“Within the piece,
I was more mindful of my steps because of the way the mesh was ever so slippery
beneath my boot. I became aware of a slight unease at being so close to a
skylight I’d admired from the concrete floor below.”
Paul Laster writes about Do Ho Suh’s work for White Hot magazine, including past presentations at SAM and his theme of displacement. The artist’s Some/One will be a centerpiece of Be/longing at the Asian Art Museum.
conversation, Gates seems to envision a city-sanctioned and -funded memorial.
‘I want to believe that the city is open to it,” he said. “I believe Samaria
has the right to ask the city to receive this sacred space.’”
If you haven’t heard, Artemisia Gentileschi’s renowned painting Judith and Holofernes is currently hanging at SAM as part of Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum. This particular painting by Gentileschi has gotten a lot of attention in recent years as discussions of representation of women in the arts as well as rape culture have become part of mainstream media. A graphic novel, I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschiby Gina Siciliano was recently published by Seattle-based Fantagraphics. This Pacific Northwest illustrator and author conducted research for seven years to offer a picture of Italy’s cultural climate in the 17th century as well as an unflinching look at Gentileschi’s life whose artistic success and documented rape trial have cast her as a feminist hero in her time, one that we can still learn from today.
After giving a talk on the Contemporary Resonance of Artemisia Gentileschi at the opening of Flesh and Blood with Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, and Estelle Lingo, Professor of Early Modern European Art at University of Washington, we wanted to learn more about her enthralling graphic novel. Done entirely in ballpoint pen, the book is an education in world history that is full of drama, tragedy, and passion. Italian artists in the 1600s don’t seem too hesitant about stabbing each other. Read below for more information on this talented author, feminism, and the figure of Gentileschi. If you’re planning to visit the exhibition to see Gentileschi’s painting, come on Thursday, November 21 and take a tour of the galleries with Gina!
SAM: What drew you
to Artemisia? When did you realize you were making a book-length work?
Gina Siciliano: I knew immediately that I was going to make a
graphic novel about Artemisia, right when I was introduced to her work in art
school, and then when I first saw the Judith painting in the Uffizi back in
2007. When I was ready, I broke the story into three parts and dove in, piecing
her life and times together in chronological order. Initially I wasn’t going to
extend it all the way to the end of her life, but I changed my mind. I decided
to make a full biography because I sensed a lack of older women characters in
movies, novels, comics, media, and our culture in general. It feels like once
women reach a certain age they’re just thrown out of the picture or relegated
to stereotypes, and it became important to rise against that.
What’s one piece of
information that got you really excited when you found it?
There were so
many exciting discoveries throughout this process, it’s very difficult to
choose just one example! When Jesse Locker’s book came out in 2015 that
completely changed the third part, and also when Elizabeth Cohen wrote about
the recently discovered handful of letters written by Artemisia and Pierantonio
to Francesco Maria Maringhi around 1620. They haven’t been entirely translated
into English, but Cohen revealed snippets of Artemisia’s writing in English,
and it was intense and wonderful to get a sense of Artemisia’s voice at that
point in her life. I got chills reading about her breakdown after the death of
her children and during her harrowing journey back to Rome. I rearranged that
whole section of the book after that. I’m also currently very excited about
Sheila Barker’s new scholarship on Artemisia.
But if I had to
pick the most exciting discovery of all it would be the 1647 revolt of
Masaniello! Rosario Villari’s book on the subject was a landmark for me, and
since there’s so little information in English I read his book several times,
taking extensive notes. I was struck by the Neapolitan people’s desperation,
and the way they repeatedly rose up violently against severe oppression and
corruption. I was startled to learn that Artemisia survived a ten-month
revolution, and it had barely been mentioned in my sources at all.
There seem to be
many versions of Artemisia’s life. The details of female life were not much
documented at the time so how did you decide to present the version of her life
that you did?
The goal was to stay as historically accurate as possible and invent as little as possible. I was influenced by Alexandra Lapierre’s approach. She spent five years doing research in various Italian archives, then strung together the holes in the information—the gaps in history—with fiction. Rather than project my own agenda onto Artemisia or use her story as a jumping-off point for my own artistic expression, I wanted to find out as much as I could about Artemisia—how she felt, how she lived, how she interacted with others. I see her as inseparable from Italian history. I wanted to re-create her world, and then put her into it. The goal was to put her life and work into context, not take her out of context. That being said, of course, bits of myself and my own outlook slipped in all over the place. But I included a big notes section, to show the reader that we’ll never know exactly what happened—all we can do is continue to discuss how we come to conclusions, how we piece together history based on a variety of sources, ideas, and perspectives. My version of Artemisia is based on academic research, as well as my personal, emotional connection to her work.
What about the
decorative symbols and icons in the full-frame character illustrations?
