. Plus, whatever we did needed to be invisible. In general, to prevent uneven sagging while a textile is on vertical display, conservators devise methods that provide an even support along the entire top edge. This fabric is supported on a trellis with seven places along the top edge where the fabric could be secured, so we wouldn’t be able to achieve even support. As this was the original construction of the piece, we needed to work with those limitations, using the width of the trellis columns as best as possible. The crochet was made from hemp, a natural fiber related to linen, and the brown knit on the back was acrylic, a synthetic fiber meant to mimic wool. In our favor, the seam along the top edge was sewn with the same hemp used to crochet the front fabric. The hemp threads are less stretchy than the brown yarns used for the back, so they are able to hold some weight without stretching too much. Two nails per trellis were used to even out the support as much as possible, and the thick yarn hides the nails from view. While in storage the work can be laid flat to reduce the time that gravity has to stretch out the fabrics. The trellis was another element that needed addressing for long-term preservation. The wood was not sealed, so over time, the acids and lignins that leach
out can stain the fabric and chemically interact in a negative way. For long-term preservation, sealing the wood with polyurethane was recommended as it would keep the acids and lignins away from the fabric, and the polyurethane would not interact with the fabric after it dried. Since the trellis is not seen, Faught said this was an acceptable solution. (In later pieces from this style of work, he sealed the wood himself before applying fabric.) The trellis was carefully removed, coated, and reinserted. Cleaning is the most common treatment for longterm preservation. Dust and dirt particles can accelerate degradation of fabrics, so vacuuming is usually the first step in a treatment proposal. All fabric was vacuumed, and small brushes were used to get inside the curves of the bow on the front. Exposure to light, though, is the greatest consideration for all organic materials. Light causes permanent damage, but artwork needs to be seen. Housecleaning has already faded from light exposure, so the museum will need to consider the amount of light (intensity) used while the work is on display as well as the amount of time (longevity) it is on display. Low light for a long time is the same as intense light over a short time, so the general recommendation is low light for a short time. The chosen treatment has balanced the conservation considerations—slowing the effects of the inherent vice of stretchy fabrics under gravity, contact with unsealed wood, and light exposure during display—with the artist’s and museum’s goals so that the artwork can be safely displayed for students and museum-goers into the future.
Sarah C. Stevens has been practicing textile conservation for over twenty years. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island with an MS in historic costume and textiles, Stevens worked in several institutions and opened Zephyr Preservation Studio in 2010 to assist individuals and museums with the care of their textiles.
Nancy Grossman Rust & Blue (Yuma), 1967 Rebecca McNamara Mellon Collections Curator Hard, rusted metal and soft, aged leather pieces twist, turn, and protrude from a central leathercovered box set against a bright blue ground. The objects were taken apart and re-sewn to create corporeal shapes that commingle, separate, fight, and embrace, seemingly wanting to burst forth. This is where tension lies: we sense that something is about to occur, but we do not know exactly what or how. We start to recognize individual forms as resembling internal organs and genitalia, but together they complicate one another. The action is inevitable yet impossible, the surreal forms identifiable yet abstract. Nancy Grossman created a pivotal series of sculptural wall assemblages in 1964–1967. Artist and friend David Smith had purchased antique farm equipment for his own work at an upstate New York auction and offered Grossman a group of horse harnesses and leather bits he didn’t need (some of which she used in Rust & Blue (Yuma) in 1967).1 With these materials, she started working bigger, and her collages became more sculptural, moving off the page and into space. During an early showing, in 1965, an art critic called them “agonizingly clotted assemblages.” 2 Clotted is an apt word for these works. They are bodily: as a figure—as verticality leads one to read Rust & Blue (Yuma) in particular— the forms become phalluses, voids, innards. The organs hidden beneath our human skins are revealed as reinvented constructions of animal skins mixed with machine parts. They swell out from a horizontal opening that can no longer contain them. Grossman disavows us of gen dering the presumed figure—there are too many possibilities, and they are too intermingled, too compounded, too transient.3 Their hybridity prevents essentialism. The blue ground, atypical for this body of work, alternatively suggests landscape. Grossman says of the blue: “This began on white canvas, and it didn’t mean anything to me.” Looking for connection, she thought about her time in Tucson, where she traveled in the mid-1950s and where her family moved later that decade from their upstate New York farm. She describes Arizona’s
lands as “orange” and “alien” to her, so different were they than the lush woods and lakes of New York. She says, “Arizona was the land of the petrified forests, wood that had become stone, striated with color, archaeological digs, and excavations. I felt the blue was a metaphor for ‘petrified water,’ holding the desert figure in place.” Petrification is a stagnant state that results from tremendous transformation. More than 200 million years ago, the area that is now east-central Arizona had a tropical climate that sustained 200-foot-tall conifers and many other species. Buried by volcanic ash, the wood petrified, becoming fossils. The rusted browns, oranges, and siennas of Rust & Blue (Yuma) are found in the logs of the Petrified Forest National Park and across the Southwest. In the work, the desert’s energy bubbles up, exploding from within— from figure to landscape to figure, becoming one, the same. Grossman’s reference to petrified water is more imaginative. “Everything is petrified in the desert,” she says. Everything is made dry, still. But the work is not still—symbolically or literally. Over the five decades since Grossman first made Rust & Blue (Yuma), parts have shifted. Perhaps most notably, two central tubular forms that were once fully erect, protruding straight out from the center, have moved slightly downward as space for the void at center-right expanded. “If it settles into itself, it’s good,” says Grossman. Ungendered and supragendered, figure and landscape together, it evolves. 1 This information and all quotes by Nancy Grossman are from a conversation between Grossman and the author, Ian Berry, Monica Berry, and others at the Tang Teaching Museum, June 14, 2019. 2 John Canady, “Cheery Week, but Not for Art Dealers,” New York Times, November 6, 1965, 25. 3 For a more complete analysis of sex and gender in Grossman’s work, see David J. Getsy, Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015).
Nancy Grossman (born 1940), Rust & Blue (Yuma), 1967 Leather, metal, and wood assemblage on vinyl fabric mounted on plywood Gift of halley k harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld, 2018.33
on Celebrating Difference and Seeking Pleasure through Integrative Dance
In fall 2018, Assistant Professor and Associate Chair of Dance Sarah DiPasquale connected visual art and dance in a course for Skidmore students and the Saratoga Bridges community of differently abled adults. The class examined Joan Snyder’s painting Waiting for a Miracle (for Nina and John) (1986) and, in response, developed choreography for an integrative dance, which was performed on December 10, 2018. The “Bridges to Skidmore” course was created in 2010 by Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Social Work Crystal Dea Moore as a non-credit-bearing college experience for differently abled adults from the Saratoga Bridges community working together with Skidmore students.1 In 2017, I redesigned the program to be a dance course and scholarly initiative examining the physical effects and creative processes of integrative dance on this population.2 In the current course model, individuals from Saratoga Bridges are matched with Skidmore students, and together they engage in an integrative dance experience. As Caroline Kelberman ’17 and I have written, “Integrative dance may be defined as
dance that encourages the participation of all individuals, regardless of ability, supporting and celebrating these differences through movement.”3 The social aspect of dance is essential to the “Bridges to Skidmore” experience. Differently abled people are often socially isolated and identify disabilityservice users, staff, and family members as friends.4 For example, people on the autism-spectrum scale commonly experience a deficit in appropriate communication, social empathy, and awareness or sensitivity to others’ emotional experiences. 5 These social insufficiencies may have impacts on the development and maintenance of social relationships, and thus, may lead to social isolation.6 “Bridges to Skidmore” was designed to meet the needs of differently abled individuals; the structure of the class was established with a conscious objective to create a socially inclusive and integrated dance environment. Profoundly important aspects to this work are the deep and meaningful relationships that form between the participants and their college-student counterparts throughout the semester.
While social and cultural dancing at its foundation brings humans together to engage with one another, the practice of contemporary dance is often viewed as a more individualistic activity. In “Bridges to Skidmore,” contemporary dance is practiced within small groups to grant participants individualized assistance with Skidmore students providing suggestions for movement modifications and social support as needed. Throughout the semester, participants transition from requiring higher levels of support to dancing with increased independence. This organic shift creates an inherent awareness of community and an authentic sense of inclusion for participants working side by side with Skidmore students.7 While true social inclusion is a multifactorial and complex task, “Bridges to Skidmore” strives to create reciprocal relationships between participants and their collegestudent counterparts who accept them as members of their collegiate community beyond their disability. 8 The pleasure associated with dancing cannot be understated when discussing the “Bridges to Skidmore” experience. Research has suggested that exercise
painting was through a class discussion guided by Museum Educator for K–12 and Community Programs Sunny Ra using Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). Asking open-ended questions, members of the class each had an opportunity to share what they saw in the work. The VTS session created a robust and exciting encounter with class members jumping out of their seats to show others the details they were finding in this beautiful artwork. Reminding enthusiastic class members to not touch the painting proved to be a challenging and unexpected aspect of this experience! The class returned to reflect a second time on the painting, using it as inspiration to make visual representations on paper. These drawings then became the impetus for movement creation, with each member of the class creating their own movement based on their embodied reflection of the painting. Collaborating with their Skidmore student partners, some individuals found this process to be effortless with ideas and movements exploding from their bodies. Others found the creative process more challenging, visibly uncomfortable and
adherence is improved when the experience is enjoyable. 9 As differently abled people may be inherently prone to decreased attention spans,10 creating an engaging dance experience becomes a critical aspect of compliance and overall classroom management. Furthermore, dancing alongside a partner may enhance socialization, creating a more pleasurable experience for all members of the group.11
requiring close guidance from their partners. Seated in chairs, traveling through space, telling stories through gestures—the diverse array of movements created that day were choreographed together into two distinct five-minute dances. Reflecting on Waiting for a Miracle created a rich environment of respect and expression. Music plays a crucial role in the “Bridges to Skidmore” experience. Live music performed by the exceptional Skidmore Music Director Carl Landa enriched each class period and inspired students to explore the open space. Additionally, a talented member of the Bridges community volunteered to serve as a second accompanist, adding another level of rich collaboration. A palpable enthusiasm was present when the musicians would enter the room. One participant exclaimed, “I never want to listen to the radio again! I wish Carl could follow me around all day!” Music may serve as an external cue or a movement facilitator 12 yet may also alter the neurochemistry of the body. Musical properties, such as tempo, impact underlying neurotransmission of cardiovascular and respiratory control, motor function, and higher order cognitive
• • • In fall 2018, the “Bridges to Skidmore” class embarked on a uniquely pleasurable journey of discovery, exploring how visual art may inform the choreographic process of integrative dance. The class spent ten days collaborating in the museum space. Reflecting on Joan Snyder’s painting Waiting for a Miracle (for Nina and John) from the Tang collection, differently abled individuals engaged with the painting alongside Skidmore students, expressing their embodied reflections of the painting through movement. The experience at the Tang brought incredible moments of exploration. The initial encounter with the
functions.13 Furthermore, music can potentially enhance physical performance during exercise14 and may help to motivate and create social support.15 The relationship of music and dance cannot be undervalued and undoubtedly enriched the collaborative process within the “Bridges to Skidmore” class. The Tang experience also brought numerous challenges for the group. The typical class structure of “Bridges to Skidmore” is exceedingly deliberate, allowing for consistency, clear boundaries, and a sense of safety among participants. In contrast, a museum space is inherently filled with heightened sensory stimulation, creating a new set of experiences to encounter each class period. Elevator noises, foot traffic, and cold concrete floors left some individuals on edge. Negotiating through new spaces with docents closely guarding the artwork on cold, rainy fall days created instances of anxiety and fear. Alongside the beautiful creative experience, there were times of tears, raising of voices, pacing the floors, panic, detachment, and even anger. The artistic process rarely comes without real and
1 See Kimberly Remis, Crystal Moore, Julia Pichardo, Zuliany Rosario, and Jeffrey Palmer Moore, “Teaching Note—Description and Preliminary Evaluation of a Modified College Experience for Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,” Journal of Social Work Education 53, no. 2 (2017): 354–60. 2 Sarah DiPasquale and Caroline Kelberman, “An Integrative Dance Class to Improve Physical Function of People with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities: A Feasibility Study,” Arts & Health 10, no. 1 (2018): 1–14. 3 DiPasquale and Kelberman, “An Integrative Dance Class.” 4 Angela Novak Amado, Roger J. Stancliffe, Mary McCarron, and Philip McCallion, “Social Inclusion and Community Participation of Individuals with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities,” Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 51, no. 5 (October 2013): 360–75. 5 Lisa L. Travis and Marian Sigman, “Social Deficits and Interpersonal Relationships in Autism,” Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews 4, no. 2 (1998): 65–72. 6 Travis and Sigman, “Social Deficits and Interpersonal Relationships in Autism.” 7 Cynthia Quiroga Murcia, Gunter Kreutz, Stephen Clift, and Stephan Bongard, “Shall We Dance? An
tangible challenges for all involved. These uncomfortable circumstances are an essential part of the “Bridges to Skidmore” experience and must not be disregarded. Indeed, moments of discomfort may also be profoundly meaningful moments of growth.
Student performers: Aliza Franz ’20 Abigail Berry ’20 Maddie Bonin ’20 Ben Canter ’21 Mackenzie Costigan ’19 Ella Direnfeld ’20 Libby Griffin ’20 Kim Oliver-Hamilton ’20 Annaliese Tampasis ’22 Hannah Weighart ’19 Skidmore Assistant Professor and Associate Chair of Dance Sarah DiPasquale works to create opportunities to make dance training easily accessible and available to all people. DiPasquale’s scholarship, which focuses on the effects of dance training on people who are differently abled and at-risk youth, has been published in the Journal of Dance Education, Arts & Health, Medical Problems of Performing Artists, Performance Enhancement & Health, and Sports.
Exploration of the Perceived Benefits of Dancing on Well-Being,” Arts & Health 2, no. 2 (2010): 149–63.
Nonpartnered Dance Movement,” Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair 24, no. 4 (May 2010): 384–92.
8 Stacy Clifford Simplican, Geraldine Leader, John Kosciulek, and Michael Leahy, “Defining Social Inclusion of People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: An Ecological Model of Social Networks and Community Participation,” Research in Developmental Disabilities 38 (2015): 18–29; Amado, et al., “Social Inclusion and Community Participation.”
12 Gammon M. Earhart, “Dance as Therapy for Individuals with Parkinson Disease,” European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 45, no. 2 (2009): 231–38.
9 Richard Ryan, Christina Frederick, Deborah Lepes, Noel Rubio, and Kennon Sheldon, “Intrinsic Motivation and Exercise Adherence,” International Journal of Sport Psychology 28, no. 1 (1997): 335–54.
14 Caroline R. Campbell and Katherine R. G. White, “Working It Out: Examining the Psychological Effects of Music on Moderate-Intensity Exercise,” Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research 20, no. 2 (summer 2015): 73–79; Tiev Miller, Ann Manire Swank, Robert John Robertson, and Barbara Wheeler, “Effect of Music and Dialogue on Perception of Exertion, Enjoyment, and Metabolic Responses During Exercise,” International Journal of Fitness 6, no. 2 (2010): 45–52; Koç Haluk, and Curtseit Turchian, “The Effects of Music on Athletic Performance,” Ovidius University Annals, Series Physical Education & Sport/Science, Movement & Health 9, no. 1 (2009): 44–47.
10 Kate Breckenridge, Oliver Braddick, Shirley Anker, Margaret Woodhouse, and Janette Atkinson, “Attention in Williams Syndrome and Down’s Syndrome: Performance on the New Early Childhood Attention Battery,” British Journal of Developmental Psychology 31, no. 2 (2013): 257–69; Dilip R. Patel, Greydanus, Donald E. Greydanus, Hatim A. Omar, and Jaov Merrick, eds., Neurodevelopmental Disabilities: Clinical Care for Children and Young Adults (New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media, 2011). 11 Madeleine E. Hackney and Gammon M. Earhart, “Effects of Dance on Gait and Balance in Parkinson’s Disease: A Comparison of Partnered and
13 Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitin, “The Neurochemistry of Music,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 17, no. 4 (2013): 179–93.
