Unless you’re looking at this image on a gigantic screen with perfect resolution, you’re missing the impact of this Saint Woman. She’s slightly larger than life, which fits the premise of the artist who elevates her subjects to a status that goes beyond our normal vision. Amy Sherald paints portraits that are not trying to convince you they are a substitute for the actual person. Instead, she paints archetypes. She is taking the time to change our minds about what a portrait can be, an evocation of a saint whose name you do not know, but who is standing and waiting for you to recognize them.
This saint is surrounded by a halo of what may appear as bright yellow on your screen. If you’re just seeing a flat expanse of color, you’re missing the depth of a painted surface that is full of nuance, with swirling dimensions that activate this setting. The same nuances of color are true of the skin, which is in variations of gray. Amy Sherald chose this color shift for a reason, “to exclude the idea of color as race.” She also has this woman’s body face forward, while her head is turned in profile. What captures her attention is unknown, and it challenges you to wonder why she’s holding herself so still while her dress is blown in a breeze of urgency. It’s the stance of a saint who’s worth coming to see in person. Visit her with a trip to see In This Imperfect Present Moment, an installation of artworks by 15 artists conveying vibrant narratives that resonate across global boundaries.
– Pam McClusky, SAM’s Curator of African and Oceanic Art
Images: Saint Woman, 2015, Amy Sherald, American, b. 1973, Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in., Private collection, photo courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago. Installation view of In This Imperfect Present Moment at Seattle Art Museum. 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
Don’t miss part two of Michael Upchurch’s write-ups for Crosscut on smaller installations now on view at SAM: this week, he highlights New Topographics, featuring photographs of “man-altered landscapes,” and American Modernism, which includes two incredible paintings from SAM’s collection by Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley.
The fall edition of The Stranger’s Art & Performance Quarterly is out! Lots of SAM shows and events are among their critics’ recommendations, including the exhibitions Peacock in the Desert and Noble Splendor, the annual Diwali Ball, and film events Night Heat: The 41st Film Noir Series and Indian Film Masterpiece: The Apu Trilogy.
“True transformation occurs only when we can look at ourselves squarely and face our attachments and inner demons, free from the buzz of commercial distraction and false social realities. We have to retreat into our own cocoons and come face-to-face with who we are. We have to turn toward our own inner darkness. For only by abandoning its attachments and facing the darkness does the caterpillar’s body begin to spread out and its light, beautiful wings begin to form.”
– Julia Hill, The Legacy of Luna
As a child of immigrants, and an immigrant myself, I adopted the identity of being an “Other” and “Alien” from a fairly young age. My parents have depended on me to fill out official forms and documents since I was old enough to interpret 70% of the words on the page and Google the rest. Any time the question of citizenship came up, my hand would naturally gravitate towards the box next to the word “Other” as if it were second nature. I never really understood what it meant—I just knew it should be kept from my peers out of shame and fear of being different.
Walter Oltmann, through his sculpture Caterpillar Suit I, shares and explains his interest in the boundary between human beings and insects—referring to the latter as “[our] most extreme other.” He explains that as “insects evoke notions of threat, especially when encountered in swarms,” we as human beings fail to identify with this “Other” and naturally recoil/feel repulsed by this exotic entity. Thus, we create a divide between “us” and “them.”
In the current state of our country, the word “Other” seems to be thrown around more often than it has in the past. The media exposes us to “Other” and “Alien” in bold, red font, associated with terms and phrases such as “illegal,” “criminal,” and even “invading in swarms,” distancing the reader or viewer from this ominous other. It permits and trains the broader public to fabricate a certain image of these other beings, and subconsciously feel repulsed when they hear stories in the news framed around the politics of immigration. But how accurate are our expectations of this “other” entity, especially when they’ve been influenced by biased opinions of the media? Oltmann, in enlarging the scale of the normally miniscule caterpillar, purposefully forces his audience to “observe misunderstood insects closely” and “identify with the other” in hopes of shifting our perspective that’s usually fixated on their mechanical features and alien behavior and the threat they pose to us.
Rather than turning to the immediate discomfort and repulsion that might follow a failure to identify with an “other,” or those different from ourselves, perhaps we can find inspiration through this Caterpillar Suit and practice shifting our perspective from distancing ourselves from otherness to understanding and accepting one another.