Each one of these
full-page portraits is comprised of Renaissance and Baroque symbolism, and also
my own impressions. Each one has its own mood, based on the character’s role in
the story. Some of these people—Caravaggio, Orazio, Artemisia, Galileo, the
Duke of Alcala, Masaniello—we know quite a bit about, so I had a lot to work
with. For example, Masaniello was a fisherman, so there are fish surrounding
him, Galileo has a diagram of the Copernican view of the cosmos above him, etc.
For these people, I used images of them from their own time to re-create how
they looked. But other figures—Loredan, Arcangela Tarabotti, Tuzia Medaglia,
Giovanni Battista Stiattesi, Artemisia’s daughters—are more mysterious. I had
to do more inventing and cobbling together whatever scraps of information I
could, to show what they might’ve looked like.
There isn’t space here to describe all the symbolism, but I’ll give a few examples: Artemisia’s daughters are shown with large, rounded, upright vessels—a common Renaissance symbol for chastity and sexual purity, whereas a spilled, horizontal vessel was a symbol for sex and impurity. The Duke of Alcala is surrounded by fig trees—lush and full of fruit—a Renaissance metaphor for sexuality again, in this case, male virility. Pierantonio stands below two bull skulls, alluding to his being a cuckold (Loredan’s epitaph about Artemisia on page 224 claims that she carved the horns of a cuckold for her husband). The glowing candles foreshadow Pierantonio’s later night-time swordplay. The characters with close ties to the Medici—Francesco Maria Maringhi, Christine of Lorraine, Maria Maddalena of Austria, Galileo—all feature the Medici’s famous logo/crest—a group of small, round, fruit-like balls. Loredan’s portrait is surrounded by water since he serves as an introduction to Venice, and below him is the logo of his famous academy (the Incogniti)—the mysterious Nile River, the source of which was still unknown at the time.
Can we have a
feminist hero and still have context and historical time and place?
My book is meant
to present a loud and enthusiastic YES to this question!
Will you talk a bit
essentially an earlier version of feminism. To me, the best biographies don’t
idolize or sentimentalize the subject, nor do they gloss over the
inconsistencies and contradictions of a person. Rather, they go deep into
history and analyze their subject’s position, and all the potential factors
that made them who they were. I love Paul Avrich’s writing about anarchists for
this reason. I’m also reading Lily Tuck’s wonderful biography of Elsa Morante.
Elsa Morante was an incredibly independent Italian woman, one of the first to
wear pants! At the same time, Tuck mentions how Morante chastised another woman
for having hairy armpits and sometimes scorned the feminist movement. I tried
to be open to these types of contradictions when writing about Artemisia too.
There’s reason to believe that Artemisia was a militant Catholic who didn’t
always treat her servants very well. But she also wrote about the disadvantages
she faced as a woman, she refused to let Agostino Tassi (the man who raped her)
off the hook during the trial, and we know that she worked within the same
circle as the Venetian Libertines who talked a lot about the roles of women
(the querelle des femmes). We can judge Artemisia by the standards of her own
time, and we can judge her according to the standards of our time. I think
there’s room for both.
Proto-feminism didn’t look like our modern first-, second-, or third-wave feminism. There wasn’t a political movement, it was more social. There was an ongoing intellectual debate about women and plenty of writing about women’s rights. Most of the early modern feminist writers made their point by listing numerous examples of virtuous women from the bible and ancient history and mythology, as these were the touchstones of Italian humanist and Counter-Reformation thought. Sometimes they listed contemporary examples too. But, as powerful as these lists of women were, they also conformed to the proper (men’s) definition of honorable women. Even the most outspoken feminists of the time, like Arcangela Tarabotti, used only the most chaste, angelic examples of women to argue for women’s rights. But she was trying to refute the prevailing notion that women’s sexuality was toxic, out of control, and evil (Eve and the original sin, remember?). Her argument that women are inherently pure and chaste seems weird to us (like we don’t even get to have our own sexuality?), but in that intensely Catholic environment it makes sense. That’s only one aspect of her writing, and I would argue that her feminism is still important.
Likewise, we can see that the powerful Medici women—Christine of Lorraine and Maria Maddalena of Austria—were, like most queens and noblewomen, arranging marriages within their courts to solidify their family’s (and their own) wealth and power. But this doesn’t negate the radical way in which they intervened to prevent domestic violence, and their attempts to give women some say in who they would marry. That meant a lot within a society where marriage had very little to do with choice, especially among the upper classes.