15 Sarah DiPasquale and Meaghan Wood, “The Effect of Classical Ballet and Contemporary Dance Training on Hip Extensor Flexibility and Strength in Novice Dancers: A Pilot Study,” Performance Enhancement & Health 5, no. 3 (March 2017): 108–14.
Lorna Simpson Cloudscape, 2004
Rachel Seligman Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs and Malloy Curator In Lorna Simpson’s elegant and intense film Cloudscape (2004), a solitary man, his eyes closed, whistles a melody as fog slowly envelops him until he is no longer visible. The film then runs in reverse so that the tune is heard backward as he re-emerges from the fog that drifts down and away. When viewed on a loop, this cycle of erasure and reappearance continues ad infinitum. Simpson uses a single fixed camera that slowly draws in to a close-up and pulls back when the film reverses. As the frame moves toward the figure, he is increasingly obscured by the fog, and he becomes more and more difficult to see. The camera, like a searching eye, moves in closer but cannot fix him in its sight. As the figure disappears, the sound of the whistling remains clear— becoming a stand-in for the body producing it. Simpson is a master at taking concrete elements (frequently words and bodies) and constructing a surprisingly abstract, multivalent work from them. Simpson creates a complex web of meanings and allusions from a deceptively simple structure. By bearing witness to the disappearance and reappearance of the figure, we are asked to contemplate the connection between visibility/ invisibility and control—over the bodies of others and our own as well as the ephemeral nature of memory and our complex relationship with time. The austerity of this artwork focuses us on the figure and the melody. The whistling man is the artist and musician Terry Adkins (1953–2014), a longtime friend of Simpson’s. Together they identified a melody—from a songbook of turn-ofthe-century American hymns, which Simpson found at a thrift store—that would function both forward and backward and feel familiar but also not quite placeable. Reminiscent of a spiritual, it evokes in equal parts faith, love, hope, sorrow, loss, and suffering. Adkins’s eyes are closed as he whistles—he is alone in a private space of contem
plation and focus, and the intrusion of our gaze goes unacknowledged. It is here, in the isolation of the figure, that, for me, the emotional resonance of the work is situated. Indeed, the loss of Terry Adkins, who died suddenly in 2014, adds another layer of impact and meaning. Does this film suggest a redemptive or liber ating escape from the history of violence, anger, or despair that is inextricably elided with the body of the black man and the virtual erasure of his body in the film? Perhaps it would read that way if the work ended with his disappearance. Instead, the work returns the figure to view, and in doing so, insists on acknowledging that history, the continued liminality and tenuousness of the black body, the unending possibility of, and struggle against, that erasure.
Installation view, Lorna Simpson (born 1960), Cloudscape, 2004 Single-channel video, black and white, sound, looped, 7 minutes Tang purchase in partnership with the New Media Arts Consortium, a collaboration of the art museums at Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Colby College, Middlebury College, Mount Holyoke College, and Skidmore College, 2019.18 ÂŠ Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Demetrius Oliver Messier, 2013
Mary Crone Odekon Kenan Chair of Liberal Arts and Professor of Physics The universe is much, much messier than it would appear from a map of the stars. In Demetrius Oliver’s Messier (2013), one hint of this messiness comes from the small, hollow circles, different from the filled-in dots representing simple stars. The hollow circles do not have normal star names like Deneb or Vega, but instead, catalog numbers like M 52 and M 39. Most of these objects are invisible in the sky unless viewed through binoculars or a telescope, when they appear as fuzzy smudges of light, still not betraying the fact that they represent a range of complicated compound systems of gas, stars, and dust—some at such great distances that billions of stars appear as one. In fact, these are not only messier objects, but also Messier objects, listed in the eighteenthcentury catalog of French astronomer Charles Messier. He was a comet hunter who mapped out the positions of fuzzy objects in the night sky. The fuzzy objects that moved slowly through the constellations and then disappeared were comets, balls of rock and ice swinging past the sun in their orbits. The fuzzy objects that stayed in place became known as Messier objects. We now know that Messier objects are much larger than comets, and so distant that we cannot discern their motion across the sky. Messier objects include different kinds of systems: vast nebulae of gas and dust, clusters of stars, and entire galaxies. What Charles Messier might have guessed, but could not have known for sure, was the extent to which star maps are figments of our point of view. The night sky is intensely three-dimensional, with some objects trillions of times farther away than others. In Oliver’s Messier, both the photograph itself and its primary subject, the map, are essentially two-dimensional structures. But we see the map from outside its two-dimensional world, at an angle, with only the center in focus—and, as
if to drive the point home, a paper clip bent into a three-dimensional shape that echoes the two-dimensional illustration of a constellation below it. The constellation below the paper clip, Cepheus (the name referring to the king of Ethiopia in classical Greek mythology), has a special role beyond its central position in the photograph. The prototype variable star that led to our discovery of the galaxies and the great depths of space is a star in this constellation— the one just outside the paper clip, separated from the other bright stars in Cepheus. To push a little harder, there are reasons to describe the universe in more than three dimensions. Einstein’s relativity, which we can use to understand the bending of light and the orbit of Mercury, uses a four-dimensional space-time. Even more dramatically, one attempt to combine the effects of gravity and quantum physics (as we need to in the context of black holes and the early history of the universe) describes strings that vibrate in a ten-dimensional space-time. Why take a photograph of a map? I like the way it draws attention to how we extract, impose, or just see a simplified, less messy version of reality. Maps, physical or not, can be appealing and safe. How we make them into useful tools for extracting specific truths depends partly on having constant reminders in the background—or foreground—that they are just one slice through the universe.
Demetrius Oliver (born 1975), Messier, 2013 Digital chromogenic print on aluminum, 12 × 18 ³/₄ in. Purchased with generous funding from Ann Schapps Schaffer ’62 and Melvyn S. Schaffer, 2017.4.1
Analytical Chemistry in the Museum
with Kimberley A. Frederick
During the fall 2018 semester, Professor of Chemistry Kimberley A. Frederick worked with students in her “Chemistry of Arts and Crafts” course to examine the chemical properties of three objects in the Tang collection to broaden the museum’s understandings of the objects’ history and future conservation needs while offering students an authentic, real-world research experience. An increasing number of museums, including the Tang Teaching Museum, are interested in exploring and presenting technical information about objects in their collections. Technical information can include the same spectroscopic, microscopic, and chemical analysis methods taught in various places in the undergraduate chemistry curriculum, thus making the museum an ideal partner for engaging students in authentic research in their coursework. I developed an elective course, “Chemistry of Arts and Crafts,” with only a general chemistry prerequisite for sophomore, junior, and senior undergraduates. The course has several unique aspects that make it a particularly powerful learning experience for students while providing authentic technical information for curators and historians. Three objects were chosen in consultation with curators and collections staff—a framed painting, a wooden vessel, and a ceramic vessel—and groups of three students were assigned to each object, which were either in need of conservation (painting) or were going to be examined by an external expert with regard to provenance (two vessels). For each object, the curators helped develop a set of questions that drove the analytical approach for the course.
Painting: Is there an under-drawing or under-painting? Are the pigments and aging of the binders consistent with the proposed provenance? Is any varnish present? Wooden vessel: What type of wood is the vessel made of? What is present on the surface? How has the object been patched or conserved? Ceramic vessel: Is there any evidence, such as the presence of food residue, that the vessel has been used? What is the composition of the clay body? If a surface coating is present, what is its composition? The course was structured in two halves: a literature section and an experimental section. During both sections, care was given to scaffold the necessary skills throughout the course and provide training with increasing degrees of sophistication. The literature section involved students researching relevant art conservation and chemical literature to determine which analytical methods would be most appropriate and how the data should be acquired and analyzed. Class sessions during this first half of the course focused on introducing commonly used instrumental methods with a focus on those likely to be used by students in their own analyses. Several training sessions were also scheduled during class for instruments like scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and X-ray fluorescence (XRF), which students would not likely have used in other courses. Assessment during this half of the course was based on three types of assignments. The first was students submitting their reading notes online as a
reading journal. I encouraged them to summarize the most important findings, experimental types and parameters, and key figures and tables that would likely help with data interpretation. The culmination of that work was a proposal for analysis developed in collaboration with museum staff. The proposal included significant background on the object of study and provided detailed information about tests each group would like to perform and what information would result. This was particularly important in helping weigh the risks and benefits for each test. For non-invasive analyses that could be measured at the museum, the risk was relatively low, but many of the proposed tests involved either taking a small sample from the object or transporting the object to the science lab. Ultimately, the students were able to work with the museum to perform the key tests they wanted, and the need to justify their plans helped them refine their thinking. The second half of the course was focused on students performing their proposed analyses and evaluating the data. We began with a visit from an art conservator who was able to responsibly sample the objects. The teams and I had a discussion with her before sampling in order to determine the least destructive way to acquire the most information. Having a conservator willing to work collaboratively was extremely helpful in getting high-quality technical information. In class, each group shared their progress and presented their latest data. The benefit of this approach was that all students learned about one anotherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s projects. They were able to help each other troubleshoot problems or clarify confusing results. An additional benefit was that students practiced discussing their projects orally before giving their final presentations. Final assessments for this section of the course included both oral and written reports. Student groups presented their research to museum staff, who could ask questions and challenge conclusions before the students finalized their written reports. Because the students worked as independent teams on their projects, they spoke with confidence about their work, resulting in high-quality presentations. The final report was written for a non-technical audience. This type of writing is not often emphasized in the chemistry curriculum, so it was important to talk about best practices for communicating science. Through our analysis, we were able to determine answers to many of the questions about each object. With respect to the painting, we performed elemental analysis on the ground material and paint layers. The base layer is lead white and the paint layers indicated elemental signatures that were consistent with a possible 1850s time frame. Analysis of the binding materials showed that the work is an oil painting whose composition is consistent with aging of approximately 150 years. A stamp was found on the back of the painting from a gallery in New York City that frequently displayed the work of George Henry Hall, the presumed painter of the work. The wooden and ceramic vessels were both found to have traces of food. In the case of the ceramic vessel, the glaze seems to be carbon black or shoe polish with a coating of paraffin wax that has been dripped on. The wooden vessel has a residue on the inside that was analyzed with gas chromatographymass spectrometry and seems to be consistent with a mixture of fatty acids similar to dairy. Butter fat is not an uncommon substance for preserving wood. Overall, the course was very successful. Students reported a high level of engagement and one group presented their work at an international scientific meeting (PittCon) and received positive feedback. In addition, several of the senior students have reported that they discussed the project during job interviews. From an instructor perspective, delivery of this course was certainly both more intellectually engaging and enjoyable than a traditional one.
Skidmore Professor of Chemistry Kimberley A. Frederick is an analytical chemist who teaches a variety of courses, including environmental chemistry, forensic science, household chemistry, and chemistry applications in art and archeology, alongside traditional chemistry courses. She also conducts research with undergraduate student collaborators on microfluidic methods for environmental and biomedical testing.
Unrecorded Nupe artist Vessel, 20th century Ruth Opara Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Seeing the Nigerian vessel, also called clay pot, pot, or pot drum, at the Tang Teaching Museum invokes feelings of nostalgia for my childhood in the city and countryside of Nigeria. In the 1980s, a vessel was one of the most valuable household items in Nigeria. If a household had only one pot for water, it was likely found behind the kitchen door. But most families had more than one, placed in different corners of the house like the kitchen, bedrooms, and at the back of the house. As the name implies, the clay pot is made with red clay, usually found near a stream, or with muddy soil. The clay is worked so that it holds firm when placed in a mold. When the molding is complete, the pot is kept under the hot sun or taken into a blazing furnace to dry. Then it is usually sterilized by turning the opening over a smoldering fire for more than thirty minutes before use. There are no pre-designed molds into which the clay is cast, but rather, pots are made according to their functions. Potters hand-shape the clay before using patterned materials from soft woods, corncob, or textiles to make impressions on the body. Thus, it is difficult to find two clay pots with the same design or of exactly the same size. The patterns are functional rather than aesthetic: they give the pots a rough surface as a protective measure to aid in lifting them. The clay pot, in its various sizes, is used to fetch water from the stream, preserve and cool drinking water, store clothes and jewelry, and serve as a musical instrument. In the city Owerri, where I was born, I had a pot in which I stored my clothes and one in which my family preserved cold water. I also played the pot drum in a girl’s dance group. This dance is accompanied by only a pot drum and a whistle. In the countryside, where my grandmother lived, I went to the stream with the clay pot to fetch water many times. Because the clay pot is delicate, we had to carry it with care: breaking it revealed a “carefree girl.” I have seen girls weep profusely when they mistakenly broke their pots.
The vessel was primarily used to preserve water because of its cooling effect—achieved through the hidden pores that allow for evaporation. My mother and grandmother covered pots to make sure that the water inside remained clean. Occasionally we washed and re-sterilized pots to avoid the growth of mold. After one of my stays with my grandmother, I returned home to the city and saw that my mom had replaced our vessels with Western-style suitcases and a fridge. With the introduction of the Western-style fridge, suitcases, and containers, the clay pot is no longer popular among Nigerians, especially those living in the cities. (It is still used for domestic functions sparingly in the countryside.) However, the clay pot’s continued presence and relevance is manifest in Nigerian music. Traditional musical genres, hybrid musical styles, such as church art music that emanated because of contact with the West, utilize the pot drum as a metronome in ensembles. In music, the vessel shows its resilience as a Nigerian cultural artifact.
Ruth Opara at the Tang Teaching Museum, 2019 Unrecorded Nupe artist, vessel, 20th century Ceramic, 15 ⁷⁄₈ × 17 ¹⁄₄ � 17 ¹⁄₄ in. Gift of Bill and Gale Simmons, 2000.1.15
Wangechi Mutu Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors, 2006 Molly Channon Curatorial Assistant Wangechi Mutu makes collages that explore issues around female identity, myth making, and the perception and representation of women throughout history. Mutu’s Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors (2006) comprises twelve portraits of black women’s faces. The faces have stereotypically feminine features—a finely tweezed brow, red lips, eyes made up with shimmery shadow and false lashes. But they are also distorted and diseased. Parts of the faces are scattered and reassembled like a Cubist painting. Fleshy forms tumble and bulge from all angles. Body parts are repurposed—a leg becomes a nose; a breast, a cheekbone or ear. These parts are from two seemingly disparate sources: magazine images of models and porn stars are grafted with clinical illustrations from nineteenth-century medical atlases.1 The result is seductive yet frightening, beautiful yet repulsive. What Mutu achieves in the Histology series is to show us how similar these two types of images are. Speaking about her work in an inter view with curator Deborah Willis, Mutu states, “The [black female] body is put to work, devoured, tortured, broken, mutilated, and then prepared for display as an artifact, a totem, a specimen.” 2 In Primary Syphilitic Ulcers of the Cervix, a glistening red tongue extends suggestively from the right side of the face. Skinfolds at the top of the head and jawline evoke breasts or buttocks. Meanwhile, the placement of the facial features, the mismatched eyes, and the addition of nonfacial elements from the nineteenth-century illustration—the speculum tool and disembodied hand—signal something frightening. Primary Syphilitic Ulcers of the Cervix is one of three illustrations that originate in an 1851 medical atlas of venereal diseases published by French surgeon Philippe Ricord (1800–1889).3 The images show the splayed thighs and genitals of women suffering from various ulcers or inflammation. A speculum device inserted into the
vagina is depicted with great detail by the artist, who has rendered even the crosshatched pattern on the handle grips and the texture of the metal. Though the contents of Ricord’s book focus on the visible symptoms of each patient, it is clear that the images also promote the pictured apparatus, which Ricord invented a few years prior and sought to market for widespread use in the treatment of syphilis.4 In addition to the emphasis on the specula, there is an overall aestheticization of the body in these images. The genitals have an airbrushed quality not unlike pornographic images: symmetrical vulvas, minimal pubic hair (and any existing hair looks neatly trimmed), evenly toned skin. This aestheticizing of women’s bodies as a motive for someone else’s gain—whether Ricord’s sales and reputation as a leading physician or makers and financers of beauty products and por nographic magazines—is something Mutu subverts in the Histology series. The distinctions between beauty and grotesque, reality and fiction, past and present, Mutu shows us, are never things we should accept at face value.
