All posts in “SAM Staff”

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Kittie McAllister

Kittie (known as Katie by her family) grew up on a beautiful farm in Carnation, Washington, riding horses and exploring the woods with her dog. As part of her Associate of Arts and Sciences Degree at Bellevue College, she excelled in hand-drawn animation classes (and was published in her mentor Tony White’s book, How to Make Animated Films) but decided she wanted to be an oil painter. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Studio Art from Central Washington University in 2016, where she discovered her love of making three-dimensional objects and using her painting skills to give them sophisticated surface qualities. Working as a Visitor Services Officer in the galleries of the Seattle Art Museum keeps her engaged in her greatest interest—art history.

SAM: Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series opened January 21 and is running until April 23. What is your favorite piece in this series?

McAllister: Every painting in The Migration Series is full of earth tones, so Panel 5 struck me for its vibrant colors and total absence of browns. A black locomotive speeding through the deep blue night, with its yellow bell swinging in the force of the wind and light penetrating the darkness ahead, gleams like an emblem of hope for the migrants leaving deplorable living situations behind. The yellow paint of the bell is even brighter than the bold yellow seen throughout the series, perhaps emphasizing it as a symbol of liberty and progress.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

The huge Mann und Maus sculpture by Katharina Fritsch, for the BIG reactions it always gets! I often hear adults say that waking up to giant vermin on their bed is their worst nightmare, while children perceive the “mousy” as cute and funny; one child thought he got so big from eating too much cheese! I see dark symbolism in the piece and feel a little uneasy when posted in its imposing presence.

Who is your favorite artist?

As I delved deeper into John Lennon’s music, I became curious about the woman he wrote such desperate love songs about, and I discovered the avant-garde artist Yoko Ono. Her sculptures and poems are minimalistic and give simple commands to the viewer—the act of physically, or mentally, carrying out those actions focuses your cognizance in the moment. A brief writing example of Yoko’s:

LIGHTING PIECE

Light a match and watch till it goes out.

1955 autumn

One of my favorite works is a white ladder that, when you climb to the top and look through a magnifying glass hanging by a delicate chain, you can find the tiny word, “Yes” written on the white ceiling. John Lennon fell in love with Yoko when he felt refreshed by her positive message in this interactive art piece.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Make a day of it! I always recommend starting back in time on the fourth floor with our most ancient art objects, and working your way back to the present with our more contemporary works on the third floor. SAM celebrates diversity and is a safe space to be yourself and unabashedly explore the eccentric world of art.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

Recently I had a painting in the Erotica exhibition on Capitol Hill for Second Thursday Art Walk—it was such a hoot! Now that I’m finished with school I have time to get back into my guitar and I love spending lazy days just journaling. My shorthaired black cat, Tobias Funke, always demands my attention, and I’m simply enjoying my time with friends and family now that I’m back in Seattle. I’m always making little plans and schemes for my creative notions—working at Seattle Art Museum keeps my creativity fueled!

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: David Nevarrez

Originally from Southern California, David has traveled all over the USA and beyond. He studied theatre arts, psychology, film, video, and photography. He moved to New York City and became involved in the theatre as a director, playwright, actor, and stage manager, even winning several awards for poetry. In 2001, he moved to Seattle and found his favorite day job as a barista. For a year in 2006, David moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to teach English. Upon returning to Seattle he joined the SAM family since being around art has always been inspirational to him. He started writing for a small British movie digest in 2015 and traveled to take a marionette carving workshop in Prague, Czech Republic. With his experiences in the arts and travel, David enjoys the inspiration he gathers at SAM and continues to dabble in experimental film and photography, writing a novel, and writing poetry.

SAM: Pure Amusements: Wealth, Leisure, and Culture in Late Imperial China is a new addition to the downtown location’s Asian art display. What is your favorite piece in this section?

Nevarrez: The Scholar Rocks, as I had not known of them. Not only are they fascinating, but I learned something new. 