At first glance,
Artemisia’s world looks like a grim, unrelenting, misogynist hell hole, but
when we look closer and dig deeper, we can see that women (and men) were
pushing back against the status quo in all kinds of ways. The fact that so many
powerful men got behind Artemisia, aided her career, and continually bailed her
out (Orazio, Francesco Maria Maringhi, Cassiano dal Pozzo, Galileo, etc.) also
says a lot. These men probably saw her as an exception to the norm—an
exceptional woman—rather than seeing women collectively as equals. Artemisia
probably saw herself as an exception to the norm too, and probably capitalized
on that to a certain extent. But I still think the roots of feminism lie in
these early attempts to widen the expectations of what women were capable of.
Plus, there’s still so much we don’t know. Feminist scholars are trying to
bring a lot of buried, unknown, misattributed, and misrepresented women’s
writing, art, and music to light. This is an ongoing process, an ongoing
What is your
favorite Artemisia painting?
Oh geez, I don’t know! I guess the second Judith Slaying Holofernes in the Ufizzi. There’s just nothing else like it in the world.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM Content Strategist and Social Media Manager
Images: Gina Siciliano, I Know What I Am: The Life and Times of Artemisia Gentileschi. Seattle, Fantagrahics Books, 2019.
something else about being close to it, the actual object, which Gentileschi
made with her own hands, just as Judith carried out Holofernes’s death with her
hands. A Google image search doesn’t cut it. The power of the painting—and the
perspective given through it—must be experienced in the flesh.”
“There’s a lot that
the visitor can’t see that is just as important: all the infrastructure that
makes this historic jewel a thoroughly modern museum, equipped to safely
display delicate artworks,” [SAM Director and CEO Amada] Cruz said. “The reimagined
building will allow us to better fulfill our mission to connect visitors to the
art and cultures of Asia.”
“[An earlier show]
also unveiled an important new body of research revealing an unknown
relationship between the two artists, who first met in the early 1930s and,
despite having a 20-year age difference, formed a strong bond, writing to each
other often about their artistic creations and arguing over the return of realism
after World War II.”
When the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens next year, visitors will experience the museum’s renowned collection of Asian art in a whole new way. Most of the original galleries will showcase the museum’s collection, while the building’s new gallery—housed in the expansion—will focus on rotating special exhibitions. SAM’s curatorial team saw the renovation process as an exciting chance to rethink how visitors engage with the Asian art collection. “How often does a museum go offline and move everything out?” notes Foong Ping, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art. She continues, “This was an opportunity to dream a little bit.”
The curators convened groups of scholars and community advisors to explore approaches to displaying SAM’s artworks. Moving away from the chronological and geographic organization of most museums, they took a thematic approach instead. Each gallery of Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, the new collection installation, focuses on a theme central to Asia’s diverse arts and societies, ranging from worship and celebration, to visual arts and literature, to clothing and identity. For instance, a gallery titled Spiritual Journeys brings many objects together, from a Pakistani Bodhisattva, to an Indian Stupa, to a Chinese demon, to explore spiritual imagery through unifying ideas such as spiritual guides and guardians. The reinstallation provides an experience of great diversity and a broad context within which to engage with artworks.
Boundless also presents varied voices and perspectives on artworks to offer visitors a wide array of approaches to appreciating SAM’s collection. Along with traditional curatorial texts, artists and Seattle community members also offer their perspectives. The Color in Clay gallery presents a large selection of ceramics from China as well as vibrant works from Vietnam to Iran in a natural light-filled gallery without any contextualizing text. Monitors with more information will be available, but Foong’s hope is for visitors to be immersed in looking closely at subtle differences in tones and textures in the clay and the glazes. “I’m particularly excited about this display because it represents a completely different experience than we’ve ever had at the Asian Art Museum,” she says.
The first special exhibition Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art also draws primarily from the museum’s collection. It brings together works by 12 artists born in different parts of Asia—Azerbaijan, Iran, India, Thailand, China, Korea, and Japan—who have all lived outside of Asia and are exploring their Asian heritage from global perspectives. Be/longing features Some/One by Do Ho Suh—a sculpture so large that we were previously unable to exhibit it at the Asian Art Museum. SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art Xiaojin Wu explains, “Some/One is an imposing work that compels the viewer to think about identity and our relationship with society—issues we all care about.” Positioning Some/One alongside works by other contemporary artists, visitors will encounter its powerful resonance in a new exhibition, a new gallery, a new building, in the new year.
exhibition, we are reminded of how art — much like a pitcher of wine or a human
body within the paintings — is a vessel for meaning and message. Gender, race,
class, age, ability and size play roles in communicating these meanings, in
ways that feel historically remote, intimately resonant or disappointingly
approach art from a unique vantage point, intimately located between science,
art, and museum politics. ‘We’re kind of in an ivory tower, but we’re looking
at the front line.’ Nicholas Dorman explains.”
Lisa Edge of Real
Change reviewsIconic Black Women: Ain’t I a Woman, now on view at the Northwest
African American Museum.