1 Robert Enright, “Resonant Surgeries: The Collaged World of Wangechi Mutu,” Border Crossings 105 (February 2008), https://bordercrossings mag.com/article/resonant-surgeries-the-collaged-world-of-wangechimutu. 2 Wangechi Mutu, interview with Deborah Willis, BOMB Magazine, 2014, https://bombmagazine.org/articles/wangechi-mutu. 3 Philippe Ricord, Traité complet des maladies vénériennes: Clinique iconographique de l’hôpital des vénériens, receuil d’observations, suivies de considerations pratiques (Paris: Just Rouvier, 1851). 4 J. David Oriel, The Scars of Venus: A History of Venerology (London: Springer-Verlag, 1994): 35.
Wangechi Mutu (born 1972), Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors, 2006 Complete series of 12 digital prints with glitter, fur, and collage 23 � 17 in. (each) Gifts of Michael Jenkins and Javier Romero, 2016.27.1–12
Lara Ayad Assistant Professor of Art History Looking at Wangechi Mutu’s collage piece Ovarian Cysts from her series Histology of the Different Classes of Uterine Tumors (2006) is a visceral experience. A glittering black skull rides on two sets of decapitated women’s legs, which clamber toward the viewer atop a heap of misshapen, blistered ovaries. Between the shimmer of the glitter, the pornographic cutouts, and the detailed drawing of diseased human organs, I’m caught between my fascination and revulsion with the image. Mutu’s work unsettles me on a thematic level, too, because bodily symbols of life and death, found in the ovaries and the skull, respectively, intermingle and merge. My emotional and cerebral reactions to this work are like those of many other scholars and art critics who encounter the series. The ways we turn living women into symbols of the most attractive and repulsive aspects of life is a central critique in Mutu’s work. Combining historical medical illus trations with pornographic imagery is the artist’s signature technique throughout the series and reveals how mass culture and scientific studies alike serve to define what is normal and valuable in women. While it is true that representations of women often reflect the fears and desires of society at large, I ask, What about the men? What can images of men and our perceptions of manhood tell us about ourselves—about our fantasies and fears? These questions might sound strange, if not offensive. Yet Mutu’s choice to incorporate a man’s body in Ovarian Cysts not only sets it apart within her Histology series, but it also delivers a more incisive critique of patriarchy. Partially hidden behind the glittering latticework of the skull’s cranium is a man studying several human skulls. He appears undisturbed by the glittery humanoid monstrosity that stares back at us, and, instead, turns away from the viewer in order to weigh two skulls in the palms of his hands.
Men, here, represent creators of scientific, if not sexual, knowledge about the world. The bits of text surrounding the man’s black-and-white figure suggest that Mutu extracted his image from a newspaper or magazine feature about the sciences, a set of fields that many people associate with truth and objectivity. The presumed authority of the male scientist and his supposed ability to reveal the origins and destiny of humankind seem out of place among the sparkle and saturated porn images, connecting the composite female creature with the superficial and tacky qualities of low-brow, popular culture. Mutu inserted the man where the spiderwoman’s “brain” might have been: if the feminine form is the site of examination and a carrier of diseases, then our scientist is the genius of a larger analytical enterprise. Although the massive spiderwoman attracts the bulk of our scrutiny and lust, her image is a distraction from the construction of knowledge and its basis in men’s bodies, experiences, and behavior. Quietly visible and protected within the creature’s frame, the male scientist can continue, unquestioned, with his machinations on matters of life and death. The cultural misogyny that Mutu exposes in her work is, therefore, not the goal of patriarchy. Rather, misogyny is a means to an end—to protect ing men’s authority over knowledge about life and death, at all costs. Paying closer attention to rep resentations of men and what they mean to us can help us demystify male supremacy and build a more equitable world.
on History Painting as Activist Art
On October 5, 2018, Skidmore students James Rothwell ’19 and Katie Salk ’19 interviewed artist Jane Irish as part of the course “The Artist Interview,” led by Dayton Director Ian Berry. Katie Salk ’19 Where do you source your imagery from? You seem to have such a wide array of interests. Jane Irish In 1999, I moved into a live/work space in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, where I still live. My artistic roots are with the East Village in New York in the 1980s and with doing installation work in the 1990s in alternative spaces and college galleries. Just as I was moving into my new Northern Liberties studio space, I was questioning if I would repeat the imagery I worked with before. The installation work dealt with context, decorating a room using architectural imagery as the vignette. And I was questioning that. I decided a good practice for me would be, for a year or so, to quickly paint images of people I admired as a way to get myself rejuvenated. They were resistors of the Vietnam War, the Black Panthers, people involved in the Free Speech Movement, Mario Savio, people involved in the Paris riots, and other individuals of that time period. In the early 2000s, I was invited to do a show at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts [History Lesson, 2002–2003]. I had done a piece that was this gigantic stage flat that looks like the side of a room. It was all trompe l’oeil with images of a group of veterans that came back from the war and decided to stop it. They paid their dues. They’re a diverse group called the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I picked that up as a core imagery. But it has become more of history painting, or history ceramics, where I’m trying to absorb what built us up to war and how we see the mythology after. It’s about French colonialism or colonialism in general or the Age of Exploration. What are the things that result in destruction of one country by another country? James Rothwell ’19 In Antipodes Vietnam Peru 1, you include elements of Vietnam and Peru. Did you travel to each of these places? Does your content come from on-site painting or is it more imaginative? JI When I started doing research, I tapped into this poetry collection, part of The Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War, which is a special collection in La Salle University’s Connelly Library in Philadelphia. I researched through artists’ eyes rather than looking at microfilm copies of journalism from that time. This exploration of antiwar poetry led me to travel. I went to Vietnam for one month in 2008, painted every day, and came back with nineteen paintings. It was a great way to research. You’re standing in a place and you see how the place is being used; children come up to you and want to paint on your painting. I had a farmer come up and show me
how to properly paint a lotus. I had a monk stand next to me while I was painting the interior of a temple, and he was smoking a cigarette the whole time. They were wonderful, visceral experiences that informed my paintings. This ceramic piece was developed from the idea of a cosmogram, a model of the universe where you take a globe and cut it in half and flip it. Vietnam is core to my imagery, and the exact opposite on the Earth is Peru. Drilling a line ́, Vietnam, leads to the mountains through the Earth from Huê of Peru. Some of the other imagery has to do with Humboldt, who was an explorer in the late 1700s and early 1800s in Peru and did analyses of the ecosystems. This piece is part of a series that I have been working on for the last two and a half years about cosmological ideas, originally based on an essay by Edgar Allan Poe, called “Eureka.” (Poe dedicated the essay to Humboldt.) It is almost as though the universe is the main character of the plot, and the plot of God is perfect, or the plot of the universe is perfect. And I use that as a basis for a creation myth that I wanted to do a cycle of works about. This is almost like the principal particle of the Big Bang. It’s a condensed form of the universe that later becomes a series of paintings. The imagery in the inside of the Vietnam side of ́ in a temple called Antipodes is a motif I experienced in Huê Khải Định. And it’s what the Vietnamese pictured as their cosmos. This was the basis of a giant painting I did, so there’s a flow between the 3-D and the 2-D. In a way, the 3-D gives me some freedom. I wouldn’t have made a painting of Peru probably. But the ceramics opens up my practice. Experimenting in a new form opens your mind. JR You often present imagery of foreign places to Americans. Do you think there would be a different relationship between your art and the viewer if you were to show in Vietnam? JI I grew up during the Vietnam War. I graduated from high school in 1973, and the war ended in 1975. My two older sisters participated in the anti-war movement. And it’s ingrained in me that my ideas of maturity or freedom are based in things that I experienced as a young person. I always felt that I was responsible in a way for reparation and that, as an artist, embracing the beauty of Vietnamese culture was something that I should do. I know Vietnamese artists, and when they see my work, they’re very happy about it. JR Text often plays a role in your works, including with Antipodes. How does text fit into your process? JI One of my favorite paintings ever is This Is Not a Pipe [or The Treachery of Images, 1929] by René Magritte. You wonder, what does that mean? This is not a pipe. It’s a pipe. It was this imbalance that got me to like that painting so much. For my first text works, I took Vietnam resistance poetry and cut out foam letters, glued them down to a giant
Tyvek support, gessoed it, and then painted a big, rococo room on top. You have this image of beauty and then the oligarchy—like when you think of the decor of the Frick Collection or something—on top of the text. In Antipodes, I have some of the script from Poe’s “Eureka” around the edge of the bowl. And it’s humorous in a way because it talks about how there cannot be antipodes, that we should not be as nihilistic as an antipode or something like that. It’s setting up his whole cosmological essay. He’s talking about criticizing the transcendentalist and talking about the history of philosophy in a weird, retro way by reading a letter that he found in a bottle from the future. It’s obtuse. And that’s where the idea of antipodes first came to me, just reading the word and doing a little drawing while I was reading the essay. I made a very simple drawing of a red bowl and a blue bowl with a hole through the center. And that became this object. Text is a challenge. It was very popular when I started as an artist. My peers, young artists that were around me, were experimenting with it. In the 1970s, I saw Cy Twombly’s 50 Days at Iliam, which is a cycle about the Trojan War. It’s a wonderful use of the drawn word, but in some ways, I felt like I wanted to change the aggression in that painting. I think I’m doing that now, twenty-five years later. Ian Berry Do artists have a responsibility to be activists?
Installation view, Jane Irish (born 1955), Antipodes Vietnam Peru 1, 2016 Low-fire whiteware china, paint luster, underglaze, 15 ³⁄₄ � 13 � 16 in. Tang purchase, 2018.18a-b
JI It’s such an important tool, and I think it’s best if we use it. There are different ways to do that. If your work is about the sublime and poetic expression, that sort of negates the strife. Your work can have this political content but not appear so. But I think it’s core. An artist that I knew very well, Bill Walton, who was a minimalist sculptor, said, “The only work that lasts is political work.” That’s a good reason for your work to last, if it has a meaning to the culture in which you’re in. And it can be poetic and open or history painting or have an agenda. I have to admit, I do have an agenda. It’s to try to change the direction of militarism toward a peaceful outcome. How do we do that? If it’s possible, can artists help? Yes is the answer.
Jane Irish earned her BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and her MFA from Queens College, City University of New York. Her work, exhibited and collected by various US institutions, incorporates imagery from her travels through France and Vietnam and examines the effects and legacy of the Vietnam War. She lives and works in Philadelphia.
Yun-Fei Ji Bon Voyage, 2002 Ryan Richard Overbey Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Assistant Professor in Buddhist Studies At first glance and from a distance, Yun-Fei Ji’s Bon Voyage (2002) looks like a traditional Song dynasty landscape painting. The canvas writhes with organic patterns: gray mists and clouds, rocks and meandering water, gnarled trees and lush vegetation, people and animals. But it doesn’t take long—two or three seconds by my count—before I begin to notice some unexpected surprises. My eyes moved from the top down. The landscape is clearly the world of the Yangtze River, a favorite subject for so many Chinese painters. I saw a familiar scene and familiar brushstrokes, the intricate interplay between geology and biology, between the angular rockiness of the mountain and the spidery chaos of the trees and bushes. But immediately my eye was drawn to the gnarled shape of a crashed helicopter—painted shockingly, vibrantly blue—at the top of the mountain. Cars, seemingly abandoned, and painted with similarly offensive saturation, pile up on the mountainside. Nearby are migrant villagers, carrying their possessions on their backs, bearing their burdens with quiet dignity as they walk up the mountainside and toward the ineffable gray mists in the horizon. In the center of the painting a massive water creature consumes a human being. Legs dangle out comically from its gaping mouth. A massive insect, larger than the helicopter, watches the migrant villagers with interest. As the river cascades, downward we encounter men in hazmat suits, again in a vibrant neon blue. A giant bird stands over the body of a dead horse and gazes at another horse waiting dolefully in the back of a truck. The river is rushing now, foaming and chaotic, and a naked cherubic figure with an orb for a head draws an arrow to his bow. His orb-head carries the beautiful cursive “GE” of the General Electric company, one of the many contractors that supplied the Three Gorges Project Corporation. At last we reach the bottom of the painting, landing us squarely on the deck of a boat on a pleasure cruise. A pot-bellied old man reclines in
a pool. The scene is festive, with clusters of colorful balloons, a court jester, and a media personality interviewing a politician. Everyone is having a grand time, a bon voyage. The peasants retreating from their village, burdened with their only pos sessions, are having a very different sort of journey. A final detail strikes me as the most subversive and interesting. In the lower-left corner of the painting, almost out of sight, is a cluster of rocks. Lodged in the stones is a single sword. Nobody seems to pay attention to it. I wonder whether there is a reference here to Arthurian legend, to an old story about land and water as key participants in political legitimation. The sword is still lodged in the stone; the land and the water are deafening in their silence. • • • Born in Beijing in 1963, Yun-Fei Ji grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976). He graduated from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, and in 1986, he took a scholarship at the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. Ever since, he has worked as a critical figure in the contemporary art scene, addressing pressing issues in modern Chinese society: the environmental and human costs of rapid industrialization and the unseen lives of rural villagers, migrant workers, and those displaced by massive projects like the Three Gorges Dam. Ji’s art is ecological—in Bon Voyage the viewer has a difficult time distinguishing between the different sorts of beings that form our collective world. Where do rocks end and plants begin? Where do trees end and birds begin? The painting plays with camouflage and transformation. At the same time, Bon Voyage uses vibrant, neon colors to show us what is shocking, offensive, and out of place: the helicopters, the cars, the balloons. But what makes Ji’s art most like a traditional Song landscape is its use of the human figure.
Yun-Fei Ji (born 1963), Bon Voyage, 2002 Ink, mineral pigment on mulberry paper, 77 � 26 ¹⁄₂ in. Gift of Peter Norton, 2015.26.8
If you want to understand a painting, the great connoisseur Mi Fu (1051–1107) writes, you have to pay close attention to the human figures who inhabit that landscape. While we might be tempted to pay attention to the majestic mountains and gorges, the grand vistas afforded us by the painter, or the free-flowing brushstrokes that—as in the art of calligraphy—demonstrate the internal spontaneity and moral cultivation of the artist, for Mi Fu, true understanding of a painting comes with an appreciation of the human figures that occupy the landscape. In the words of art historian Richard Barnhart, “Figures in landscape can function as a moral presence or reminder of values, revealing yet another facet of the painter’s mind and acting as a kind of code to the meaning of the landscape they occupy.”1 Ji’s paintings abound in interesting human figures. He often draws our attention to corrupt policemen and politicians, but more often he depicts the struggles of China’s peasantry—the people who bear the greatest burdens of rapid industrialization and environmental destruction. For his Three Gorges paintings, Ji traveled to the dam, bearing witness to the displacement of entire villages. His art embodies a shockingly simple, direct, and challenging ethical principle: to pay attention to the world is to offer a critique of it. If we are going to inhabit a world worth living in, we need to pay close attention. I’m grateful to Yun-Fei Ji for this ethic of seeing. He may be labeled a contemporary Chinese artist, but I see his work as continuous with a long tradition of Chinese literary and visual arts that speak to their contemporary circumstances, that delight us with surprising twists, and that offer searing critiques of powerful people and powerful ideologies.