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Film is Dead . . . by Jennifer West—draped rolls of large format film stock, which has been painted on (as was done by such experimental filmmakers as Stan Brakhage), or has abstract images (some resembling digitization) hung up as a curtain (like the old “hippie bead” curtains popular in the ’60s), reaching the floor, and rolling up to 3 large screen TVs showing rolling film images of the abstractions. Is film dead? More and more, movies are shot with digital video because it’s easier to manipulate. While film had twice the light reception of analog video, digital has more than film, though for DV to look cinematic it must be manipulated in post-production. This does not mean some filmmakers don’t still use film; I have seen an announcement at the end of several big budget films that they were shot on actual film stock. Even so, with DVallowing filmmaking to be more accessible, has not the idea of “film,” that is cinema, simply become un-reliant on celluloid and more egalitarian? 

Who is your favorite artist?

As a cineaste, I first think of filmmakers when asked such a question. Over the last couple years have immersed myself in three directors of note: Andrzej Zulawski (who sadly died last February), Abbas Kiarostami (who sadly died last June), and Aleksandr Sokurov. All there are very poetic in their respective styles. Zulawski (best known in the States for Possession from 1981 starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill) features intense emotions between characters, especially lovers, in an almost musical style. Kiarostami (best known here for Taste of Cherry from 1997) has more of a cinema verity style, wherein his films seem unscripted and very natural. Sokurov (best known for Russian Ark (2002)) looks at different aspects of power, from the personal to the epic.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Give yourself time to wander about at first, so as to note some area that especially interests you, then return to the area for a more in-depth exploration.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

After a 9 year hiatus on my novel, I have gotten somewhat back to work on it, partly helped by expanding out to include it within a long saga, concurrently working on other parts. I also work on some films and videos.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Alyssa Norling

Alyssa Norling

Aly moved from Hillsboro, OR to Seattle in 2011 to pursue her BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts. After spending a summer working for a trapeze studio in exchange for high flying trapeze lessons, she decided she should find a paying job while in school. She took up her position as a VSO at SAM and graduated with her BFA with a concentration in Original Works in 2015. Aly continues working as a VSO to gain inspiration while working as an actress, playwright, director, dancer, and singer.

SAM: Material Difference: European Perspectives is a new addition to the Big Picture: Art after 1945 exhibition featuring artist Anselm Kiefer. What is your favorite piece in this section?

Norling: Anselm Kiefer’s Die Welle (The Wave). You know something is deeply wrong with the world when you see it, and then you learn that Kiefer is using the myth of Lilith at the Red Sea to evoke the destruction, despair, and death of the holocaust. It’s remarkably haunting and effective. It’s inspired me to take a closer look at the myth of Lilith and create art of my own about her because, to me, the myth sounds like it was created to keep women from demanding equality with men.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

I have to cheat because my favorite was JUST taken down. Untitled by John McCracken,the monolith-type thing with perfectly clear reflective surfaces, became my favorite over time. When patrons took their time and really considered our stainless steel McCracken (in ways other than to fix their hair and take mirror pics) it inspired so much play and creativity. The possibilities for interacting with it were endless. It evoked a wider variety of response from patrons than any other piece in the museum, in my experience. The McCracken was a different work of art every day, every minute, depending on who was in its presence and how they chose to interact with it.

Who is your favorite artist?

My brain goes to playwrights. I’ve been in love with the structure, themes, and feminism that live in the plays of Maria Irene Fornes and Caryl Churchill for a very long time, so probably one of those two. Read one of their plays someday! Seriously.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Spend time with art. More time than you think. More time than you want. I took this job because I was curious about what discoveries I’d make if I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the presence of a work of art. Interesting things happen when you push yourself to give art the time and attention it actually needs from you. This sounds like really basic advice, but spend a day in the life of a VSO and you’ll be dumbfounded by how many patrons experience art at hyper speed through smart phone cameras. Snap. Move on. Snap. Move on. Snap. Move on. So many people don’t experience art through their actual eyes, brains, and hearts. And very few push themselves to really investigate a work of art and discover a relationship with it.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

Rehearsals, performances, or research really just take up most of my time! Currently, I perform at Café Nordo in Pioneer Square Thursdays–Sundays in a crazy, geeky, hilariously weird Christmas, shadow-puppet play called Christmas is Burning that runs all of December. I’m also rehearsing with a group that will be performing a piece at On The Boards in the spring, which I’m really excited about. But when it’s not one of those current projects, I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what kind of art I want to make in the future. My education is in theatre, but I grew up a dancer and surround myself with visual art, so I feel a need to explore which of these (or which combination of these) will allow me to tell stories most effectively.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Greg Thompson