– Seohee Kim, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern
 Vargas, Cintia. “Interview with Walter Oltmann.” Cintia Vargas, 17 Apr. 2014, www.cintiareyes.com/interview-with-walter-oltman/
 “Walter Oltmann.” The Artists’ Press, www.artprintsa.com/Walter-Oltmann.html
 Leiman, Layla. “Walter Oltmann – In the Weave: 30 Years of Making Art.” Derriere, WordPress, 29 Jan. 2014, derriereartblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/walter-oltmann-in-the-weave-30-years-of-making-art/
Images: Installation view of Lessons from The Institute of Empathy at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Natali Wiseman.
Sharing your deepest feelings in front of a group of people takes a lot of courage. It can be very transformative and therapeutic. This is what the Art with Heart Chill and Spill curriculum empowers students to do—it is a great tool that allows youth to navigate their emotions. Art with Heart is a nonprofit organization that uses art to help kids heal through their creative expression resources.
The day that Antonio confessed that even though his mother, who struggles with alcohol dependency, abandoned him, he still loved and cared for her. This young man took a huge step towards maturity and forgiveness, opening his heart while reading aloud his powerful last word letter, setting him free from his feelings.
Many of our program participants grow up in households without paternal or maternal figures or formal education. Many have had to escape and survive situations that most people cannot even imagine. Their resilience never ceases to surprise me. My hope and motivation is to teach them how to cope with their emotions through creative expression. Often times, when I observe their art and listen to their stories, I become the student and they become my teachers.
In every weekly class, the young men are able to express their varying emotions in a supportive, respectful, and safe environment. Our ground rules are very basic, as we all are looking for the same things: love, acceptance, and respect! I make sure that everyone understands that this is a special class, it is not about how cool their art projects might look, but about the process and what they learn about themselves.
Life is full of challenges and opportunities. Creating art means taking risks. Creative expression means exploring, recognizing, labeling, and understanding feelings. Sometimes it means confronting big emotions. Often it means accepting, surrendering, and forgiving the people who have hurt us, so that we find space to be free and to grow stronger, exactly as Antonio decided to do!
Images: Making My Way, linoleum block, printmaking ink. Made by a Friends of Youth resident during Art with Heart’s Chill & Spill Program, Age: 17. Courtesy of Art with Heart. Photo by Alan Abramowitz, artwork by Art with Heart program participant at Brettler Family Place. Photo by Sera Rogers. artwork by an Art with Heart participant at Friends of Youth.
As I walked towards the Seattle Art Museum to begin my Emerging Arts Leader internship, I was excited. I knew I would be working with the education and curatorial departments, but had only the minutest idea of what the internship would entail. At the staff entrance, I saw the other Emerging Arts Leader Intern for the summer nervously sitting on the couch. As Seohee Kim and I began to get to know each other, it was apparent we had many similarities. We are both passionate about immigrant rights and we both originally intended to take a law career track but found ourselves working in the arts, despite the initial backlash from our parents. I didn’t know it then, but Seohee and I would become an inseparable and fierce duo.
Everyone we met was genuine, welcoming, caring, and passionate. I honestly could not believe my eyes, it seemed almost suspicious. The education department glows with kindness and a love for the Seattle Art Museum’s mission to connect art to life. I went to college in Connecticut, and although I was raised in Seattle, I didn’t have many friends or connections with the arts community. This quickly changed. I could share with you about how I gained professional experience using The Museum System to research and organize objects. I could tell you about the meetings I sat in on where my voice mattered and my opinions were valued. I could tell you how I learned about the behind-the-scenes work that most people don’t know about. I could tell you how this internship opened my eyes to a possible career path that I would’ve never known about prior to this summer: exhibition design. I could write about each of these topics, but I want to focus on the amazing events that allowed me to get involved with the Seattle community and touched my heart with the amount of support and healing that took place at these events.
Three events, in particular, had a strong impact on me; the [Black] Power Summit, the Creative Advantage, and Remix. The Power Summit was a health and wellness conference for Seattle’s Black community. The first panel was one on mental health and mindfulness. The panel spoke about generational trauma and the stigma behind mental illness within the Black community. I could relate to these trends within the Latinx community. Often times, our parents work so hard to provide for our families that they dwell in survival mode. When we are raised in households where mental illnesses are stigmatized, we feel as if we are a burden to our family if we bring up issues we may be facing. As we keep hiding, the marble-sized issue becomes a bowling ball. One panelist suggested that we sit with our discomfort and strip it of its power over us. The trauma may still be present in the form of memories or thoughts, but it will no longer have power over our ability to thrive.