1 Richard Barnhart, “Figures in Landscape,” Archives of Asian Art 42 (1989): 65.
Yun-Fei Ji Meets Students from the Chinese School at the Chinese Community Center of the Capital District of New York
Sunny Ra Museum Educator for K–12 and Community Programs On February 20, 2019, a group of students from the Chinese School at the Chinese Community Center (CCC) of the Capital District of New York traveled to the Tang Teaching Museum for a special visit with Beijing-born artist Yun-Fei Ji. The Chinese School of CCC, located in Albany, serves more than 440 K–12 students and offers a wide range of language, cultural, artistic, and enrichment programs for Chinese who are both heritage speakers and non-speakers. With more than forty years of service, the Chinese School of CCC aims to help students gain Chinese language skills in reading and writing, develop an understanding of Chinese culture and history, establish connections, and expand the reach to communities with different language and cultural backgrounds. Chinese School Principal Emily Wang and PTA Chair Luna Zhang were thrilled with the opportunity for their students to meet Ji at the museum. On the day of the visit, twenty-seven students, ages six to thirteen, along with their chaper-
All the students had a chance to get a close look; then Ji joined them in conversation. He spoke briefly about his background growing up in China. Some of the students and chaperones were familiar with the region that he described as well as the Cultural Revolution that impacted his life and subsequent work. He also explained how he uses traditional Chinese painting techniques and styles to discuss historical, cultural, and contemporary issues. The impact for young people to see someone who looks like them in the museum is tremendous because it shows that they can have a voice in a public realm. Representation matters for young people to visualize all the possibilities for their futures. Students began to raise their hands and ask questions: How long does it take to complete each of your works? What kind of materials do you use? Looking back, what would you think of the work you made when you were a child? What inspired you to be an artist? Ji responded that the time it
information about these issues by traveling to the affected areas, making sketches, and interviewing people to learn first-hand what is happening to them and their environments, leading to work that combines the natural and the unnatural. In addition, students learned that Ji makes dozens of sketches before creating a final composition on a special paper handmade in a Chinese village. Ji described traveling to this village and how watching the workers weave the fibers back and forth to make the paper looks like watching a dance. He also discussed how he is often disappointed in his work because he feels that it doesn’t seem adequate enough to tell the story he wants to tell. But he said he always wanted to be an artist: art was always a part of his life and he never considered another path. After the conversation, students created their own artworks inspired by Bon Voyage. They used watercolor pencils, graphite, and watercolor paper to design landscapes, incor porating elements from their own communities like their houses, the layouts of their neighborhoods, places they have visited, and
takes to complete each work differs,
other scenes from their life stories.
depending on when he feels it is
Ji was delighted and tickled to look
finished. He discussed how his work
at their creations. The students
deals with the effects of industrial-
and chaperones were excited that
ization and commercialism in vari-
this important artist would take
ous Chinese villages. He gathers
time to talk to them about their work! Once the students were finished, we formed two lines with their projects, recalling Ji’s vertical format, to create a community work that reflected the students’ communities in one large artwork.
Students said of the visit:
ones, arrived at the Tang and settled
It inspired me to be a better artist.
in to view Ji’s Bon Voyage (2002).
I learned that art is for expressing
I invited the students to take
your own feelings.
turns examining the work up close.
I never thought about combining
There was much excitement in their
modern features into a historical
faces as they began discussing it
with one another:
I will remember this experience
There’s a helicopter! There are people in suits like there was some toxic leak or alien encounter! Look at the cars!
because I have never met a famous artist before.
The Artist Interview In fall 2018, Dayton Director Ian Berry taught a course called “The Artist Interview” in which Skidmore students interviewed internationally renowned visiting artists. Below are selections from some of those interviews; longer versions of others are published throughout the magazine.
Lari Pittman Interview by Jess Lincoln ’20 and Isabella Ellis ’20 “I hope the language in my work is the type that is available both to the intellectual elite and to the popular world— that, somehow, it’s a language with that kind of range of intonation and cadence and vocabulary. I hope it’s the type of language that doesn’t separate its capacity to welcome intellectual discourse and popular discourse. I want both.”
Interview by Matthew Neporent ’20 and Eva Herschler ’19
Interview by Arielle Knight ’19 and Zoe Klein ’19
“I’ve worked hard to be able to change my work as my interests change, as I learn more and experience more, and it hasn’t come without consequences. There’s a lot of pressure on artists to find something that’s approved and accepted and stick with it. There’s a lot of pressure on you as an artist to repeat the things that you become known for.”
“There is a lot of going out in the world involved in making my work. To make Grave Rubbings, I had to go up to graves. To film people watching TV in Vietnam, I had to go to Vietnam. I had to go into the basements of garages of local bands to film them. I had to go to productions of amateur plays. If I’m an evangelist for anything, it’s about going out into the world and experiencing it.”
Interview by Evelyn Wang ’19 and Lila Dittersdorf ’20
Interview by Yuwen Jiang ’20 and Gabe Espaillat ’21
“I feel lucky as an artist because everything from prehistoric painting to the present day, in a sense, is my family. I get to respond to every visual image that’s been made by a human and choose the ones that have significance to me. That’s what makes you unique as an individual and as an artist. And that’s a very joyful part of being an artist—you have all the wonderful history of image making at your disposal.”
“I photograph whoever is willing to come in front of the camera and pose, though sometimes, I think it’s not that interesting. Later, that could prove to be an interesting photograph. I don’t make judgments in the moment. I don’t prequalify anything.”
with Geoffrey Chadsey
On November 9, 2018, Skidmore students Bailey Mikytuck ’20 and Emery Spina ’20 interviewed artist Geoffrey Chadsey as part of the course “The Artist Interview,” led by Dayton Director Ian Berry.
Emery Spina ’20 What was the process to make Global Dandyism? Geoffrey Chadsey It’s a slowly built-up composite of different source materials that I was working with. One was a photograph I had been carrying around with me for probably fifteen years of a basketball player standing in his living room. He’s in his boxers with his hands on his hips in a Mark Spitz pose. I knew I wanted to do something with that pose. And I had a Chuck Close photograph of Kate Moss, and I was recognizing this repeated gesture. I think I was trying to make up my mind between them, and I just put them all in there. I honestly can’t remember. I think those are Grace Jones’s lips. Then I started inserting myself. I cannot remember where the face came from. Those are my eyes. I think those are my hands. My hands are almost always in the work inevitably. The bottom ones are Kate Moss’s hands. A lot of my portraits are in various stages of undress. There was something about clothing decisions that I was fascinated with. And I was joking with myself about how you get implicated by what you look at or what your source material is. I’m constantly looking at clothing. I decided to start bringing that into the work to question how clothing choices project an identity or class or sexual aspiration or perform masculinity and so on. There’s fashion in my work, popular culture, and rock and roll or hip-hop fashion where you have a lot of permission to be performative. So putting on lipstick, putting on a crazy hat, whatever. That space is fun for me to fantasize within. And Grace Jones is the ultimate source text. I just think she’s incredible. The phrase “global dandyism” is from an academic conference that I came across online that was specifically looking at black dandyism. It was about a culture of dress in black culture that was happening in France. Bailey Mikytuck ’20 Are there multiple figures depicted in this work? GC Yes, three, I think. I was drawing, and I kept changing my mind on the figure. I decided to keep the change of mind within the figure, so that it ended up being multi-armed. I like that idea of a shiftiness of this character who can’t quite seem to figure out what pose they want for their final portrait. ES Is it supposed to be read as one being?
GC Yes. We can go into multiplicity of identities or the idea of a person aspiring to be another person, and there’s a degree of appropriation that’s happening in the image. It’s this mixing and matching of identities that I think we all carry in ourselves. As I’m drawing, I build up, and then afterward, I make guesses as to what it’s about. BM Can you speak about the appropriation aspect of your work? GC All my drawings are appropriations because everything comes from a massive archive of images that I steal off the Internet. There’s no real people standing in my studio. I didn’t want to just stick to white bodies. So as I was drawing this, somehow this African American face came in. And it was only later that I thought, “Oh, is this a blackface rendering?” There’s something about being a white artist. The second you draw a black face it’s like, am I making a commentary on blackness or is this just me trying to bring other faces into this drawing? I don’t want to just be drawing white bodies. For awhile, I was drawing green bodies, a goofy way to get around it. It’s an irreconcilable question right now that’s clearly driving me to make more work. I keep waiting for someone to be pissed off, and then I could figure out how I’m going to respond because I can figure out how they’re reading it. That hasn’t happened yet. ES How many different reference photos go into one piece? GC Global Dandyism is about eight. There are probably five to eight photos that I’m working from per image. ES And you find these all over the Internet? GC Yeah, Google image search is the best thing ever. I’m an enormous thief on the Internet. But the operative word isn’t “Google”; it’s “search.” It’s like looking at a blank piece of paper. A bunch of artists do collaborative drawing parties, and part of that is realizing that you have this archive in your head. If you start making marks on a piece of paper, you start recognizing images, and then you sit there trying to bring them out, and it’s not so much about rendering something that you’re looking at; it’s just coming out of your head. In some ways, what I do is the same thing. It’s just that my imagination is now taking place on a computer screen. I’m waiting to see what comes up. Sometimes I’m active about going out to find something very specific as I’m making a drawing. I’ve had two drawings where I thought, this clearly needs a fanny pack. I couldn’t tell you why. I was doing all these searches, and I could not find the right fanny pack. I went on Amazon and bought four different fanny packs. And then I sat in my studio with the fanny packs with my hands jammed in them,
photographing myself trying to get that image in my head. Sometimes there are those moments where I’ll get an image stuck in my head and if I can’t find it, then I’ll make it. ES How long did you work on Global Dandyism? GC I have a bunch of drawings happening in my studio at the same time. I have some drawings that I’ve revisited repeatedly over ten years. Every now and then, I get an inquiry for a drawing and I’m like, “That doesn’t exist anymore. It looks like this now.” Global Dandyism was finished in 2013, but then I showed it again in 2017. And before I gave it to the gallery in 2017, I decided to rework it a little bit. I rendered into the top head more, made it more cartoonish, and I rendered the limbs a little darker. My mark-making had gotten a lot darker, and I decided to make Global Dandyism more comparable to the work I was doing at the time. Sometimes my dates on my drawings are a little confusing. I think if something’s in my studio, it’s fair game; I can keep working on it. BM What drives you to go back to these pieces from years ago and revisit them? GC Resentment? I don’t know. I joke that when the drawings are in your studio for too long, they’re like children that don’t leave home, and you think, “Go out in the world and make something with your life.” Because they’re pencil, I can erase. It’s fun to rework them because a lot of the rendering’s already done, and I can start shifting the figure. Because I’m already doing stuff with multiple bodies, it just becomes yet another body that’s on the page. ES Do you ever have drawings that just don’t work out, or do you push them until they work? GC Being called illustrative is such a dirty word in the art world, and what I’m doing is so over-articulated in some ways. There’s this idea of the over-determined image, where something becomes so packed and overly conscious with meaning. Those images tend to really irritate me, and then I figure out how to break them. There’s definitely stuff I’ve worked on too long. There was one drawing I’d been working on for four years. I was erasing, and there are times when the pigment really stains the plastic, I couldn’t get the pigment out, and I just kept working on it and working on it. I could feel this fury growing up in me, and I became an eight-year-old kid. I picked up a bucket of water and I threw it on the drawing. And there’s this funny thing, when you indulge rage, it doesn’t make you feel better, it just makes you more angry. Then I picked up a plant and threw it at it. And then I just was, like, full-on hissy fit. I ripped it off the wall, jumbled it all up; I was jumping up and down
like an angry cartoon character, and I threw it in the corner of the room and then went out and got drunk. But I knew not to throw it away. It looked like a dead body. It looked like I killed something. I rolled it up, and I took it out right before a show last year. It had been rolled up for three years, and it mellowed out. It is probably one of the best drawings I’ve ever done. I never want to go through that again. I don’t think I can replicate that experience. That drawing was dead. I worked on it too long. I think I wrote in a crayon at the top, “This drawing is fucking dead.” Talk about over-determined. And then that all bled down the image. It’s probably the most painterly image I’ve done. It’s probably the most visceral one in the show. It was definitely the one people were going up to and being like, “What is going on with this?” ES Why did you choose Mylar to draw on? GC It’s plastic, so it takes watercolor pencil really well. You can wet it. The watercolor pencil becomes paint, then it dries, and you can still erase it. The plastic allows me to work in ways that are both wet and dry, and there are no distinctions between the two. And it takes a beating. I can sand it. There’s sanding that happens in the face. You see these fine marks where I beat down the pigment. And I just love the ghostly quality. It’s plastic literally, and then it’s plastic figuratively in the sense that it allows me to move media around and not distinguish between this is pencil, this is paint, this is crayon. It all becomes one on the surface. BM How do you decide what images to use? GC Gut instinct. I do really goofy searches, like “nude full body, high res,” click. The Internet is overfilled with images of people presenting themselves to the camera for whatever reason. I found this glorious image of a woman, full nude, full bush, in her hot tub, standing on the edge of the bathtub just presenting herself to the camera. There’s nothing artful or alluring; it was almost like a mug shot. It was such a motherlode finding that image. I instantly could build on that body. And it became a drawing of a chimpanzee-like figure with a fanny pack pulling a gun out on the edge of a bathtub. I’m looking for awkward moments. I’m looking for moments where I feel I can play a little bit with gender slippage. There are these amateur shots of men presenting themselves to the camera as an object of desire but, at the same time, also performing this “I don’t give a fuck about how I look” attitude. It’s that funny balancing act of being masculine. And I love poses where I feel something’s wonky. Either I’m going to make it wonky or there’s something in the performance of that masculinity that is interesting; it could just be that the body is awkward or the person doesn’t look like they’re fully convinced of how they’re presenting themselves—these kinds of moments.
Geoffrey Chadsey (born 1967), Global Dandyism, 2013–2017 Watercolor pencil and crayon on Mylar, 70 � 42 in. Tang purchase, 2018.27
BM Do you usually intend for your drawings to be gendered or are they meant to be read as ambiguous? GC Ambiguous. I’ve been rethinking lately about how these get expressed on the page. I am cis-male. I grew up being a sissy basically, constantly feeling like I was failing at being masculine. So I identify with gender fluidity even though I present as cis-male, and there’s something about starting to play with these gender slippages that I find really liberating. As trans identity gets more talked about, and we hear of very real experiences grounded in very real bodies, I’m worried that somehow my work is another form of appropriation of those experiences. It’s a very modern art practice to mine different cultures, different experiences, and mash them together to try to come up with something new. It’s been fun for me to play with these gender slippages, and there’s a whole line of art that’s been done over thousands of years that looks at hermaphrodites and pan-gendered beings. But I’m more
conscious of how that gets played out on the page now. Am I going to change what I do? I don’t know. But it’s a new question mark that’s above my head. The great thing about people is they’re opaque. You can only get so much access to what a person’s thinking. I try to have the drawings be like that as well, with indeterminate legibility to who these fictional beings are. You can’t look at this figure and say, “I know what that guy’s about.” That’s what I’m trying to capture.
Geoffrey Chadsey earned his BA in visual and environmental studies at Harvard University and his MFA from the California College of the Arts. His work, often life-size drawings of fictionalized figures, addresses concerns of identity and gender expression and, in particular, questions ideals of masculinity. He has received awards and honors from the New York Foundation for the Arts John Burton Harter Charitable Trust, the Artadia Art Council, and the Fine Arts Work Center.