A Seattle native, Greg found his way to the Seattle Art Museum after working as a Brick Mason and attaining his Mechanical Engineering degree. His love of art and personable nature make him a popular guard in the galleries. Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi opened on November 11 at the Asian Art Museum. Her works are mostly digital animation, with four pieces made specifically for this exhibition. Those pieces are based off SAM’s permanent collection pieces that are also displayed throughout the exhibition. Many artists take inspiration from the world around them, including Greg. In the galleries, he’s often drawing depictions of the works currently on display or making caricatures of other VSOs.

SAM: What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Thompson: The Italian Room on the fourth floor. The crazy thing about that room is that it was shipped from Italy piece by piece. I could take a nap in there.

Who is your favorite artist?
Kehinde Wiley and Gordon Parks.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
Take your time and enjoy the experience.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
Well when I’m not at SAM, I like to do stuff in my studio like make mix tapes. I like to watch movies and spend time with friends and family. I’m also studying to be a ventriloquist—I can talk while drinking water now!

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Austen Mumper

AUSTEN MUMPER
After earning his economics degree at Gonzaga University, Austen worked for Colliers International, a real estate services company. Austen currently attends The Art Institute of Seattle studying animation and pursuing his life-long interest in music and art. Working at SAM surrounded by artwork and conversations with coworkers and museum patrons provides him constant inspiration.

SAM: Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style opened on October 11. What’s your favorite part of the exhibition?

Mumper: Seeing the life of a fashion designer and the process that goes into clothing design is a very new perspective for me. The rooms alone are beautifully arranged, completely unrecognizable from past exhibitions I’ve worked. Still owning hand-me-downs, I don’t think people should be taking my fashion advice, but any person interested in fashion must see this show.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
Choosing a favorite piece is incredibly difficult. That said, the section I frequent most is the African Art—in particular, Standing Figure (Nkondi), a religious idol made by the Kongo people. Each nail driven into this figure represents an oath between two people. If that oath is broken, the spirit of this vessel will travel out from its base to harm any violators in play. It’s amazing to have something made by a community to help everyone displayed for everyone to see.

Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite artist is Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter, animator, author, and manga artist. Miyazaki’s goal was to build a studio where the priority was not success, but making good films. The depth of his characters is amazing, it’s like we know them by the end of the film. His fictional worlds use his personal experience, historical facts, and his opinions to tell you how he sees reality and what he has learned form it. Miyazaki said, “Creating animation means creating a fictional world. That world soothes the spirit of those who are disheartened and exhausted from dealing with the sharp edges of reality.” I keep this in mind each step of the way towards my goals in animation.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
I encourage anyone to ask questions or simply share with us. We all have unique insights that can benefit both speaker and listener, although taking your time to experience the art is understandable. I appreciate all of the people I’ve learned from, and I enjoy when I can talk about the art with someone who enjoys it as much as myself and the rest of the people working at the SAM.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
Most of my time is taken up with work and classes, both of which I enjoy. Working at SAM has been its own education—learning about people, places and pieces all telling great stories. I couldn’t have asked for a better position in my attempts to join the art community.

—Katherine Humphreys, SAM VSO

FTW! Wendy Wees Winning at Art

Wendy Wees is one of 41 talented artists exhibiting work in SAM’s kick-rear-end staff art show, on view through October 2 in the first floor Community Gallery off South Hall at Seattle Art Museum. Wees won recognition from her peers at the show’s opening on September 7, when her piece was selected by viewers as the favorite from this group of thoughtful, diverse artworks. One intriguing quality of Wees’s painting relates not to what it reveals, but to what it denies the viewer.