And Crosscut’s Agueda
Pacheco Flores visits
the Sea Mar Museum of Chicano/a/Latino/a Culture, which is now open.
“The new museum
draws attention to an often overlooked slice of Washington state history, which
includes major Mexican American contributions to agriculture, railroad
transportation and civil rights. It also breaks ground as the first museum in
the Pacific Northwest to highlight the Mexican American experience in this
The New York Times’
Robin Pogrebin on a
new Bill Traylor show at David Zwirner, with proceeds mostly going
toward the Harlem Children’s Zone.
something terribly natural, terribly right, about having the Bill Traylor
collection turn into money for his progeny,’ he added, referring to the Zone’s
students. ‘I think he would have been — or he is — delighted about that. And I
The Stranger’s Jasmyne
Robert William’s The Father of Exponential Imagination, now on view at
the Bellevue Arts Museum.
skilled draftsman, Williams’s works are often psychedelic, depicting an
alternate, surreal reality. Jaws unhinge so that the tongue can become a sort
of beast to ride, Tarzan-like men wrestle with aliens, and hungry spirits reach
toward burgers covered in demons.”
“As difficult as it
can be to trace the stories and power plays behind objects, presenting a
permanent collection involves the even more daunting task balancing what
curators want to say with what they can, given the strengths and weaknesses of
their museums’ holdings. One current trend is to structure displays
thematically. When the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in February 2020, for
example, its installation will use works from different times and places to
explore such common concerns as identity and worship.”
Last week, SAM announced that the Asian Art Museum will reopen to the public on February 8 and 9 with two free 12-hour days of programming, reflecting the 12 themes of the dramatically reimagined collection. The Seattle Times broke the news.
“Cuban music is
often described as a tree, with various primary roots that supply life for many
branches. But separating the island’s music into distinct genres is an
inherently flawed task — they intertwine and cross.”
Experience the fierce beauty of High Renaissance and Baroque art at the free Community Opening for Flesh and Blood: Italian Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum on October 17. From 5–9 pm, watch these artworks come alive as Palace Theatre & Art Bar takes the stage for a series of eclectic performances reflecting the darkness, drama, and human emotion of Flesh and Blood. Make a masterpiece of your own as you draw from live models during an art activity led by artist Barry Johnson. Seattle Opera singer will be in the galleries expressing love, devotion, and tragic suffering with pop-up performances. Living representations of the artworks will be embodied by dancers Mikhail Calliste and Michele Dooley. Flesh and Blood presents, as they say in Italy, il meglio del meglio—the best of the best.
Make sure to RSVP, but if you can’t make it to the opening, don’t worry! There are many other ways for you to visit SAM for free or at a discount during Flesh and Blood!
Teen Tix pass program makes it possible for teens to visit for just $5!
Bank of America’s Museums on Us: On the first full weekend of every month, Bank of America cardholders receive free admission at SAM.
Blue Star Museums: free admission to military personnel and their families. Just show your military ID. The military ID holder plus up to five immediate family members (spouse or child of ID holder) are allowed in for free per visit (special exhibition surcharge may apply).
UW Art Students get free admission with the sticker on their student ID
SAM is for everyone and we’re here to make sure anyone can see the art they love! Don’t forget, entry to SAM’s permanent collections is always suggested admission! You can experience our global collection year-round and pay what you want.
Images: The Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia, 1645, Bernardo Cavallino, Italian, 1616–1656, oil on canvas, 24 × 18 7/8 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. The Virgin of the Souls with Saints Clare and Francis, 1622–23, Battistello Caracciolo, Italian, 1578–1635, oil on canvas, 114 3/16 × 80 11/16 in., Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte.
In my instance, visual activism has a lot to do with two things: connecting the visual and my activism. Which means that every image that I take has a lot to do with politics. In my work, I am pushing a political agenda.
– Zanele Muholi
Taken in Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa between 2014 and 2017, each of the 76 self-portraits in the Somnyama Ngonyama (Zulu for Hail the Dark Lioness) series is distinct and poses critical questions about social injustice, human rights, and contested representations of the black body. South African visual activist Zanele Muholi combines classical portraiture, fashion photography, and ethnographic imagery to establish different archetypes and personae.
Hear from the artist as they describe how household and found objects become culturally loaded props in these self-portraits. Scouring pads and latex gloves address themes of domestic servitude. Rubber tires, electrical cords, and cable ties reference forms of social brutality and capitalist exploitation. Collectively, the portraits evoke the plight of workers: maids, miners, and members of disenfranchised communities. The artist’s gaze challenges viewers while firmly asserting their cultural identity on their own terms. Don’t miss your chance to see Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness while it’s still in Seattle at SAM through November 3.