William Kentridge Tango for Page Turning 2012–2013 Tom Yoshikami Assistant Director for Engagement South African artist William Kentridge’s 2012– 2013 stop-motion animation Tango for Page Turning begins with a shot of an antique book. A hand enters into the frame and flips to the half-title page, which reads, A DICTIONARY OF APPLIED CHEMISTRY VOL. I. The hand turns to the title page and we see a cutout reading “PARTICULAR COLLISIONS ” superimposed on the book’s title, already suggesting that the dance between viewer/reader and dictionary will be heavily mediated. The hand turns two more pages, but until the end of the work’s nearly three-minute running time, the pages—adorned with Kentridge’s charcoal drawings, paint, and text fragments—turn themselves, advancing so quickly that, like viewing a flip book, we see the illusion of movement. A depiction of Dada Masilo, a South African dancer, choreographer, and one of Kentridge’s artistic collaborators, side steps onto and then off of the left page. Kentridge’s self-portrait enters onto the right page; he extends his hand to a figureless left page. A black horse trots along as text fragments flash across its body. Splotches and shapes, only occasionally representational in nature, appear on a page, then move, and ultimately disappear. Some sequences are repeated, some only appear once. All of these fragments might seem chaotic and dizzying if the piece wasn’t so elegantly choreographed and set to Philip Miller’s stuttering score, itself composed from fragments.1 Despite its nonlinear structure, we might consider the work’s climax as the par ticular collision that takes place when Masilo and Kentridge dance onto opposite pages simultaneously and jump into each other, exploding into black splotches that at points reassemble into various parts of our horse. But that is only one of many collisions. Kentridge points to “fragmentation and reassembly”2 as a metaphor for how we can make sense of the world. It’s also a useful way to under stand the artistic process of creating as well as the action in Tango. Early in the piece, fragmented text cutouts reading, UNDO , UNSAY , UNSAVE ,
UNREMEMBER , and UNHAPPEN dance atop
the turning pages. While the video is not overtly political, it’s hard not to read it while thinking of colonialism and apartheid in South Africa, the focus of much of his other work. If we turn back the pages, can we remake the past and change the future? Tango for Page Turning is part of Kentridge’s larger multimedia chamber opera called Refuse the Hour (2012), inspired by conversations with American physicist and science historian Peter Galison about the technology of time keeping, Einstein’s theory of special relativity, and string theory. As an animator, Kentridge is most famous for his technique of filming a succession of meticulously crafted charcoal drawings on a single sheet of paper, which makes visible erasure and change and highlights the passage of time. As figures move across the frames in his 9 Drawings for Projection (1989–2003), for example, their past is ever-present. In Tango, however, he notably eschews this animation-as-palimpsest style. By situating his animations on the pages of a book, Kentridge makes us aware that the past is always present, waiting to be reexperienced and repurposed. Although the video’s progression suggests all pages come from the same nineteenthcentury Dictionary of Applied Chemistry, a closer examination reveals that Robert Burton’s 1621 The Anatomy of Melancholy and a Dutch dictionary also provide settings for his drawings and collage. Using pages from these historical texts, he further emphasizes the fragmented nature of how we might understand our past. But the literal framing device the book provides also suggests an ever-present future. We may not know what lies in store, but we’re constantly aware of the next page.
1 Miller layers jumbled lyrics from an English translation of composer Hector Berlioz’s La Spectre de la Rose, sung by Joanna Dudley, over a decidedly un-fragmented classical piano piece. 2 Kentridge quoted in “Tango for Page Turning Exhibition Guide,” Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, 2017, https://artmuseum.mtholyoke.edu/tango.
Stills from William Kentridge (born 1955), Tango for Page Turning, 2012â&#x20AC;&#x201C;2013 HD video, 2 minutes, 48 seconds Tang purchase in partnership with the New Media Arts Consortium, a collaboration of the art museums at Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Colby College, Middlebury College, Mount Holyoke College, and Skidmore College, 2016.7
Beauty & Bite
Beauty & Bite presents art from the Tang Teaching Museum collection that considers themes of memory, mythologies, and histories, real and imagined, marked by joy and pain. The art is aesthetically seductive and conceptually provocative, using theatricality, appropriation, and seriality to address intersections of personal experience and universal concerns. Nan Goldin’s color photographs are raw, diaristic views of her and her friends’ lives navigating love and hardships, while William Kentridge similarly explores life experience, as it relates to time and memory, with animated drawings of a tango across antique book pages. Meaning in his work is crafted by manipulation of materials, not unlike Nancy Grossman’s sculptural relief, whose abstract forms of reconfigured everyday objects are propositions about action and place. Nayland Blake uses the unassuming, childlike bunny to create overtly jarring and humorous images laced with references to race, gender, and sexuality. Glenn Ligon and Kara Walker’s interrogations of these topics relate to a specific time and place—the antebellum South; each artist strives to demythologize its atrocities and understand how our shared past affects individual and collective experiences of race and power today. Looking beyond this world, collaborators Frank Moore and Jim Self imagine an entirely unfamiliar, post-apocalyptic world in a captivatingly dreamlike, seemingly carefree narrative. Together, these eight artists of diverse backgrounds challenge expected ways of seeing, teasing out meaning in the everyday and seeking reinterpretations of the past and present. Beauty & Bite is curated by Mellon Collections Curator Rebecca McNamara
Jim Self on
In 2016, the Tang Teaching Museum acquired the digital video of award-winning film Beehive (1985) by Frank Moore and Jim Self and an archive of drawings by Moore featuring costume and set designs for Beehive and other dance and theater productions from the 1980s. On April 23, 2019, Dayton Director Ian Berry and Mellon Collections Curator Rebecca McNamara interviewed Self about the film and stage productions of Beehive.
long before we started Beehive. We haggled back and forth and worked out a solution. That dance premiered at Dance Theater Workshop along with a revival of Scraping Bottoms with new costuming by Frank. We got a lot of good press, which led to Jacob’s Pillow offering a commission for a new work. We created Blue Grotto, also very well received by the public and press. For a couple of years, Frank and I didn’t work together. Instead, I worked with two different artists, Ken Tisa and Edward Henderson. After that, Frank and I came together and started Beehive.
Rebecca McNamara How did you meet Frank Moore?
RM You made both a film and a ballet called Beehive. What was the original conception of the project?
Jim Self Frank and I met in 1979 through our mutual friend Richard Elovich. In the fall of 1978, I was on tour with Merce Cunningham in France and Richard came over from Italy to see the performances. He wanted me to meet his friend Frank, who was in Paris for some sort of residency. But it wasn’t until we were back in New York in the spring of 1979 that Frank and I actually met. About a year later, after I left Merce’s company, I was planning to do a show at the Cunningham studio with some new pieces I was working on. Ian Berry Of your own choreography? JS Of my own work, yes. Richard and I were collaborating on a piece involving storytelling and movement. It was called Silent Partner Changing Hands. Richard thought it would be a good idea to get a visual person to help with the look and suggested Frank. It was the first time I was presenting a full show of my work in New York. There was a trio called Marking Time and a solo dance called Uproots, which I had done for a commission at the Walker Art Center a few years earlier. We went over to Frank’s loft on Crosby Street and talked. Richard asked Frank to do “a costume or something, like a T-shirt.” Frank said, “I could do all the costumes.” I asked, “Have you done dance costumes before?” He said, “No.” I thought for a minute and then said, “All right. Let’s try it.” It was quite a gift. Marking Time had three energies. One was very fast and frenetic, and one was slow and sensuous and adagio, and that was for Ellen van Schuylenburch. The other energy was steady and measured as if “marking time.” The drawings Frank made interpreted that energy as death, and he painted a skeleton onto the dancer’s unitard. We hired a seamstress to build the costumes. She thought Frank was a total lunatic because his ideas were so unusual and very specific regarding the looks and actual construction. It all worked out very well, and those costumes are pretty indestructible. I still have them. In the fall of 1980 I was working on a new duet, A Domestic Interlude. Frank watched a rehearsal and said, “It looks like a spider’s web and the two dancers are being drawn into the web.” I listened and was thinking, “You want that narrative on this? It’s just a duet, come on.” This was
JS It started with the film idea. I had been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts film grant, and I asked Frank to collaborate. He proposed basing it on the idea of an insect. That didn’t go over so big with me, so we kept talking. Frank worked with bees when he was younger and described how they danced to communicate and built amazing hives that contained storage areas, birthing cells, and dancing spaces. He wanted to put dancers on pointe so they would look more bee-like. At that time, I was beginning to work with ballet companies, so I said, “Great. We’ll do a whole thing.” The bee movie was a television show for the bees, so it was not meant to be a big deal. But as we went on, we realized it was very special in itself. We’d use the outtakes and the rushes to raise money. People loved it; they just went crazy over it. The whole project got bigger and bigger and bigger because I kept working with bigger casts. I conceived a giant ballet. I got a gig in Angers, France, at the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine, in 1984. I was there for a year teaching and choreographing for the students. I would send money back to the United States, and it was the worst time in the world to be doing that because the exchange rate was very low. That’s how Frank had time to do many of these drawings, because he was getting paid out of that money. He continued the drawings when he came over and spent parts of the spring semester there in 1985. We started working on the ballet, but it was more like a long narrative dance/ theater production. One or two of the dances could actually perform on pointe, but the rest of them were modern dancers. They were young adult students from all over Europe. Not very experienced, but wonderful to work with. The composer Scott Johnson did the score for the dancing part and performed as an electric guitar-playing drone. Rob Besserer and Teri Weksler from New York were featured dancers. Rob was the cactus and Teri was my dance assistant and played a flower part in that production. A big hexagonal movie screen was hanging in the upper left corner of the stage. There is a moment where several of the bees are watching “Bee TV” on stage when a giant spider comes into the hive and attacks the bees. There is a fight and the spider gets obliterated. The bees continue on and celebrate
JS All of the things you said. That’s how we communicated. And I had my own drawings, too, but those were more choreographic. I had lots of notebooks that were different in style, but we communicated through drawing. I had lots of specific word notes or drawings of choreographic patterns. Sometimes he would look at those and respond. IB Was it also a way to ask set builders and costumers, “Can you make this?”
the revival of the hive with a big parade for all the flowers. The queen comes out at the end of the procession. It was a lot of fun, and we worked out so many ideas there. I got an invitation to go to the Sundance Institute in Utah that summer of 1985 to work with Ballet West. Coincidentally, Utah is known as the “Beehive State.” There were around thirty-five dancers, and all the women danced on pointe. It was the first time working with professional dancers on that project. We had a public showing of the work in progress, and everybody loved it. The director of Ballet West was moving to Boston and commissioned a version of Beehive for Boston Ballet, which was to be done in the spring of 1987. Thousands of people saw it, and many people came from New York and around the country, including my mother, sisters, nieces, and nephews from down South. There were some problems working with such a big company in a very expensive theater setting. Almost no time to work in the actual theater prior to opening. And traditional ballet fans and some critics were not as receptive as the general public.
JS Yes. The people who were actually building the sets and costumes over time became more and more professional. So the instructions and drawings became more specific and technical. RM What is the story behind Beehive? JS In the 1980s there was a heightened fear of nuclear disaster. The premise for the film is about what would happen if, after the nuclear holocaust, somehow the bee species and human species merged and created creatures that were “bee-people.” The only way they could reconstruct the lost culture was to go back into storage vaults and look at old videos of The Honeymooners and Bewitched. So the film was meant to be Bee TV—entertainment for this new species. IB There’s a lot of TV and pop influence in the film. JS Absolutely.
RM How were you feeling with the mixed critical reception in Boston?
IB Twilight Zone, Star Trek . . .
JS Beehive didn’t come from the ballet tradition. Most of the audience loved it, and years after, I would run into people who said how much they liked it. I realized I don’t really understand how the ballet world works, the aesthetics and priorities. They weren’t comfortable with my working process and different approach. They couldn’t take funkiness.
IB Sci-fi, all that, seems as much of an influence as ballet or any dance traditions.
IB There are rules. JS There are rules, and funky doesn’t belong. At least, not at that time. IB How did you use drawings? Did you and Frank talk to each other through drawing? Or were they to describe the project to other people?
JS Absolutely. Many people doing hip-hop and working on the movie Wild Style were downtown artists. The film people and the technical people who lived downtown were filming the uptown scene, and that was what was happening. Keith Haring was making B-boy drawings. That was in the space as well. We were definitely playing with that. It was fun, and it was totally natural to mix it up. That generation of artists in the 1980s were breaking away from the minimalist, modernist rules. It was the end of that period. Whatever worked, color and play, TV and dance and music references.
IB Pop music. Disco. B-52s. The B-52s could have shot a music video in Beehive. JS Exactly. IB Was there ever a conversation to produce or market it for TV? JS Yes. There was a series at that time out of Minneapolis called Alive from Off Center. I sent the curator the film and she said it was too funky for TV. I thought, that’s the worst choice one could possibly make regarding presenting new, edgy work. You couldn’t get any edgier than Beehive at that time. But I think they didn’t like it because it was too cartoonish for them. Alive from Off Center had a certain aesthetic. IB Conceptual and abstract. What were other influences on the choreography? JS When I was still with Merce Cunningham’s company in the late 1970s, he offered a video workshop for people who were interested. I learned about dance in TV space. Bodies go back and get smaller, and as they come forward they’re huge. So, bodies moving toward you have more power than bodies moving away. I learned that there are four directions you could enter. You didn’t have to enter always from the side. You could come up from the bottom, come in from the side, come in from the top, and this definitely influenced Beehive. Martha Graham’s dance Lamentations influenced the Drone’s crying scene, and generally the whole set look was influenced by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a German silent film from the 1920s.
Jim Self works in dance, performance, visual media, and installation. An Alabama native, Self began his dancing career in 1972 in Chicago. In the 1970s and 1980s, Self performed with Merce Cunningham Dance Company, choreographed for Robert Wilson productions, and collaborated on multiple projects with Frank Moore. From 1989 to 2014, he taught dance and performance at Cornell University. Self lives in upstate New York and generates performance works and other collaborative projects. Stills from Frank Moore (1953–2002) and Jim Self (born 1954), Beehive, 1985 16mm film transferred to digital video, 15:45 minutes Gift of the Gesso Foundation, 2019.6.3
Dyke Action Machine! 1991–2008 Carrie Moyer Dyke Action Machine! was around for seventeen years, which is an unusually long time. I think it’s because we only did one or two projects a year. Sue Schaffner, DAM! cofounder, and I would have these intense work sessions, and then we’d do our own thing. Our context was advertising because we lived in New York, where the streets were covered with posters, and we both worked at ad agencies. Everything was being pitched to straight consumers and, as lesbians, we were literally invisible in the mainstream media. About five years into our collaboration, it started to dawn on us: Is being recognized by capitalism the only way to verify your identity? And, ultimately, is that the best way to change culture? A lot of the projects were done during June, Gay Pride Month in New York City. We would hire professionals to wheatpaste specific neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, refreshing those areas over several weeks. Using a company protected our posters from “sniping,” the slang term for papering over someone else’s work. We would typically put up around four thousand posters during a project. Posters were an important means of communication in the East Village during the 1980s. The street was where mainstream advertising and radical, political messaging existed side-by-side. Do You Love the Dyke in Your Life? (1993) was an appropriation of an ad for Calvin Klein underwear. Everything in the posters was made pro bono. Sue did the photo shoot, all the models were friends. At the time, you needed very pow-
e rful computers to do this stuff, which we didn’t have. I stayed late at work a lot, or we used our colleagues’ retouching studios. These posters were collective efforts. Each of these posters marks an era in the gay and lesbian civil rights movement. Straight to Hell (1994) critiques the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the Clinton Administration. Lesbian Americans: Don’t Sell Out! (1998) responded to the idea of targeted advertising and spoke to lesbian consumers. At the time, there were mar keting consultants that helped advertisers access gay consumers. According to their stats, a picture of two women in a Subaru would increase your sales. There was a lot of conversation about that in the gay press. The project about gay marriage, “Gay Marriage: You Might as Well Be Straight” (1997) was probably our most provocative. At the time we made it, New York City allowed you to register your domestic partner, but you couldn’t actually get married. Your name simply ended up somewhere on a list of domestic partners. Sue and I had a lot of questions: Why did marriage become the central issue in the gay civil rights movement? Do we want to shoehorn ourselves into the current structure? It never made sense to us. I did end up marrying my partner, Sheila Pepe, because it seemed weird to say, “No, I don’t want to marry you,” after twenty very happy years together! From a feminist perspective, one of the main functions of marriage has been to boost the financial wellbeing of the wife, so the idea of two women getting married in such a system ensures they will remain at the bottom of the economic ladder. On the other hand, we’ve had gay people who’ve asked for the posters to give out at their own gay weddings. I read that gesture as tacit acknowledgment of the conundrum marriage poses for lesbians. In March 2019, Carrie Moyer worked with students in Associate Professor of Gender Studies Gwen D’Arcangelis’s class “Lived Feminism: Engagement and Praxis” as they explored ways to bring public attention to their own activist messages. During her visit, she recorded a conversation with Dayton Director Ian Berry and Mellon Collections Curator Rebecca McNamara about her recent gifts from her archive, including posters from the organization she cofounded with Sue Schaffner, Dyke Action Machine!