Her award-winning painting, titled Verticalverses017.ptg, is part of a new, exploratory series for the artist that she calls Vertical Verses. These colorful works, appropriately arranged in vertical bands, play with script in a way that recalls, and references, Mark Tobey’s “white writing.” In her process, Wees paints on the vertical bands in layers, in some passages allowing the color blocks to visibly overlap and bleed into one another. Then, using a range of tools, she carves beautifully calligraphic characters into the color blocks, scraping at the paint and revealing the layer beneath. These characters lead the eye fluidly down and back up the canvas. Within each band, Wees works in the same script style, filling the color block to create an all-over design pattern, and showing impressive control in doing so. From one color block to the next, the characters and their stylistic influences change: Wees varies the shape, curvature, and width of the marks, as well as their impression of energy. The final result is a lively piece that features a range of scripts resembling, in different passages, Latin and Islamic manuscripts, Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, and fanciful doodles.

The characters in Wees’s Vertical Verses draw us in, and then stunt our understanding. They are unintelligible, part of a category called “asemic” writing—a term that describes lettering with no semantic content. Literally speaking, the groupings of characters don’t mean anything. But the forms, as visual art, prove absorbing and more than capable of communicating.

More work from the Vertical Verses series by Wendy Wees

For Wees, as for other artists who have employed asemic marks, such as Tobey, the choice to imagine and invent characters rather than working with a known and recognized alphabet, is liberating. First, denying viewers the access to one straightforward message opens up myriad possibilities of individual readings. The work prods a lazy viewer into activity, as the viewer’s role in creating meaning, always present, comes to the fore. In this way the artwork’s ability to communicate becomes dramatically enhanced. Wees wants viewers to actively engage with her work, and her unintelligible script prompts this kind of interaction. “I find that people are drawn into the paintings because there are layers of ‘visual stories,’” she explains. “Viewers are searching for the meaning. I have seen them inspecting the work close up and then standing way back, and then being drawn in again.” Finally, the part of her work that is youthful and whimsical, maybe a reflection of her background as an illustrator, finds its best expression in an art that moves her viewers into an imaginative mode of thinking with bilateral idea-sharing. At the heart of Wees’s creativity is her belief in art’s transformative power. “Art is a powerful mode of communication which transports viewers to other worlds, other feelings and different thoughts and ideas,” says Wees. “It does not have to be a complex response,” she adds, pointing to the way her paintings communicate on a visceral level without stating anything explicitly.

Wees has worked for SAM for almost ten years and has devoted much of that time to the SAM Shop. In her current role as Retail Sales Associate, one of her responsibilities is to assist with crafting new shop displays, for which her team draws inspiration from SAM’s rotating special exhibitions. It’s a role that encourages and sparks Wendy’s creativity. As an artist, Wees also counts access to SAM’s permanent collection as an invaluable encouragement to her own work.

Her persistent efforts as a practicing artist have earned Wees representation at Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery in Bellevue, situated adjacent to Bellevue Square, where she received an exhibition in 2014. In addition to showing at Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery, Wees has exhibited at Soulard Art Gallery in St. Louis (2013); Rob Schouten Gallery on Whidbey Island (2012, 2010); Krab Jab Studio in Georgetown (2011); Columbia Art Gallery in Hood River, Oregon (2010); and the Frye Art Museum (2001).

Congratulations and thanks to Wendy for her thoughtful painting and her important work in the SAM Shop! You can see more of Wendy’s work at Gunnar Nordstrom Gallery’s website.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Courtesy of Wendy Wees, from the series Vertical Verses.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Michelle Waits

MICHELLE WAITS
Originally from Cincinnati, Michelle lived in LA, Santa Barbara, and spent 20 years in Hawai’i before settling in Seattle four years ago. She has a degree in Cultural Anthropology and her career has been in communications as a writer, editor, and coordinator, and in theatre administration.

SAM: Big Picture: Art After 1945 opened in July. Which artist or piece do you like seeing the most?

Waits: The Rothko—it just takes my breath away. Part of the reason I love it is that I saw a Rothko exhibit at The Guggenheim some years ago where the pieces were displayed chronologically. The early pieces were in bright colors and the canvases gradually got darker and darker as the artist sank into extreme depression. I am so happy to see a painting of his that makes my heart soar instead of feeling sadness.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
In the Go Tell It: Civil Rights Photography exhibit, there is a wonderful picture of Jackie Robinson. It’s meaningful to me because he was a close friend of my father-in-law and was my brother-in-law’s godfather.

