In anticipation of Barbara Earl Thomas’s exhibition opening in November, Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence, this talented artist describes the development of a new body of work amidst the turmoil and crises of the past year and within the context of broader American history. The conversation follows Thomas’s exploration of grace, storytelling, perception, and process in her art making. Watch this interview with SAM’s Jon & Mary Shirley Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, Catharina Manchanda and get excited to experience these artworks in person this fall.
Defining herself as a storyteller, Thomas notes, “It is the chaos of living and the grief of our time that compels me, philosophically, emotionally, and artistically. I am a witness and a chronicler: I create stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in midst of the chaos.” In this exhibition, the artist will create an immersive environment of light and shadow—inhabited by large-scale narrative works in cut paper and glass—that addresses our preconceived ideas of innocence and guilt, sin and redemption, and the ways in which these notions are assigned and distorted along cultural and racial lines.
Jasmyne Keimig of the Stranger reports on the quiet reopening of Seattle galleries. A group of galleries had asked to be included in Phase 2 and were granted permission; with precautions in place, “going to the gallery doesn’t look that much different from before.”
“Although the festival won’t be the same this year, Moriguchi noted that part of Buddhism is about change and adapting, so they still plan to make the most of it. He said he will try to do a Google Hangout or Zoom with friends while they watch. Mostly, he hopes people will still dance along at home.”
“He took the billy club they beat him with at Selma and turned it into a baton, a relay man running toward that promise in our founding documents that says all men are created equal when the word “all” really meant some and not others.”
Suggested viewing: Good Trouble, the documentary directed by Dawn Porter.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
Seattle-based artist Marita Dingus has two works in the Seattle Art Museum’s collection: 400 Men of African Descent, acquired in 1998, and 200 Women of African Descent, acquired in 2009. Both were completed in 1997 as companion installations. These works are described as a “Hail Mary, a visual prayer” by the artist, where repetition serves as a spiritual act of catharsis (the pieces took over a year to complete) and a mode of reflection on the horrific conditions of slavery that became clear during a visit to West Africa.
Dingus was inspired to create these works after visiting Elmina Castle, a Ghanaian fort where for two centuries enslaved Africans were held captive. She walked into rooms where 400 men and 200 women were held in dungeons of extreme confinement, with little light and almost no air. There, they spent their last days before the Middle Passage––a term that fails to capture the atrocities of the slave trade and the conditions of being shipped over the Atlantic. Upon her return, Dingus made a man or woman each day to mark this memory. Each becomes a new form of monument to honor the 200 women and 400 men held captive in Elmina Castle, the aggregate total of figures a powerful and haunting reminder of the conditions of chattel slavery.
As in Dingus’s larger sculptural practice, the miniature figures in 400 Men and 200 Women are comprised of discarded materials, in this case elements such as zipper pulls, Christmas light bulbs, and textile fragments. As articulated in Dingus’s artist statement, “My art draws upon relics from the African Diaspora. The discarded materials represent how people of African descent were used during the institution of slavery and colonialism then discarded, but who found ways to repurpose themselves and thrive in a hostile world.”
400 Men of African Descent came into the museum through an unusual museum experiment. In 1997, the installation was included in a unique exhibition in which museum visitors chose, via ballot, the acquisition of a work of art featured in the show. The options ranged from photographs and sculptures by contemporary African artists, to installations like this one by a contemporary Black American artist.
Knowing that the Seattle community chose for this work to enter the collection is an important and, perhaps today, lesser-known element of the work’s history. More than twenty years later, 400 Men and 200 Women of African Descent continue to alert viewers to questions and ignite conversations about slavery, colonialism, and systemic racism. Hopefully, they might also be seen as an offering, an emblem of a community’s support for important dialogue and change.
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate
If you’ve been in downtown Seattle recently perhaps you noticed the mural on the plywood covering SAM’s entrance. This bright, bold, and inspiring artwork was commissioned from artist Kimisha Turner. You may have seen her work recently in another mural—she is the artist behind the “B” in the Black Lives Matter mural on Capitol Hill.
Washington native and Cornish College Alum, Kimisha Turner creates work that invites self-reflection, empowerment, and social awareness. From photography to mosaic, wood carving to paint, performance art to printmaking, this multi-disciplinary artist has been busy utilizing her many skills to help people thinking differently about social justice and how we can all take part in anti-racist work. Turner gave a talk to the Seattle Art Museum Supporters group and you can watch it below to learn more about how art saved her life, how her son has pushed her to be a more proactive artist, and how we all have power to create change.