Dyke Action Machine! (1991–2008), Gay Marriage: You Might As Well Be Straight, 1997 Offset poster, 24 � 18 in. Gift of Carrie Moyer, 2019.4.5 Dyke Action Machine! (1991–2008), Straight to Hell, 1994 Offset poster, 25 ¹⁄₂ � 19 in. Gift of Carrie Moyer, 2019.4.4
Gwen D’Arcangelis on 1970s Feminism in Wimmen’s Comix I began reading comics in the early 2000s, when I discovered the feminist, queer-centric Dykes to Watch Out For. Other feminist-inspired comics followed: Fray, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Y: The Last Man. Recently, I discovered another comic: the Tang Teaching Museum acquired issues 5, 6, and 7 (1975–1976) of Wimmen’s Comix. The series, birthed in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1970s women’s lib era, produced seventeen issues in its twenty-year run. Intrigued, I wanted to learn more. In the introduction to a two-book anthology of the series, cofounder Trina Robbins briefly chronicled its genesis.1 She described the male-dominated, sexist underground comics scene and how this inspired the creation of an all-women-authored series. Her narrative was accompanied by photos of the collective: they wore 1970s garb and the one man pictured (the publisher) sported a long, untamed beard. All of this triggered my nostalgia for an era I imagined to be wonderfully radical and experimental. But I noticed something else as well: all eight members pictured were white. This observation kicked in a different type of sentiment—wariness. I was well aware of the particular gaps surrounding race in US feminism in the 1970s. I wondered: were any of the members women of color and, further, how was race portrayed in the comic? The seventeen issues offer a diversity of topics and a range of tones and visual approaches. Issue 5 contains a story boldly titled “Doin’ It!” Young kids, upon seeing heterosexual kissing scenes on TV, decide to try it. They move from kissing to touching each other’s genitals. Soon after, an older woman enters the room and puts a stop to their exploration. She employs the language of “hurt” to cinch her lesson that this is bad behavior. But once left alone again, the kids start right back up and discover that kissing and touching far from “hurts”; instead, it is pleasurable. As a critique of conservatism, the story epitomizes the era’s sex positivity. In parenting, this meant acceptance and normalization of sexual desires rather than stigmatization and suppression. Nineteenseventies feminism further asserted that mainstream US culture’s shame about sex was tied to its control of women’s sexual expression. I appreciated this particular insight, as my own teenage years were spent under Reagan’s repressive moral regime as well as in the puritanical sexual culture of New England.
Wimmen’s Comix, issues 5, 6, 7, 1975–1976 Three staple-bound comic books, 10 � 7 in. (each, closed) Gifts of Steven Leiber, 2017.17.141, .113, .112
Heteronormative monogamy, prizing virginity, and what we today call “slut-shaming” were deeply entrenched. The next story that caught my eye confirmed my worst fears about the racial gaps of 1970s-era feminism. This story, titled “Tiger Lily of Saigon,” was also sexually provocative, focusing on a Vietnamese woman and a white man in the throes of passionate sex. The setting was the Vietnam war, and the story reproduced the white man’s gaze: the white man’s lines to the Vietnamese woman included “sexy bitch” and descriptions of her “lotus-soft body,” among other Orientalizing, sexist images. I was also disappointed that the story offered no clear anti-war or anti-imperial stance. Instead, it portrayed the tragedy of the war in terms of barriers to the couple’s love— he was a US soldier and she was a night club singer who eventually died in the war. The story ends with him, years later in the United States and married, reminiscing about “Tiger Lily.” The story was a disturbing reminder of the derogatory ideas the war produced about Asian and Asian American women, who continue to be objectified to this day. Issue 6 is titled “Special Bicentennial Issue.” I am always skeptical of US nationalism, and I wondered whether the issue would challenge the rewriting of Native American genocide present in most US histories. But in this issue, I found two stories, one on Harriet Tubman, the other on Pocahontas. There was much for me to love in both stories. The Pocahontas story was an unabashed critique of white supremacy and imperialism, as Pocahontas calls Captain Smith a “pale-faced turkey” and a “dirty old misogynist.” The Tubman story was celebratory and depicted her standing tall, towering over her audience, breaking chains and tugging the Underground Railroad. I especially appreciated how it foregrounded her strength and power in fighting against injustice—in the various frames she speaks, totes a gun, and heals the wounded. Moreover, the visuals highlight not just her powerful actions, but also her emotions—her anger, her tears, her loving embrace of family. Issue 7, titled “Outlaws,” touches on another minefield of 1970s feminism—the portrayal of sexual orientation and gender identity. I knew that in this era many straight feminists had marginalized lesbians and queer women, just as they had women of color. I wondered how the comic would portray queer women. The issue focuses on a wide range of women whom the authors considered outlaws: women of color in “Petite Morte,” lesbians in “Pirates,” and sex workers in “Strangers in the Night.” While the story focused on women of color treated them as Other—as murderous and oversexed—the story on sex workers centered their perspectives, particularly their critiques of sexual mores and respectability norms. “Pirates,” which depicts a butch-femme pair of female pirates with an active sex life, falls somewhere in between these two poles. Portraying queer women in explicit sexual acts certainly has a long and sordid history in the regime of the male gaze. However, the two queer women in this story disrupt heteronormative patriarchy by taking ownership of their gendered sexual expression—as butch and femme. ••• In my gender studies classes, I teach students to avoid approaching earlier eras of feminism as reified antiquities from which our contemporary feminisms drastically depart. Accordingly, my perusal of these three issues of Wimmen’s Comix reminded me of the diversity of 1970s-era feminism and its echoes in present-day clashes among feminists. There was much I resonated with— the sex-positive themes, the portrayals of strong women of color and defiant queer women. In turn, I rejected the narratives that dehumanized women of color, even if they were informative in providing a glimpse into long-standing
discourse about US women of color. I am reminded of bell hooks’s insight in her essay “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators” that critical consumers of media can find pleasure even in narratives that reproduce their negation: “pleasure in a context in which looking was also about contestation and confrontation.” 2 This comic provides the opportunity for more than one enactment of pleasure: of looking, of relating, but also of interrogation, of deconstruction. 1 Trina Robbins, ed., The Complete Wimmen’s Comix (Seattle: Fantagraphic Books, 2016). 2 bell hooks, “The Oppositional Gaze: Black Female Spectators,” in Black Looks: Race and Representation (New York: Routledge, 1992), 249.
Skidmore Associate Professor of Gender Studies Gwen D’Arcangelis specializes in feminist science studies and the connections between gender, race, and US empire. She also works in immigrant justice activism.
Dayna Joseph â&#x20AC;&#x2122;19
During the Golden Age of Hollywood, a definition of glamour emerged that was inspired by young, beautiful actresses who captivated the nation through the big screen. In the early and mid-twentieth century, photographer George Hurrell captured portraits of glamorous stars like Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, and Jean Harlow, among others. To many white Americans, these women represented the epitome of beauty, desirability, and sophistication. In dialogue with Hurrell’s photographs, New Ms. Thang highlights recent photography by contemporary black female artists including Renee Cox, Endia Beal, Mickalene Thomas, and Deana Lawson. Themes of female resilience, black representation, and empowerment are manifested in these contemporary photographs, signifying a form of glamour that questions the authority of Hollywood, an industry dominated by white men. Instead of conforming to the societal standards of the past, these artists make their own rules and define glamour for themselves. Additionally, a selection of vernacular photographs from the Tang Teaching Museum collection and my own family snapshots reflect commonalities between glamour expressed through art and glamour expressed in everyday life. As the exhibition’s curator, and as a black woman, I am interested in how these images allow for women who look like me to exist within the narrative of glamour, opening the door to a more diverse and inclusive lens through which glamour is constructed. Dayna Joseph ’19 is the 2017–2018 Carole Marchand ’57 Endowed Intern
Art in Conversation
DAESHA DEVÓN HARRIS TENDING OUR MOTHERS’ GARDENS 108
When I first saw the Tang Teaching Museum’s recently acquired collection of more than five hundred found photographs, I was thrilled. The imagery, which includes various aspects of Black life, is rich, familiar, joyful, and robust. I was curious about the designation as “vernacular” photographs, knowing that this title can be used both to differentiate “fine art” from “non-art” and to describe everyday life. It was important to me, while working with student collaborator Amanda Peckler ’20 in the museum, to think about the many art forms that have purposely been excluded from the categorization of “fine art”—craft, folk art, outsider art, street art, documentary, etc.—and to consider why. The language we use is important, and the histories of these terms can inform how we view the work that has been institutionally set apart. What becomes clear is that these distinctions are commonly made along the lines of race, gender, and class. We approached the collection with an awareness of what has historically been considered valuable and who has had the privilege of making that work. In the Tang collection, we see intimate moments, thoughtful portraits, celebrations, pride of accomplishments and ownership, outdoor leisure, joy!, the home, interracial relationships, and family love. These are real life experiences that challenge prevailing (negative) stereotypes of Black life. In a sense, this “amateur” work has more truth and value to me than most art in museum collections, particularly when it comes to African American subject matter, considering that 85 percent of work in eighteen major US museums belongs to white artists, and 87 percent is by men. African American artists have made just 1.2 percent of the total work across these institutions.1 We explored the collection, making categories according to subjects of interest, each time narrowing them down to smaller piles and fewer categories. Some of my favorite themes include family picnics, doorways/ thresholds (the place or point of entering or beginning), portraits (studio and environment), and beach scenes (in reverence for the season). After much deliberation, I decided to make a celebratory photograph based on my favorite portrait in the collection. The image shows a beautiful young woman sitting in front of a hand-painted backdrop. Her gaze is direct and seems a little sad or reflective, but at the same time, she gives a subtle “smize.” I imagine she is at a threshold in her life, possibly marking a recent achievement, maybe leaving home for the next step of life. What is in her hands? Does she hold something? If so, will she carry it with her? What I love most is the painted nature scene that places her in a dreamlike space, a space open to possibilities. The image, by an unrecorded maker, is reminiscent of the ubiquitous Mona Lisa, who also sits against an imaginary landscape and emanates a similar expression. Inspired by Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” (1974), I wanted to incorporate my own garden, which I inherited from my mother and which
holds memories of my paternal grandmother, who was also a passionate gardener. The essay speaks to the unyielding spirit of Black women throughout history in the face of racial and gender oppression and the ways in which they exercised creative freedom by any and all means afforded to them. I knew exactly the person to sit for the photograph: a brilliant young woman at a threshold, just graduated from Skidmore, full of life and promise, embarking on a new and remarkable journey. It was meaningful to me to photograph her at my home and to include the original photograph in my new work. Rather than create the backdrop with paint and brush, I used the natural environment and light, incorporating flowers and shrubs that I’ve nurtured and that embody histories of their own. Toward the end of the essay, as she describes her mother’s garden work, Walker writes: She is involved in work her soul must have. Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty. Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift, is a legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life. She has handed down respect for the possibilities—and the will to grasp them. For her, so hindered and intruded upon in so many ways, being an artist has still been a daily part of her life. This ability to hold on, even in very simple ways, is work black women have done for a very long time.2 I consider it an honor to continue tending these gardens. No matter the accolades of the artist, it is the intention of their work that is valuable to me. 1 Meilan Solly, “Survey Finds White Men Dominate Collections of Major Art Museums,” Smithsonian.com, March 21, 2019, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/survey-finds-majority-artistsrepresented-major-museums-are-white-men-180971771/. 2 Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), 241–42.
Daesha Devón Harris is an artist and photographer based in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her multicultural family and the unexpected death of her young father have greatly shaped her life while the gentrification of her hometown and its effects on the local Black community have played a major role in both her advocacy work and artistic practice. Harris has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship, and is Lecturer in MDOCS and Teaching Faculty for the Storytellers’ Institute at Skidmore College. Amanda Peckler ’20, research assistant to Daesha Devón Harris, is a self-determined major in media and film studies with a minor in intergroup relations at Skidmore College.
Photographer, title, date unrecorded Gelatin silver print, 3 ³⁄₈ � 2 ¹⁄₂ in. Gift of Peter J. Cohen, 2018.12.66
Daesha Devón Harris, Tending Our Mothers’ Gardens (Lydia Bernard-Jones), Summer 2019 Archival pigment print, 36 � 27 in. Courtesy Daesha Devón Harris
hayman Italicized passages in blue are from the 1955 novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
Photographer and title unrecorded, possibly c. 1960 Gelatin silver print, 5 � 4 ¹⁄₈ in. Gift of Peter J. Cohen, 2018.12.352
by melora wolff A woman strides through a steep field. She wears shorts and a halter-top, or possibly, a dark brassiere. Her bare flesh is as pale and sculpted as marble. Her arms appear vigorous and strong; her back curves slightly with muscle; her thigh is taut. Hers is a supple body in motion, caught midstep by the photographer’s need. The flesh of the woman’s left buttock is bare, exposed by her ripped shorts. A kerchief hangs from her waistband. Her hair is blonde, not naturally so, and yet she’s no phony; the bleached white light of her hair is beautiful the way that Marilyn’s hair was always beautiful, her divine, defining aura. Naturally hers. This woman is untamed, elemental, so her glance declares. She looks over her shoulder at the photographer’s lens—at the photographer. Her gaze is erotic,
bemused, and a bit impatient. Her glance signals CartierBresson’s “decisive moment” when this passing image of a woman was ready to be seized and shot. You, again? her eyes flash. Get on with it! The photographer must be a man. Maybe he is her neighbor or a cousin from the next town over; maybe he is an old high school mate who remembers well their sophomore struggle in this same field, his joy at her adolescent fear and fight. She escaped. Now he hides from her behind his camera, his latest hobby. He wants only to take her picture, and she lets him tag along through the tall grass, but only behind her. Dismissive, she says, “You’re always fumbling with your annoying gadget!” He laughs. “Don’t you touch me again,” she warns, and winks. Maybe this snap-shooter is an older man, a family friend, avuncular, a vexed Humbert Humbert in pursuit, sweating with shame and lust on a day of sun and locusts. There she goes, he thinks, out of the frame, away from him, his own grown Lolita . . . running in the wind, in the pollen and dust, a flower in flight. Blurred in the photo’s background is a scarecrow. This figure wears the usual rags and scraps for clothes, the cast-offs of a real man. His top hat tips, like his form, to the right. He might be toppling off the hillock, permanently off-balance on this mons pubis of verdant meadow that he guards. His outstretched arms are at an angle with the woman’s arms, which makes evident the emptiness between them. Their arms will never touch or tangle. The scarecrow’s face appears—as it should, in such a dizzying moment—animate. His look is quizzical, fixed, or fixated, undeniably, on her. Between grass and a haze of trees, he stands where a scarecrow always stands: on the margin of cultivated space. Lone Hayman. Lonely Hodmedod, Tattie Bogle, Scare-Beggar. Effigy, yes, but no snowman. His corpus has true purpose: to protect this fertile soil. Not merely from crows, but from all that threatens seeds, sweet corn, lush fruits. Despite the scarecrow, the photographer persists. The shutter clicks. Pilferer, Hayman thinks. Thief. When he first stood in the ancient fields of Greece, Hayman dressed nobly, as a god! He was Priapus, son of Aphrodite, and his cypress spear—his phallus cursed to eternal and impotent erection—was the only weapon he needed to guard against intruders. Even the poets praised him, a stiff and fearsome sentinel. “Guardian Priapus, lord of the Hellespont,” Virgil once hailed him, “Watchman against thieves and birds!” . . . Now, the scarecrow’s dignity hangs off him in scraps. He hears the sound of beating wings. Grackles. Red-winged blackbirds. Quails, crows, sparrows, doves. Cotes and flocks, quarrels and plagues, herds and hosts of predators like this stranger circle the girl . . . the loveliest nymphet green-red-blue Priap himself could think up. At dusk, shadows will dart and dissolve in the trees. The woman, too, will dissolve from this picture. She will melt into flesh-folds of time, her form shapeless in a cotton dress
and felt slippers. Crows’ feet will mark her face. He will be no use to her then; she will be of no use to him. On the other side of the hill, only a click away, she fades— Who, really, is the subject of this snapshot? Is my subject the woman’s radiant face? Is she, with her familiar stride, something of my younger self? Or is my subject the scarecrow whose out-of-focus image confronts, threatens, and doubles the anonymous photographer like a fogged mirror that betrays aesthetic claims? Is Hayman the negative—or proof—of a real man’s desire? Maybe poet Kahlil Gibran best suggested the unsettling bond between male threat and thrill: Once I said to a scarecrow, “You must be tired of standing in this lonely field.” And he said, “The joy of scaring is a deep and lasting one, and I never tire of it.” Said I, after a minute of thought, “It is true; for I too have known that joy.” Said he, “Only those who are stuffed with straw can know it.” If the scarecrow is a psychological mirror, then this snapshot is the photographer’s self-portrait, and his lament . . . I shall be dumped where the weed decays. Is he scared to be liable and exposed? He should be. The photo presents a fugitive desire and loss. Even this stolen memento of the woman he harried is no longer his own to hold. The decisive moment of the photograph may have been, after all, not the woman’s face turned to flirt infinitely with the camera, but a discreet warning passed from one straw man to another while the heat of the woman’s glance stops Time. Only fear one thing. A lit match. The photographer remains forever in her light: strung up, torn, ready to burn in the super-voluptuous flame he will not survive.