Who is your favorite artist?
I couldn’t choose. My favorites change constantly as I discover and revisit art everywhere from the museum to the street. Unlike most VSOs, I don’t make art of have a degree in museum studies. I just have a great love for art.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
My best advice is to spend time with the art rather than just taking pictures. You have an incredible opportunity to see some spectacular things in their original states. A photo may be a good memory but it’s nothing compared to the real thing right in front of you.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I spend a lot of my time in my PJs on my sofa with my laptop working at my other jobs. I co-own Cut Bank Creek Press, a small press dedicated to publishing Native American writers. I also work with and coordinate speaking engagements for my friend and business partner Gyasi Ross, who is a brilliant speaker, author, mentor, and a myriad of other things. When there’s any time left over, I read and like to go listen to my friends’ bands.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Mark Howells

Everyone knows museums have security guards, but not everyone gets to know the people behind the uniform. We spend our days with the works of artists such as Pablo Picasso, Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, and Claude Monet, learning the nuances of each piece.

Johan Idema wonderfully describes museum guards in his book How To Visit An Art Museum as follows:

In order to put up with picture takers, soda smugglers and amateur art critics, guards require both the alertness of a police officer and the empathy of a kindergarten teacher. Consider museum guards the ground troops of the art world, who deserve your utmost respect. Some of them actually have amazing knowledge of art – former guards include painters such as Jackson Pollock and Sol LeWitt.

Many guards would speak with great passion, if only we asked them. Therein lies your opportunity. Have your questions ready and make your move when the gallery is quiet. Whatever the conversation, you will likely find that guards are able to offer what is often lacking in museums: human interaction and a proper conversation about art.

With Idema’s words in mind, we invite you to get to know us, SAM’s Visitor Services Officers (VSOs), with a monthly spotlight.

MARK HOWELLS
Raised between Portland and Bellingham, Mark Howells has been in the Puget Sound region for 30 years. He did IT Security and Audit before coming into the museum scene. In 1974, he worked his first museum job at the Oregon Historical Society as a junior summer docent. However, what lead him down the path to guest services was his experience in visitor studies during an extension course at the UW where he volunteered with the Washington State History Museum. Mark has worked at SAM since November 2015.

SAM: Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb comes to an end on August 28. Which artist have you enjoyed the most in this exhibit?

Howells: R. Crumb. He’s my generation. I had to hide his comix from my mom when I was a kid. Alternative comix were a fun part of my kid-hood, so I guess the nostalgia factor with Crumb was the best part.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
The Bierstadt (Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast). He got the gray of the Pacific Northwest skies just right. That’s hard to do. I know that the location was just from his own imagination, but I go down to that area at the mouth of the Columbia quite a bit and I always look to see if I can find “that place.”

Who is your favorite artist?
I’m a historian, not an artist. Recently, I’ve studied up on local Pacific Northwest artists, so maybe Philip McCracken right now.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
Ask questions. Don’t be intimidated. It’s just art.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
I like to hike around the Puget Sound and nerd-out on the history all around us. I’m trying to learn more about the built history in our communities. I do volunteer history work for the Camp Harmony Executive Order 9066 Committee (the Puyallup Fairgrounds was an Internment Camp in 1942) and I’m on the Archives Committee for the Queen Anne Historical Society doing glamorous digitization projects for them.

—Katherine Humphreys, SAM VSO

Mark Howells with Philip McCracken’s War God. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

The Art of Storytelling

Storytelling is an essential tool for expressing our beliefs, culture, and creativity. We spend our lives collecting and sharing stories. Whether we’re recounting a childhood memory or teaching others about a historical event, stories help us make sense of, and connect to, the world around us.

Visual art and storytelling are closely associated. When we view a work of art with narrative potential, we are naturally inclined to interpret it. To understand an object, we think about what we see as well as what the object and its artist are communicating. Questions like “Who are the figures?” or “What is happening in this scene?” prompt us to construct stories to explain the object. With their stories, we might see artists sustaining, subverting, or expanding on traditions they’ve inherited.