Flowing tears, drowning hands, purposeful denial, and a mandala sun: get lost and found in Kimisha Turner’s mural It Ain’t Just A River in Egypt. Commissioned by SAM and paid for by an anonymous donor, the mural is now on view on the plywood-covered facade of the downtown museum. Watch and read all about it from KING’s Evening Magazine and Crosscut.
“Like the best short stories, short films can pack a punch—sometimes more than a feature length movie. Plus these showcases allow you to experience a huge range of voices and styles, and find new filmmakers you want to follow.”
“Oftentimes, Black women find ourselves at the vanguard whether or not that is our preferred position. Our ways of being, knowing, and seeing have shaped what we know of history and will be absolutely integral as we work to conceptualize and bring forth a more egalitarian future free from bondage and subjugation.”
Next in our series of virtual tours from Suzanne Ragen, aka Nana, we’ll be looking at an ancient Hindu sculpture and a Chinese sculpture from the 14th century. A SAM docent since 1965, Ragen began writing what she calls Nana’s Art History 101 for her grandchildren when the Asian Art Museum had to close for the safety of the public in March 2020. She recently started to share these virtual tours of SAM’s original home with us and we hope you enjoy them!
Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Auspicious Beginnings
Do you remember our first object, the Indian Story Scroll Cloth that featured the Hindu god Ganesh? He starts the story on that scroll because he is the God of Auspicious Beginnings, which means the story gets off to a good start.
This stone sculpture of Ganesh was located in a niche of a Hindu temple wall. In Hinduism, there are three main gods: Brahma has four heads and is the creator of pretty much everything; Vishnu often wears a top hat and is blue and comes to earth to help when needed in the form of nine different avatars; and Shiva who is the destroyer and can end the world and then you start all over again.
This Ganesh is connected to Shiva, we know that because the snake across his round belly is Shiva’s snake. When you look at Ganesh, what’s the first thing you notice? For me, his most striking feature is his elephant head. He also has four arms, a big belly, wears jewelry, and a crown. You might notice his candy dish in his left hand (he loves candy). What do you see near his right foot? That’s Mooshika, his rat sidekick who helps Ganesh trample down or wiggle through obstacles.
Why do you think he has an elephant head? The reason starts with Shiva and his wife Parvati, who live in a big, fancy house. Shiva is gone a lot, destroying things and Parvati misses him. One day when Shiva is gone Parvati makes a child out of clay to keep her company and breathes life into him. Once she goes to take a bath and tells her child, “Don’t let anyone in the house!” But Shiva comes home unexpectedly. Ganesh stops him and says “You can’t come in!” This makes Shiva so angry that he takes his sword and cuts off Ganesh’s head.
Parvati comes out and says, “How terrible! You have cut off the head of our child!” Shiva realizes the situation and tells his servant to go to the market and bring back the first head he sees. It is an elephant. Shiva places the elephant head on his child’s body. Ganesh comes back to life and in Hindu mythology, stays as a helper to his father and a good son to his mother.
Many Hindus pray to Ganesh for good luck when they set a new goal. After hearing this story, what do you think is lucky about Ganesh?
Dragon Tamer Luohan
This Chinese wood sculpture from the 14th century came to the Seattle Art Museum soon after it opened its doors in 1933. How do I know this information? I looked at the label! If you look at the last numbers on any label (no matter what museum you go to), you’ll see there are a series of numbers. The numbers before the first period tell you what year the museum acquired the work, after the period is the number in which the object came into the collection that year. This is called the accession number. The accession number for this object is 36.13. This means that the object was acquired in 1936 and it was the 13th object acquired that year.
For the past 84 years this object was titled Monk at the Moment of Enlightenment. While the museum was closed for a recent renovation and expansion, our Chinese curator was able to examine it very carefully, using medical equipment like x-rays and CT scans, as well as looking closely. We can do that, too.
What we discovered from the scans is that the figure is hollow, made up of five different pieces of wood, held together with long iron pins, and was painted in reds and greens with a topcoat of gold, most of which has worn off. The curator was able to remove a panel in his back and found a single Chinese character inscribed inside that the museum had never seen before! It is part of the name for the Dragon Tamer Luohan. Luohans are Buddhist monks and this one’s particular job was to control the Dragon King. The Chinese believed that rainfall was controlled from the clouds by the Dragon King, so farmers would pray to this Luohan for the right amount of rain for their crops. Because of his size (more than three feet) and quality, it is thought that he was originally in a temple in Beijing.
The other big surprise that was found inside him was a mud wasp nest in his head! It must have been there for 800 years. A fragment of a wasp was sent to a UW entomologist, who was able to determine its species.