Skidmore Associate Professor of English Melora Wolff is an essayist whose writing appears in the anthologies Every Father’s Daughter, Best American Fantasy, The New Brick Reader, and others and in journals. She has received multiple nonfiction special mentions in Best American Essays and Pushcart Prize. The Parting, a collection of her prose poems, was published by Shires Press in 2018.
CHRISTA CLARKE African arts scholar and curator Christa Clarke was invited to the Tang Teaching Museum to review the museum’s holdings of art from Africa, a wide-ranging and eclectic collection comprising some 375 works. As well as advising the museum on the cataloging records for each object, Clarke studied in-depth a portfolio of ten hand-colored prints by South African artist Barbara Tyrrell. The visually arresting hand-colored reproductions by South African artist Barbara Tyrrell record in glorious detail various examples of traditional dress of southern Africa from the latter half of the 1940s. Each print bears a title identifying the subject by ethnic group as well as gender, age, and/or social status. The portfolio—two sets of five prints—is accompanied by notes describing the dress and adornment and their relation to custom at greater length.1 These works are less familiar than the masks and figural sculptures that so often define “African art” for museum audiences. I am drawn to their hybridity and to the layers of historical complexity that they embody. They prompt questions that don’t lend themselves to straightforward answers. Are they art or ethnography? Do they celebrate traditional heritage or produce cultural difference? What do they tell us about the particular historical moment in which they were created? How can we view these works today?
Barbara Tyrrell (1912–2015) was born in Durban and raised in Eshowe, the colonial capital of the Zulu kingdom. Her family and the environment she grew up in kindled an early interest in Zulu culture and fostered her fluency in the Zulu language: she recalls the lifelong impact of witnessing local ceremonies at a young age with her father, a Zulu linguist employed by the Department of Native Affairs. Tyrrell also credits as an influence the work of her grandfather Frederick Fynney, who authored early texts on Zulu culture and notably accompanied the Zulu king Cetshwayo as his translator on his visit to England in 1882 to meet with Queen Victoria. A high school encounter with Alfred Martin Duggan-Cronin’s The Bantu Tribes of South Africa, an eleven-volume series published beginning in 1928, sparked Tyrrell’s interest in studying traditional dress: “I discovered the fine series of books of photographs depicting the ethnic types of the ‘tribal peoples’ [ . . . I]n the Duggan-Cronin books I sensed the germinating of an impossible idea.” 2 After obtaining a degree in fine arts from the University of Natal and studying fashion in London, Tyrrell bought a 1934 Chevrolet van and began to travel around southern Africa, sketching and painting. She sent her initial studies of Ngwane women in the Drakensberg area to Killie Campbell in Durban, a well-regarded collector of “Africana.” With Campbell’s
ON BARBARA TYRRELL
his photography of the “Bantu tribes of South Africa,” Tyrrell’s goal was to capture in her drawings “all the main dress types” as representative of various ethnic groups. The individuals, depicted in a crisp, linear style with careful attention to detail, are presented in isolation against an empty background; in this way, they are timeless. In the notes accompanying the portfolio, Tyrrell consistently describes the items of dress as “typical”: for example, a “typical gala dress of the Swazi male” or “brilliant color blankets are typical of the Basuto.” Her observations and watercolor illustrations were ultimately published in 1968 as Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa, which offered an overview of the dress and customs of twenty-four different ethnic groups. 5 Tyrrell’s project was driven by her conviction that traditional ways of life, including dress, were rapidly changing. “Tribal dress was my main concern and at the back of my mind is, and was, the thought always, that dress is disappearing fast,” she lamented. Authenticity was a central concern in selecting which field sketches to develop into what she termed “research-works,” the finished watercolors that were purchased by Killie Campbell and reproduced as prints and in her publications. “It is true that tradition is breaking down and that in the process dress is becoming hybridized and much that may be artistically very spectacular has no particular meaning and no relation to custom. In order to obtain a
patronage, Tyrrell embarked on what would become her life’s work—recording different types of “tribal dress” from throughout southern Africa along with notes on their relation to traditional customs. 3 The ten works in the Tang portfolio are handcolored reproductions based on Tyrrell’s original watercolor and ink illustrations, 250 of which are in the Campbell Collections of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. These watercolors were developed as finished works from hundreds of preparatory pencil drawings, which she sketched during her travels between 1940 and 1960 in the present-day nations of South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Describing her work, Tyrrell states, “Each of these tribal dress studies is the portrait of a real person drawn in his or her home environment and, wherever possible, in traditional posture.”4 Tyrrell was respectful in conducting her studies: she was sensitive to the social mores of her subjects, communicated in Zulu when possible, and paid her models to sit for her. On her field sketches, she included the sitter’s name and careful notes about their items of dress. This individuality, however, is lacking in the finished watercolors (and related prints), which routinely identify the subjects by type—for instance, “Xhosa mother” or “young Ndebele girl”—or highlight items of dress, such as “sun hat” or “nose plug,” associated with a particular ethnic group. Much as Duggan-Cronin sought to do with
true record I had to observe, and perhaps even draw, many types before I could be sure of the authentic one.” Tyrrell distinguished these “research-works” from what she called her “art-works,” in which the attire was not “classically” traditional.6 Though Tyrrell sought out “authentic” dress, her own observations—in both image and word—were contradictory and present a more nuanced understanding of “tradition.” The profusion of beadwork that so attracted Tyrrell was itself a response to radical changes.7 Imported glass seed beads were more widely available from the late nineteenth century on, thanks to expanded trade networks. And as restrictive laws forced black South African men into migrant labor in urban areas, the women left behind in rural areas upheld “tradition” by producing increasing amounts of beadwork while items of dress historically made by men using animal skins were replaced by imported cloth. Tyrrell writes of Zulu men wearing “beadwork on their European clothing when there is a celebration” and depicts a Xhosa mother wearing a skirt of imported cotton cloth dyed with ochre pigment. She also records the adoption of European products and styles. In depicting “typical” Basuto dress, Tyrrell observes how their brilliantly colored blankets, factory-made in Scotland, “[have] become synonymous with the Basuto” and that women’s skirts are an adaption of dress worn by Victorian missionaries. While the “traditional” nature of the attire recorded by Tyrrell remains ambiguous, such images served to construct and/or reinforce ethnic identity through dress and adornment. Our reading of Tyrrell’s work is complicated by an understanding of the political circumstances that formed the historical backdrop to their creation. Following the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, blacks were increasingly disenfranchised, segregated, and ultimately “retribalized” by the government, which sought to highlight ethnic differences. The institutionalization of ethnic consciousness was part of a divideand-conquer strategy that exploited existing tensions in order to support white minority rule. The apartheid government, which came to power in 1948, eventually established “homelands,” an insidious system of ten separate nation-states for different black cultural groups. This process began in 1951 and was fully realized by the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act in 1970, which stripped blacks of their South African citizenship. Tyrrell’s work, though not created to support apartheid-era ideologies, echoed these divisions in ways she may or may not have intended. Following Killie Campbell’s death in 1965 and subsequent loss of patronage, Tyrrell began to produce “tourist prints” to support herself. The portfolio in the Tang collection is likely from this era, purchased by Carrie and Alfred Mathias of Upperco, Maryland, during a trip to South Africa (one of 147 countries they visited during their long marriage) and gifted to Skidmore College
in 1978. Historically, Barbara Tyrrell has received little serious attention, in South Africa or beyond. In recent years, however, her body of work has been the subject of reevaluation by scholars and others in South Africa. Her inclusion in the 2006 publication Revisions: Expanding the Narrative of South African Art marked a turning point. 8 This was followed, in 2008, by the acquisition of her work by the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg and an award by the President of South Africa for her contributions to cultural heritage. A 2012 exhibition at the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town further recuperated her legacy, noting the relevance of her work especially for “young, global and design savvy South Africans of the 21st century.” 9 The Tyrrell portfolio in the Tang collection, perhaps unconventional and easily overlooked as a museum object, offers a fascinating window onto the history of race and representation in South Africa. 1 The sets are not quite complete. One of these extant prints, “Sangoma— Ixopo, Natal” is not listed on the accompanying notes as part of Set One, and “Zulu Matron, Inanda, Natal” is missing from Set One. 2 Barbara Tyrrell, Barbara Tyrrell: Her African Quest (Muizenberg, South Africa: Lindlife, 1996), xvii. 3 Yvonne Winters, “A Unified Approach: Considerations in Documenting Barbara Tyrrell’s Field-Sketches into the Campbell Collections,” Innovation, no. 30 (June 2005): 62–81. 4 Barbara Tyrrell, Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa (Cape Town: Books of Africa, 1968), unpaginated. All subsequent quotes included in this essay without citation are from this source. 5 Ibid. 6 Yvonne Winters, “Barbara Tyrrell and the Campbell Collections,” Campbell Collections, http://campbell.ukzn.ac.za/?q=node/55. 7 Anitra Nettleton, “Women, Beadwork and Bodies: The Making and Marking of Migrant Liminality in South Africa,” African Studies 73, no. 3 (2014): 341–64. 8 Hayden Proud, Revisions: Expanding the Narrative of South African Art (Cape Town: Iziko South African National Gallery, 2006). 9 Andrea Lewis and Carol Kaufmann, foreword to Iqholo Le Afrika: A Centenary Celebration of the Life and Work of Barbara Tyrrell, exhibition catalog (Cape Town: Iziko South African National Gallery, 2012). I am grateful to Carol Kaufmann for kindly providing me with a copy of this catalog.
Christa Clarke, PhD, is an independent art historian and curator. Previously, she was Senior Curator, Arts of Global Africa at the Newark Museum, where she pioneered Newark’s collecting of modern and contemporary African art and organized numerous exhibitions ranging from men’s fashion to Nigerian modernism over a sixteen-year tenure. Clarke’s research interests include the history of collecting and exhibiting African art and the politics of representation.
Barbara Tyrrell (1912–2015), Young Ndebele Girl, Middelburg, Transvaal; Xhosa Mother, Peddie Ciskei; and Gala Ornaments, Natal, Baca, Richmond, probably late 1960s Hand-colored prints, 15 ¹⁄₄ � 10 ¹⁄₂ in. (each) Gifts of Alfred and Margaret “Peg” Hodgson Mathias, Class of 1928, 1978.54, NAN321, NAN324
Siobhan M. Hart on NAGPRA and the Museum
Associate Professor and Chair of Anthropology Siobhan M. Hart and Maisie Bernstein ’21 completed objectbased research on Native arts from the Tang collection in order to verify or correct cataloging data and identify works that are subject to NAGPRA regulations.
In 1990, a decade before the Tang Teaching Museum opened its doors, the US Congress passed a law that fundamentally transformed the relationships among Native Americans, museums, and archaeologists. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) establishes a process for museums to repatriate Native American human remains and certain kinds of objects to the most closely culturally affiliated Native American tribe(s) or Hawaiian organizations. NAGPRA was heralded as human rights legislation for its advancement of intercultural reparations and cultural property law. Museums and Native American communities have been grappling with implementation since 1990. Native American elders, spiritual leaders, and representatives have been traveling to museums to share and gather knowledge about collections, sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles away. They are reviewing and responding to information provided by museums and sometimes contesting a museum’s determination of cultural affiliation. And they are doing the difficult work of preparing for the return of ancestors, sacred objects, and cultural patrimony, all while confronting the insidious consequences of colonialism that necessitated the law in the first place. Museum professionals in all kinds of settings— art museums, culture and history museums, historical societies, libraries, universities—have been verifying and updating catalogs and inventories, researching objects sometimes acquired a century or more ago, and consulting with Native American tribes. My first job post-college was as a curatorial assistant at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology working on a NAGPRA inventory, and I continued repatriation work for eight years in graduate school. As an archaeologist trained in the post-NAGPRA era, I have experienced the difficult, slow, and labor-intensive work of repatriation. It is transformative for individuals and communities and absolutely necessary for institutions with commitments to inclusion and decolonizing. In summer 2019, Maisie Bernstein ’21 and I worked with over a hundred artworks from the Tang collection made by Native American artists. We focused on improving the catalog through object-based research, identifying whether any objects are subject to NAGPRA, and beginning the process of identifying source communities. We essentially constructed a biography of each object drawn from archives, scholarship, the object’s attributes, and similar objects in other museums—teasing out who made it, how and when it was made, who it belonged to and who possessed it over time, how it ended up in the
Tang collection, and who the museum might engage for repatriation or collaboration in the future. We learned that some artworks, including pottery made by Puebloan artists from the American Southwest, war clubs made by Native artists in the Great Plains, and textiles woven by Diné (Navajo) artists were already in the possession of the Skidmore College Art Collection (which formed the foundation of the Tang collection) when NAGPRA was enacted, having been gifted by Skidmore’s biology department and Professor Emeritus Dr. Sonja Karsen. Later, in 2007, the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium gifted thirty-one Native American objects. The Schenectady Museum acquired the mostly basketry, beadwork, and leatherwork between 1930 and 1970 from local and regional collectors and through exchanges with other museums. The growing scrutiny to develop provenance and increased sensitivity around the ethics of collecting antiquities (brought about in part by NAGPRA) led some late twentieth-century collectors to focus on contemporary works produced for the art market. This included collectors like Moreen O’Brien Maser ’26, Susan Rabinowitz Malloy ’45, and Dr. Grace Swanner, who would each make gifts to Skidmore and the Tang. Some objects are extensively documented, with appraisals, detailed provenance, and fastidious collector notes. Swanner, a Saratoga Springs physician who
collected crosses from around the world, kept an index with notes on how, where, and when she acquired pieces, along with sketches and descriptions. In one instance, she describes purchasing an “Eskimo ivory cross” made by a King Island Inupiaq artist at Kotzebue, Alaska, in 1965. These details flesh out the story of how, when, where, and by whom this object was created and how it came to be possessed by Swanner and later, the Tang. The artist’s name is not recorded and we are left to wonder why, especially when the collector recorded the names of other artists and witnessed its manufacture firsthand. NAGPRA compels museums to engage in a technical process of consultation, decision making, reporting, and in some cases, repatriation. This hinges on an accurate catalog.