If you’ve never been to Remix, just know you’re sleeping! Remix is a beautiful event in which many people come together to share the dance floor, art activities, tours, drinks, as well as their most fly outfits. I loved the art activities, but what really impacted me was the dancing. With performing artists such as the Purple Lemonade Collective, Bouton Volonté, and Randy Ford, the dance floor was throbbing with presence and beauty. When the dancers dipped, catwalked, and, yes, even twerked, a semi-circle formed around them of mainly white allies. Space was created for queer and trans people of color to exist, express their passion, make art, and share joy. As they created magic with their bodies, the viewers cheered and recorded, but mainly they yelled words of encouragement and awe. This wonderful space for marginalized groups to feel at ease within a large group of white folks didn’t feel uncomfortable or unwelcoming though. At that moment, race, gender, and sexuality were being praised and we were allowed to take up space with the knowledge that our allies are there to support us. If I wasn’t so busy sweating through my orange romper from all the dancing, I probably would have shed a tear of joy and love.
The Seattle Art Museum is a highly inclusive environment that truly values racial equity. The institution is not building inclusive spaces or challenging our thinking because it is the trendy thing to do. The Seattle Art museum genuinely values equity work, from the director of the museum to interns like me and Seohee, and in between. This experience was one of healing for me after graduating from an institution on the East Coast that lacked passion for equality and often protests had to occur to demand visibility for underrepresented groups. The Seattle Art Museum is taking a stand and a leadership role to highlight and welcome all identities. When the mission statement says that the Seattle Art Museum connects art to our lives, I understand that they connect art to our lives because they know that our lives matter and want to be a space for healing, learning, and unity.
– Dovey Martinez, SAM 2018 Emerging Arts Leader Intern
In this special edition of Object of the Week, the three Empathics who have taken up residence at SAM in the installation Lessons from the Institute of Empathy share their thoughts on Nick Cave’s Soundsuit. The Empathics are part of ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk. They have surrounded themselves with works from our African art collection and are asking questions and sharing information about the art as a way to help visitors awaken their own empathy.
EMPATHIC LESSON: CONSIDER THE CHIMERIC
Nick Cave’s suits mix anatomical features in a perplexing way. Are they human or not? This question is being asked in science as human and nonhuman species can be merged to create new forms of life, known as chimeras. Does this combination show disrespect for human dignity or is it a step toward progress? The Empathics wonder what the potential of crossing species might be.
Using hair collected from barber shops in Chicago is a strategic move that Nick Cave explains: “The hair creates an animal sensibility. You know it’s hair, but you don’t know where it comes from. It’s seductive, but also a bit scary. Animals have so much to teach us. I hope that by merging animal parts with human parts in these Soundsuits, I force people to pay attention to what they are doing to our earth and the animals living here with us. I’m having fun and using whimsical circus imagery to ask people to consider the underlying tragedy we are perpetrating. We have to find ways to live with each other, extend our compassion to other communities and take care of our natural resources.”
Nick Cave goes on to share the history of his Soundsuits, two of which are on view. “My first Soundsuit was made out of twigs. The initial concept came from the Rodney King incident and the Los Angeles riots in 1992; as I was reading about the riots, I was thinking about the feeling that I was dealing with as a black male, feeling smaller, devalued, invalid . . . the incident was larger than life: six policemen bringing Mr. King down. . . . I was in the park one day, sitting, thinking about everything around the riot, and then I looked on the ground and found a twig. I created a sculpture from twigs. . . . When I put it on and started to move in it, I realized that it made a sound and I began to think a lot about protest, that in order to protest you have to be heard, and in order to be heard you have to be aggressive.”
Curated by RYAN! Feddersen and featuring art by Asia Tail and Fox Spears, we just had to stop by for more creative output from these artists who have also been involved with SAM during Double Exposure. The collection of art on view offers a range of styles from contemporary Native artists in a variety of mediums by artists hailing from tribes across the extended Pacific Northwest and beyond. Feddersen is the mastermind behind the Post Human Archive, the social media activity that was installed at SAM.