He is sitting on a tree stump, his body is twisted, legs with one foot touching the ground and the other crossed over that knee. He is grasping his robe in one hand and probably held a pail or a pearl in his other hand. He is looking upward at the sky, communicating with the Dragon King for more or less rain to fall. He seems totally animated with his swirling robes and vigorous body language. Notice his elongated pierced ear lobes, a symbol of the Buddha, who began life so wealthy that he wore heavy gold earring which stretched his ears.
Many years ago I was leading a high school group on a tour and we were talking about enlightenment and what it is? (This was when he had his first title). I suggested that it might be what happens when you are puzzling over a math problem and the symbols and numbers are just making no sense. You keep looking at them and suddenly they fall into place. Eureka! Enlightenment! When I said that, I snapped my fingers, and at that moment there was a minor Seattle earthquake. The guards came and rushed us into a doorway. I did feel a certain odd sense of power.
– Suzanne Regan, SAM Docent
Image: Dragon Tamer Luohan, ca. 14th century, Chinese, wood with polychrome decoration, 41 x 30 x 22 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 36.13. Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Auspicious Beginnings, ca. late 10th to early 11th century, Indian , Odisha, possibly Bhubanesvara, sandstone, 18 1/4 x 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 39.33.
“The film’s visceral urgency builds through a visual accumulation of histories. His technique calls attention to the ways that history converges with the present, often by unearthing and revisiting images that portray the brutalities many prefer not to see.”
Our friends down on the waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium, have reopened. The Seattle Times’ Chris Talbott talks with visitors and Aquarium leaders, including director of conservation programs and partnerships Erin Meyer, about how it’s going.
“‘Reopening is about reconnecting with our mission inspiring conservation of our marine environment,’ Meyer said. ‘And we can’t do that without being able to interact with guests.’”
“But the greater and more urgent question dangling here is: When is a public artwork an embellishment and when is it an eyesore? Arguments about patriotism and freedom, rights and responsibilities as well as what public art should do, and represent, have been thrown into high relief in 2020.”
Summer 2020 is here. The list of what hasn’t, can’t, or won’t, happen is long. No solstice gatherings, no gay pride parades, no powwows, or large family reunions. Instead, we are a stay-at-home culture with hypochondriac tendencies, trying to make it through a pandemic that demands change and suffering, and thrives on confusion. We watch the world largely through our screens, shaking our heads at the horrifying news of an escalating death count due to the virus and to brutality. We fill up on visions of those who are losing loved ones, or Zoom together to process the despair of losing our own. In the face of such turmoil, what art makes sense? I’d like to offer my vote for an artist who offers constant revelations.
Jacolby Satterwhite was introduced to me by Erika Dalya Massaquoi when we teamed up in a search for artists to feature in an exhibition called Disguise: Masks and Global African Art. I was hooked the instant I saw his video work, which relies on an aesthetic of immersion in a multimedia cavalcade of images that take hold of your imagination in a very different way than a canvas on the wall or a sculpture on a pedestal. His screens swallow you up and turn you upside down in a chaos of people dancing and transforming while strange structures jiggle and shapeshift. This was an immediate trigger, reminding me of being in the middle of a masquerade or a carnival procession, where all your navigational skills are put to the test and you get to share moments of complete disorientation with others. I’ve always been convinced that such art is woefully underrepresented in museums, as paintings and sculptures prevail. Mr. Satterwhite is a champion of screens that challenge your mind to suspend belief in what is real, and encourage you to reconsider what about life is important to understand.
So an expedition to get to know what he is doing began. You can do it too. Thankfully, I’m not alone in my fascination with his talent and intellect. He’s got more online interviews than many artists several times his age. Partly, this is because there isn’t a dull minute when he’s on camera. A list of a few interviews to watch follows, and if you want to start with art first, there’s Country Ball––a 12 minute tour of a family gathering in North Carolina that becomes completely reinvented for reasons that the artist can best explain. In this summer of 2020, when we’re recalibrating what matters, Jacolby Satterwhite is a visionary for our time.
We’ve curated a list of grade-level books with free online read-alouds on the topics of race, racism, and resistance for you to spend some time with over the summer. Many of these books will be available at Seattle Art Museum’s Ann P. Wyckoff Education Resource Center (ERC) when the museum can reopen. Others are available through the Seattle Public Library or the King County Library System. This book list caters to grades Pre-K through 8 but can spark conversation between people of all ages.
PRE-SCHOOL – GRADE
Skin Again, by hooks, bell. (Pre-K – K) New York: Jump at the Sun, 2004.
This award-winning book introduces a strong message of loving yourself and others and offers new ways to talk about race and identity. Watch the read aloud above, find the e-book at the Seattle Public Library, or find this book at the ERC.