When framed as part of a technical process, cataloging can seem neutral—it is, of course, what curators and collections managers do as part of their daily work. But object-based research and cataloging is more than empirical description using standard categories and widely accepted lexicons. It is storytelling. It has a point of view and a message about what knowledge is valued, recognized, and recorded. Like exhibition and label text in a gallery, the museum vernacular employed in database fields and classifications can be empowering or disempowering for Native communities. For instance, a typical art museum catalog includes a field for artist name, but many Native American artworks are identified as “Artist Unknown” or only by culture area—“Plains” or “Southwest.” It is not necessarily true that the artist was not ever known. Rather, the artist was not recorded. Perhaps this was because the most significant thing about the work to the art dealer or collector was that it was “Indian” or from a particular region or community (as may have been the case with Dr. Swanner’s Inupiaq cross). Or, maybe signing one’s work was not considered appropriate in the source community, or the artist was identifiable by means other than signature, such as design, style, materials, etc. The linguistic choice made by the Tang and other institutions to instead use the phrase “Unrecorded artist” shifts the story told about the object, its creator, and the sociopolitical context of its production and circulation. It also opens up the possibility of learning
more in the future. For example, a basket with a boat design came to the Tang from the Schenectady Museum with the attribution “Artist Unknown” and “Plains.” The geometric designs, canoe motif, and closely twined cedar bark and dyed grass indicate that the artist was most likely from a Nuu-chah-nulth Native community on the Pacific Northwest Coast. We updated the artist attribution to “Unrecorded Nuu-chah-nulth artist.” Another example comes from Swanner’s cross collection. The collector’s index states that an “Indian Cross set with six corals” was handcrafted by W. Hammerstrom (from whom Swanner purchased several pieces at a 1981 Saratoga Springs craft fair). However, the cross has a name stamped on the reverse: “Myra T. Qualo.” Swanner attributes several Native-style crosses to Hammerstrom, but we were unable to uncover any evidence that W. Hammerstrom was from a Native American community. But Myra Tsipa Qualo was. Census records state that she was a member of the Zuni Tribe living at Zuni Pueblo and identify her as “beadworker” in the 1940s. Our research allowed for an acknowledgment of her artwork and community membership. And though we cannot be certain about W. Hammerstrom’s identity, this case is also suggestive of the appropriation of Native American styles by non-Native artists that is all too common. Geographic attributions of state and country also tell stories about sociopolitical relationships and colonialism. Native American tribes are sovereign but are also
domestic, dependent nations. Some reservations and tribal lands are within the bounds of a single state, while others straddle multiple states. State names listed in a collections management database can be useful as search terms, but recognizing the territorial sovereignty of tribal lands and their position as dependent nations in a colonized context is also critical. Using the database’s “State” field (rather than a smaller-scale unit like “City” or “Neighborhood”) to record tribal land or reservation location recognizes both the sovereignty of Native nations and their current position as dependent states in a colonized place. Furthermore, using “United States” or “Canada” in the country field recognizes the colonial context of Native American art production for works produced since the late eighteenth century. Myra Tsipa Qualo’s cross, likely made at Zuni Pueblo between 1930 and 1980, is therefore identified as made in “Zuni Pueblo (New Mexico), United States.” Our research and cataloging verified, corrected, and expanded the biographies of the works made by Native artists and began the process of restoring connections between these objects and their source communities. Fourteen works are identified as by named artists, including Ida Sahmie (Diné), Juanita C. Fragua (Jemez Pueblo), Dextra Quotskuyva Nampeyo (Hopi), Maria Martinez and Santana Roybal Martinez (San Ildefonso Pueblo), and Candelaria Medina Gachupin (Zia Pueblo). Eighty-five works are by unrecorded artists, but many are identifiable to one or more Native American source communities, such as the Nuu-chah-nulth basket. We determined that very few objects are subject to NAGPRA. Nonetheless, in the spirit of the law, the work to repair the harm done to Native communities lies ahead. Cataloging can be a step toward making visible the artists and communities made invisible through colonialism.
Skidmore Associate Professor and Chair of Anthropology Siobhan M. Hart’s research examines heritage practice, the politics of community recognition, and collaborative object-based research in the American Northeast. She is author of Colonialism, Community and Heritage in Native New England (2019) and coeditor of Decolonizing Indigenous Histories: Exploring Prehistoric/Colonial Traditions in Archaeology (2012) and Indigenous Archaeologies: A Reader on Decolonization (2010). Maisie Bernstein ’21, research assistant to Siobhan M. Hart, is an anthropology and classics double major at Skidmore College.
Page 118 Unrecorded Nuu-chah-nulth artist, lidded basket, n.d. Plant fiber, pigment, 3 � 4 ¹⁄₄ � 4 in. Gift of Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium, 2007.8.10a-b Facing page Myra Tsipa Qualo (1913–2008), silver and coral cross (front and back), c. 1930–1981 Silver and coral, 2 ¹⁄₄ � 1 ¹⁄₄ � ¹⁄₄ in. Gift of Dr. Grace Swanner, 1995.60 Above Unrecorded King Island Inupiaq (Eskimo) artist, ivory cross, 1965 Ivory, 1 ¹⁄₂ � ³⁄₄ � ¹⁄₈ in. Gift of Dr. Grace Swanner, 1995.58
Carolyn Anderson and Garett Wilson on Creating Immersive Theater in the Museum
The audience arrives on the Tang loading dock; as loading dock doors open, they watch museum staff (dressed in black pants, white shirts, black aprons) unload crates from the back of a truck. The Chief Curator greets the audience. After asking if they are lost, he says, â&#x20AC;&#x153;You must be The Group.â&#x20AC;? They are wearing bright orange Off the Shelf lanyards, giving them an identity
a role to play.
Professor of Theater Carolyn Anderson and Theater Department Artistic Director Garett Wilson, in collaboration with theater students and Tang staff members, created the site-specific play Off the Shelf for the Tang Teaching Museum. The piece explores theatrical paths that reveal unique qualities and surprises within the Tang’s permanent collection; it moved audiences through the museum’s loading dock, preparation room, collections storage, a set-designed collections display, and a gallery exhibition, The Shelf, organized in conjunction with the play. Off the Shelf was performed by theater students at the Tang six times over the course of three nights, March 27–29, 2019.
The Project Off the Shelf, a site-specific, immersive theatrical event, examined the life and character of the Tang Teaching Museum’s permanent collection. Alongside theater students and members of the Tang staff, we explored theatrical paths revealing unique characteristics of the permanent collection and the curatorial conversations around exhibition making. Site-specific and immersive theater deconstruct the accepted Western audience-performer relationship. Most American audiences are accustomed to suspending their disbelief, thus buying into an illusion of reality, but here, audiences are placed in the reality of the museum space. The audience exists as a group of distinct individuals experiencing a variety of moments at different times, and they also experience moments as a group as they move through spaces together. Actors speak directly to the audience, engage in casual conversation, and have physical contact with the audience. As theorist and director Richard Schechner states in his book Environmental Theater (1973), “[A]udience participation takes place precisely at the point where the performance breaks down and becomes a social event.” In Off the Shelf, the opportunity to experience these particular audience-performer relationships while engaging with art and the museum was an uncommon and new experience for all. The idea for this project emerged in summer 2018 during conversations with Dayton Director Ian Berry and Mellon Collections Curator Rebecca McNamara about possible theater projects at the Tang for spring 2019. Would students want to create a piece responding to an exhibition as in past theater performances in the museum? Would they perform a play within an exhibition? Or would they respond to a single work of art? The conversation turned toward the Tang collection. Why not place the theater event behind-the-scenes and reveal the entire collection? Had placing audience and performers behind-the-scenes ever been done by any museum before? Our adventure was underway, with Tang staff participating as active, creative collaborators.
The Process The word theater comes from the Greek word theatron, meaning a seeing place. How can we, as theater creators, explore ways of seeing? The museum, a place of exhibiting and viewing, also interrogates this question. While creating Off the Shelf, we asked ourselves, how is the audience experience going to be different from everyday walking around and viewing art in a museum? These differences began to emerge during our work with our Special Studies class on site-specific and immersive theater in fall 2018. Learning about these theatrical styles allowed students to examine and deconstruct the expected forms of theater. Students explored collections storage and selected and researched art and artifacts. They spent time with the Tang’s director, collections registrar, and curators. As they learned more, they began to work on what we would hear and how we would hear it. They wrote about their selected artworks from the points of view of the artist, the donor, the curator, and the art itself—all to be performed by students who would act out narratives—and learned about museum practices. The audience would hear recorded overlays of sound and language, statistics about the collection, object accession numbers, and quotes from Tang staff about the collection as well as recorded sounds to help place the audience within illusory environments inspired by the artifact or art. The class created a foundational draft script that mixed museum narratives that were fictive, factual, observational, reflective, historical, and contemporary. The class also outlined a dramatic structure, which correlated with the museum’s architecture, floor plan, and interior spaces. The dramatic structure supported the main action of the performance, which was the arrival, unpacking, and researching of art and the selection of objects for an exhibition. The audience traveled from the loading dock to the preparation room to a collections storage space to a set-designed collections installation that we created with Tang staff, and finally to The Shelf, where a performer placed a final artwork in the exhibition. Performers created tableaus depicting artworks. They worked with ritual and repetition of gesture to essentialize the handling of art, practicing slow motion to play with precision and time; they created processions to move the audience from one area to another, used recorded and live vocal overlays to create atmos phere and provide information, and performed monologues and dialogues to inspire audience interaction. One movement piece that developed from this process features a performer portraying Pop pioneer Andy Warhol using a Polaroid camera and an empty picture frame to capture eccentric portraits. We spent time with Tang staff selecting and placing art and objects into a large installation in the museum’s Payne Presentation Room. The room was a mass of crates and boxes with emerging art and objects where performers would become engrossed in various works, delivering
The Chief Curator moves The Group from the loading dock to the preparation room. They watch the stylized, slow, careful movements of white-gloved museum staff unpacking and handling art and artifacts while hearing recorded voices saying accession numbers, overlaid with repeated instructions on how to handle art, as if being recited mentally by each art handler transferring artworks from crates to carts. As the final objects are transported to another space, a flashbulb goes off from way atop a staircase, and a performer portraying Andy Warhol photographs the scene below as The Group gazes up at him.
monologues as curator, artist, art, or object. Our installation space also served as a platform for debate among the curators about which piece of art would fill the last space in The Shelf. Berry, McNamara, and many other Tang staff were active participants in the rehearsal process. Having Tang staff present at rehearsals provided our performers with deeper connections to the art and artists and inspired them to perform the work of a museum staff with joy and commitment. It is always a privilege to work with the enthusiastic staff of the Tang as creative partners. The audiences who participated in Off the Shelf expanded their sense of what a museum is and does, acquiring the excitement and energy of the curatorial process and learning about the lives of museum objects.
Skidmore Professor of Theater Carolyn Anderson is a director and writer. Her devised works, many of which focus on themes exploring human dignity, historical events, social welfare, and environmental issues have been performed at venues around the country. Garett Wilson, Senior Artist-in-Residence and Artistic Director of the Skidmore Theater Department, has designed scenery, lighting, and projections for numerous ballet, opera, modern dance, and theater companies throughout New York and New England. Off the Shelf is his fourth theatrical collaboration at the Tang Teaching Museum with Carolyn Anderson, having previously staged I think therefore . . ., Beckett Shorts, and American Collision(s).
The Chief Curator motions The Group to follow him to the permanent collection storage area, passing museum employee lockers where performers remove overalls and don aprons. As The Group passes into the collection space, they hear recorded statistics about the holdings of the collection. The Chief Curator introduces various artworks as the performers become curators, artists, and artworks. Andy Warhol reappears, taking more Polaroids of individual audience members and speaking directly to them. He reaches out to one and says, “Touch me. You’re touching art. Remember me.” He hands the participant a Polaroid picture of themself. Hidden from view behind the rolling racks of art, artists begin to call out, speaking overlapping text. The audience disassembles to seek out these individual scenes. The performers playing the artists begin various narratives: Dario Robleto, Kara Walker, an unknown artist, Cary Leibowitz, and others have personal encounters with the audience. The curator asks individuals, “What do you collect?”
As The Group moves from the collection space through the Atrium and into the museum’s multipurpose Payne Presentation Room, they hear recorded overlays of Tang staff speaking about the collection: Art shouldn’t hide in the dark ... It would be amazing to
have more of it on view ... I want to see integration of older cultural objects into exhibitions displayed in tandem with contemporary art ... The curator welcomes them into his Wunderkammer, an installation filled with crates, flat file cabinets of art, and prints, paintings, and objects old and new. After walking around to view the display up close, the audience sits down to meet Corita Kent and Philip Guston, and they see tableaus created by the performers featuring the art of Mickalene Thomas, Alfred Stieglitz, and more. They hear about the collections within the collection. They encounter the world of a dancing Apsara. The Chief Curator loses himself in the art. The Exhibition Curator of The Shelf reminds him that there is “work to be done.” They need to fill the empty space in the exhibition
one more object
to go. The curators debate; the curators can’t decide. The Chief Curator turns to the audience
and asks them to decide.
A chosen participant selects an object, and the Chief Curator invites them to see it placed in The Shelf. Music accompanies The Group’s procession to the Winter Gallery, where the Exhibition Curator speaks about the eclectic nature of The Shelf: “Try to notice the pieces not in isolation of each other, but consider what each one gives to the one next to it. Maybe one piece evokes feelings of loss, destruction, and fear that can only be eased by the colors and textures of the one beside it. We invite you to engage. Be fully present and above all, bring your whole self ... ”
The corporate space doesn’t intimidate me. As I look to my right and my left there is no competition; my only barrier is myself. Over the years, I had to learn that I have a greater purpose in life than to feel oppressed by someone or something. I walk with my head held high and my mind full of positive thoughts because I know my hard work will pay off. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. —Dominica, 22
Endia Beal (born 1985), Dominica, 2016 From the series Am I What You’re Looking For? Archival pigment print, 40 � 26 in. Tang purchase, 2019.8.1
About the Tang The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College is a pioneer of interdisciplinary exploration and learning. A cultural anchor of New York’s Capital Region and a model for university museums nationwide, the museum aims to awaken the campus and broader community to the richness and diversity of the human experience through the medium of art. Through a rigorous exhibition and publications program and the preservation and display of an expanding collection, the museum provides opportunity for creative thinking and critical study based on the principle that art can advance knowledge across disciplines. Direct experiential opportunities for Skidmore students to participate in integral aspects of museum practice and deep engagement with Skidmore faculty are hallmarks of the Tang’s role as a teaching museum. About Accelerate Accelerate: Access and Inclusion at The Tang Teaching Museum is a three-year project supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It aims to enhance academic excellence, build broader and more diverse audiences for museum exhibitions, and strengthen an appreciation of, and facility for, humanistic inquiry. It further drives collaborations with Skidmore faculty, artists, and visiting scholars, whose diverse perspectives on the Tang Teaching Museum collection offer fresh interpretations of artworks and enhance scholarship. This publication is a document of the grant’s third and final year and is a model of interdisciplinary and collaborative learning and thinking in the academic museum.
the frances young tang teaching museum and art gallery at skidmore college
815 north broadway saratoga springs, ny 12866 518 580 8080