Asia Tail, also a curator (we can’t wait to see yəhaw̓ at the King Street Station opening in January 2019) is the hand behind the words on the Double Exposure website but we hadn’t seen her art previously! Fox Spears is one of the teaching artists offering free Drop-In Studio workshops at SAM (there’s one more workshop on Sunday led by Sondra Segundo before the exhibition closes) and it was so nice to see this work after learning so much about his process!
The lens we look through changes everything. In Native Portraiture, Tacoma Art Museum asks the question: What is communicated when an outsider portrays someone from another culture?
In the galleries you will have the chance to see contemporary Native artists representing Indigenous cultures for themselves. These works are interspersed by a few examples of depictions by non-Native artists that romanticize, stereotype, or appropriate Native people and cultures. We recommend spending at least an hour or two in this gallery to fully absorb the impact of this contrast.
Do yourself a favor and enjoy the ferry and short drive that it takes to get to Suquamish Museum. Well designed and chock-full of information, the permanent installation tells a detailed and important story through movement, textures, the forest environment and the symbolic movement of the tide. The objects on view, many never before exhibited, are a combination of works owned by the Suquamish Museum and on loan from Suquamish families and other museums. The way these objects are arranged creates an environment where you will want to spend some time. The museum describes their goal as an attempt to “displace the modern way of historical contextual understanding. Culture is more than historical events strung together. The passing of knowledge and values, generation to generation, is the core of Suquamish culture.” Based on our visit, the Suquamish achieves their goal, and then some!
Where your day trips take you, SAM recommends you make the time to visit the wealth of museums in Washington featuring work by Native artists!
Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson closes at SAM on September 9, but here are 8 places you can visit in Seattle (and beyond) where you can continue to widen your lens on Native culture. Indigenous peoples have been living in the Puget Sound area for well over 4,000 years making for a rich but complex history that has left a lasting mark on the region. Despite the hardships faced by Native communities, Native culture continues to thrive.
After decades of planning and fundraising, the Duwamish Longhouse & Cultural Center opened its doors to tribal members, visitors, and the community in 2009. Located at a historic archeological site along the Duwamish river in West Seattle, the lobby displays archeological materials from the site and has a resource center filled with photographs, interviews, field notes, and other literature about the Duwamish and coastal Salish people. Visit the longhouse’s gallery and exhibit area—it’s free! In addition, the longhouse holds monthly special events as well as ongoing workshops, demonstrations and lectures.
Located on the University of Washington Seattle campus, the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, pronounced “wah-sheb-altuh,” aims to provide a welcoming space and a supportive educational environment for all Native students. Though this longhouse-style facility is on a college campus and many events are reserved for UW students, it also hosts a variety of different events like film screenings and concerts that are also open to the public. Check out their Facebook page for details on upcoming events.
If you’re in Neah Bay be sure to stop by the Makah Cultural & Research Center—the center includes the Makah Museum, as well as the Museum store, Makah Language Program, Archives and Library Department, Makah Education Department, and Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Their permanent collection boasts 300-500 year old artifacts recovered from a Makah village in Ozette, Washington. The Makah Museum also offers demonstrations and lectures by Makah Tribal Leaders plus workshops where you can learn to make crafts from Makah tradition.
Located in Seattle’s Discovery Park, Sacred Circle Gallery is a gallery space inside of Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Along with a permanent collection of Native American art, they show curated exhibits featuring contemporary and traditional Native American Art by global and local artists.
This Port Angeles heritage center is the home of a permanent exhibit of Kallam Village artifacts along with contemporary works by local tribal members. Across the street from the Heritage Center you’ll find The Carnegie Museum, managed by The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, the space displays cultural and historical artifacts of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and other tribes of the Olympic Peninsula.
Located on the Evergreen State College campus in Olympia, “House of Welcome” Longhouse Education and Cultural Center’s mission is promoting Indigenous arts and cultures through education, cultural preservation, creative expression, and economic development. Come to the longhouse to learn about indigenous arts and cultures through Native art markets, exhibitions, performances, films, and other public events.