The Colors of Us, by Katz, Karen. (Pre-K – K) New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1999.
Seven-year-old Lena and her mother observe the variations in the color of their friends’ skin, viewed in terms of foods and things found in nature. Find this book at the ERC!
The Skin You Live In, by Tyler, Michael and Csicsko, David Lee. (Pre-K +) Chicago: Chicago Children’s Museum, 2005.
Rhyming text and illustrations celebrate being happy with the skin in which one lives, whatever that skin might be. ERC available and the e-book is at SPL & King County Library System.
All are Welcome, by Penfield, Alexandra. ( Pre-K – Grade 3) New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018.
Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms, where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions. You can find the e-book at Seattle and King County Library System.
I Am Enough, by Byers, Grace. (PK – Grade 3) New York: Balzer + Bray, 2018.
A story of loving who you are, respecting others and being kind to one another. The ERC has this book and Seattle Public Library has the e-book.
Let’s Talk About Race, by Lester, Julius and Barbour, Karen. (Pre-K – Grade 3) New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
This children’s book introduces the concept of race as only one component in an individual’s or nation’s “story.” Find this book at the ERC.
Something Happened in Our Town, by Celano, Marianne. (Grades K – 3) Washington, DC: Magination Press, 2018.
This story follows two families—one White, one Black—as they discuss a police shooting of a Black man in their community. The story aims to answer children’s questions about such traumatic events, and to help children identify and counter racial injustice in their own lives. Check out the e-book through SPL.
Enough! 20 Protesters That Changed America, by Easton, Emily. (Grades K – 3) New York: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.
America has been molded and shaped by those who have taken a stand and said they have had enough. In this dynamic picture book, stand alongside the nation’s most iconic civil and human rights leaders, whose brave actions rewrote history. The e-book can be found at the Seattle Public Library & King County Library System.
GRADES 3 – 8
Not My Idea: A book about Whiteness, by Higginbotham, Anastasia. (Grades 3 +) New York: Dottir Press, 2018.
A children’s picture book that invites white children and parents to become curious about racism, accept that it’s real, and cultivate justice. For a limited time, you can download a free pdf version from the publisher’s website.
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, edited by Hudson, Wade and Hudson, Cheryl Willis. (Grades 3 – 7) New York: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2018.
What do we tell our children when the world seems bleak and prejudice and racism run rampant? With 96 lavishly designed pages of original art and prose, 50 diverse creators lend voice to young activists. E-book is at Seattle Public Library and a digital audiobook is available through King County Library System.
Little Dreamers: Bold Women in Black History, by Harrison, Vashti. (Grades 3 – 6) New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.
Based on her popular Instagram posts, debut author/illustrator Vashti Harrison shares the stories of 40 bold African American women who shaped history.
Find the e-book available through Seattle Public Library & King County Library System or find the book at the ERC when SAM reopens.
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History, by Harrison, Vashti. (Grades 3 – 6) New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2019.
Vashti’s follow-up to Little Leaders documents the lives and accomplishments of Black men throughout history, spanning centuries and continents. This e-book is available through the Seattle Public Library & King County Library Systems.
Rise Up! The Art of Protest, by Rippon, Jo. (Grades 3 – 7) New York: Charlesbridge, 2020.
Celebrate the right to resist! Human rights belong to every single one of us, but they are often under threat. Developed in collaboration with Amnesty International, Rise Up! encourages young people to engage in peaceful protest and stand up for freedom. Get the e-book on the Seattle Public Library website.
A Good Kind of Trouble, by Ramée, Lisa Moore. (Grades 4 – 8) New York, NY: Balzer + Bray, 2019.
After attending a powerful protest, Shayla starts wearing an armband to school to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but when the school gives her an ultimatum, she is forced to choose between her education and her identity. E-book & digital audiobook available at Seattle Public Library & King County Library System.
Ghost Boys, by Rhodes, Jewell Parker. (Grades 5+) New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018.
After seventh-grader Jerome is shot by a white police officer, he observes the aftermath of his death and meets the ghosts of other fallen Black boys including historical figure Emmett Till. E-book & digital audiobook available through Seattle Public Library & King County Library Systems.
Raise your Voice: 12 Protests That Shaped America, by Kluger, Jeffrey. (Grades 5 – 8) New York: Philomel, 2020.
Starting with the Boston Tea Party, moving to the Women’s March, and ending with the Standing Rock/Dakota Pipeline Uprising, this book covers 12 protests that shaped our nation. The e-book is available through the Seattle Public Library.
– Kim Christensen, Education Resource Center Education Assistant