Black-Figured Amphora with Herakles and Athena

The proliferation of narrative content in Greek art, particularly vase-painting, began at the turn of the sixth century B.C.[i] Without any text to explain what’s happening in these vases, our familiarity with the actions or attributes of the figures depicted is crucial in identifying the characters, and through them, the story in which they are involved. The 6th-century B.C. black-figured storage jar, or amphora, depicts a mythological battle scene. The lion skin worn by one of the figures tells us that the figure is Herakles and refers to the circumstances of its acquisition, the Twelve Labors. With his foot mid-air, Herakles steps forward to charge at his opponents. Athena, armed with her helmet and spear, stands either in front of Herakles on one side of the vase and behind him on the reverse side of the vase. Two of the three hoplites hasten away but look back, indicating their retreat mode and an impending victory for Herakles and Athena. The alliance between Herakles and Athena alludes to Athena’s role as a divine comrade to great heroes in mythology and art. The nature of narrative art like this amphora requires the viewer to access prior knowledge of visual cues and iconography to read the content. As the viewer begins to study the meaningful features, the story unfolds.

Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper

Whereas the Greek vase was a propagation of an established narrative, Some Living American Women Artists/ Last Supper is a challenge to powerful narratives in the history of art and religion that have excluded women. The artist, Mary Beth Edelson, takes a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and replaces the heads of Jesus and his disciples with photographs of women artists. “The most negative aspect of organized religion, for me,” says Edelson, “was the positioning of power and authority in the hands of a male hierarchy that intentionally excluded women from access to these positions…[The work] gave me a double pleasure of presenting the names and faces of the many women artists who were seldom seen in the art world of 1972 as ‘the grand subject’—while spoofing male exclusivity in the patriarchy.”[ii] The resulting work showcases women in a male context and connects art with religion. The poster not only commemorates women artists but also highlights the struggles women have confronted in their professions. The act of women taking the place of men in an important historical painting overturns gender constructs. By appropriating the message of the male-dominated Last Supper painting, Edelson effectively asserts the voices of women and their place at the table.

Nnada Okumkpa (Senior Leader’s Mask)

The narrative content of objects is not necessarily fixed. Objects can convey different and new stories depending on their environment, use, and audience. Masks, for example, are not simply static images; they are imbued with social relationships and act as vehicles for powerful storytelling. Wooden masks were one of the many elements used in okumkpa, a masquerade tradition of the Afikpo of southeastern Nigeria.[iii] The play essentially functions as a community theater, touching on issues exclusively known to the people of the village. Although the play primarily ridicules and satirizes community members and relevant events, it offers moral commentary on how residents have behaved, establishing a standard for how they should behave. The masked players embody mma, a type of spirit intended to protect the players and provide them the freedom to perform without restraint. The senior leader of the performance would wear the Nnada Okumkpa, direct the skit, and narrate the action. When the masks became animated, they interacted with the viewer and situated him as a participant in a performance. While admiring the staging of the masquerade performance on the fourth floor gallery, I overheard a visitor commenting to her friend, “I’m waiting for one of them to start moving.” Though still and silent, the mask in the museum is a suggestive remnant of the movement, sound, and drama of performance.

Visual storytelling involves an intimate interaction between an object and its audience. When we choose to become immersed in the objects, they bring out very personal responses. We may laugh, cry, or even critique the story we believe we see in the objects. Our engagement with art ultimately keeps the stories alive. I hope you will find a good story during your next visit to SAM!

—Fiona Dang, SAM Curatorial Intern

[i] Mertens, Joan R. How to Read Greek Vases. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010.
[ii] “Mary Beth Edelson.” Avalanche. 1973.
[iii] Ottenberg, Simon. Masked Rituals of Afikpo: The Context of an African Art. Seattle: The University of Washington Press, 1975.
Images: Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Work with schools : a librarian’s assistant telling a story to a group of Russian children in their native language, ca. 1910s.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 8, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-e5f7-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99. Black-Figured Amphora with Herakles and Athena, Greek, 6th C., B.C. Gift of Norma and Amelia Davis, 82.83, Photo:Natali Wiseman. Some Living American Women Artists/Last Supper, Mary Beth Edelson, 1971. Purchased from artist by Seattle Art Museum, 98.14, Photo: Mark Woods. Nnada Okumkpa (Senior Leader’s Mask), Chukwu Okoro, Gift of Simon Ottenberg, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2005.42, Photo: Natali Wiseman.