Learn about the legacy of the Tulalip Tribe and people via interactive displays and stories told in both Lushootseed and English at the Hibulb Cultural Center. In addition to the museum’s permanent collection and rotating special exhibitions, they host public events and workshops from weaving and beading classes to salmon bake fundraisers. And, to top it all off, the Cultural Center also happens to be located on a 50-acre natural history preserve, with a research library and a longhouse!
Lelooska Family dancers give audience members an understanding of Northwest Coast First Nations culture in living history performances at the Lelooska Foundation and cultural center. Along with living history performances, the Lelooska Foundation offers classes in traditional Northwest Coast crafts like wood carving, weaving, beading, and more. In addition, the Lelooska Museum holds an immense collection of artifacts from around the globe—check out their website for museum hours and event dates!
– Nina Dubinsky, Social Media and Communications Coordinator
Images: Photo courtesy of Lelooska Foundation. Photo courtesy of the Longhouse at Evergreen. Photo courtesy of the Hibulb Cultural Center & Natural History Preserve.
Recently, the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library acquired two works by book artist, designer, and member of the Oneida Nation Erin Mickelson. Mickelson’s work is often about language, particularly translation. Sometimes her work is as straightforward as a translation from one language to another, but often she attempts to translate an idea between seemingly disparate forms—language, image, code, and movement. You can see Mickelson’s works in person in the reception area just outside of the Bullitt Library on SAM’s 5th floor until Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicholson, Tracey Rector, Will Wilson closes on September 9, 2018.
Mutterfarbe, published in 2017 by Broken Cloud Press (Santa Fe, NM), the imprint of Mickelson, is a limited-edition artist-book collaboration between poet, translator, and visual artist Brandi Katherine Herrera and Mickelson. The work, which uses Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s seminal work Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors, 1810) as its primary source, features experimental text, visual translations, and poems.
The work includes three sections, plus front matter and back matter. In the first section, Natürlicher, sixteen color swatches sourced from photographs of Herrera’s environment are accompanied by poems whose words are drawn from translations of Goethe’s text. The second section, Ursprünglicher, includes erasure poems by Herrera with “visual translations” of Goethe’s illustrations by Mickelson. The third section, Farbe Gespräch, is an imagined text conversation between Herrera and Goethe regarding the surrealist film, The Holy Mountain (directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973) using contemporary language, texting, and the Google Translate app. Mickelson sources the illustrations in this section directly from screenshots of the film, rendering them in the sixteen colors used throughout the work. This particular section utilizes a leporello structure, creating an accordion-like fold, and can extend to thirteen feet wide. The front matter includes a unique lenticular print, a technology that creates a three-dimensional effect. The three pamphlet-stitched books (Anhang I–III) that make up the back matter feature a translator’s note, color source photographs, scans of the original text erasures, and the translation of Zur Farbenlehre.
Mickelson and Herrera worked with Zachary Schomburg to create this informative video which helps us understand the many parts of this fascinating work.
He Wears a Feather
He Wears a Feather (2015) demonstrates a move for Mickelson toward more socially and politically informed work. It is also a work inspired by a deep and personal topic: controversial blood quantum laws dictate that the artist’s son be excluded from the Oneida Nation’s tribal rolls—the first generation of Mickelson’s family.
“He Wears a Feather is very much about a disappearing cultural identity. I’ve had a lot of conversations about this idea with my mother, who, as an Oneida artist, has dedicated her career to telling the stories and history of the Oneida people through her paintings. She’s talked at length about the changing attitude toward identifying as Native. Her grandmother (my great-grandmother) was at the Carlisle Indian boarding school, where students were forced to assimilate to Euro/American culture. It created a huge rift between those students and their families who remained on the reservation. Subsequent generations have dealt with racism and colonialism as well as the effects of the previous generation’s forced assimilation, and connections to history, language, and identity have become frayed. Particularly for those living off the reservation. I am mixed-race and the last generation of my family to be a tribal member (due to blood quantum laws). It feels imperative to me to do what I can to stay connected to my family history. I can do this by trying to learn and preserve the language, history, and stories of the Oneida people.”
—Erin Mickelson, book artist
The work takes the form of a drop-spine box and includes an electronic sound module that, when the soapstone turtle is removed and the module is exposed to light, allows the reader to hear the book’s text being read aloud. Mickelson utilized text and an audio recording from the Oneida Language Revitalization Program, originally a Works Progress Administration project started in 1939, whose goal is to preserve and continue the Oneida language.