Over the past several years, SAM has presented Art & Social Justice Tours during the week of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Facilitated by SAM staff, the tours invite conversation and personal responses based on artists and artworks on view in SAM’s galleries. Since we can’t be together in the galleries this year, we’ve invited SAM staff to reflect on the important connection between art and social justice from home. These responses were shared on SAM’s Instagram stories throughout the week as SAM staff members offered perspectives on art at SAM or in their homes, that honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
These videos were too good to only live in our highlights, so we’ve gathered them here for you. Hear from Brandon Vaughan, one of SAM’s board members, on Swedish artist Eitil Thorén Due, and Seattle artist Christina Martinez.
Cindy Bolton, Chief Financial Officer at SAM, shares an artwork from her home by Charly Palmer. Check out Freedom in Bolton’s story and find some optimism in this artwork.
Yaoyao Liu is a museum educator at SAM and she discusses Takahiro Kondo‘s sculpture, Reduction. This newly installed contemporary sculpture sits on the recently restored fountain in the Fuller Garden Court at the renovated and expended Asian Art Museum. We look forward to reopening SAM’s original home later this spring so you can see this work in person.
In Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Trapsprung, a dancer reaches to the tip of their outstretched leg while balancing perfectly on the toes of their other leg. In Interview Magazine, the artist describes being drawn to “the very kind of visceral physical power and grace of dancers, and their occasional closeness to losing control.”
A split second before or after the moment in this painting, and the dancer’s balance will shift into another movement. Here, though, the dancer’s strength and poise are captured in an instant, while Yiadom-Boakye’s brushwork evokes the energy of the movement. Painted from memory and imagination, Yiadom-Boakye features portraits of Black people exclusively, creating images that explore “the wider possibility of anything and everything.” In the current socio-political climate, David Rue, Public Engagement Associate at SAM, initiated a project that celebrates and elevates incredible Black artists living and working in the city of Seattle through connecting them with this work by a prominent Black artist in SAM’s collection. Local artists Amanda Morgan, Michele Dooley, and Nia-Amina Minor, responded to Trapsprung in brief, personal dance works, and offered reflections on the artwork and their lived experiences.
It’s easy to assume that each and every work made by Black artists living right now will only be about police brutality, slavery, or protest. Plot twist! While these are important conversations to be had, it’s also critical to remember that we’re a very dynamic group of people capable of exploring a multitude of artistic experiences.
What I believe is on the other side of this socio-political monstrosity is the beauty, power, and grace that exists within Black artists. These are qualities that I see within Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s work as well as within the dancers commissioned to respond to Trapsprung. Now is the time to celebrate and elevate their artistic excellence.
On my first visit to the Seattle Art Museum I immediately took notice of Trapsprung. A Black ballerina dancing in a piece of art is not a common subject that you find in much of the art that is created, so I instantly saw myself in the work, being a Black ballerina myself. The aspect about the piece that I probably enjoy the most though is the perspective and action taking place within it. We are placed behind her and given her perspective as she moves; she moves with intent and direction as opposed to being static and placed in the space only to be seen. I think this demonstrates what women, and particularly Black women are capable of. We are not there to just be viewed or seen, we are a statement in just our being and use this as our power to go forth in all we do rather than let this inhibit us. I like to think the woman in that portrait would take on the world as such.
Amanda Morgan is originally from Tacoma, WA and is currently a corps member at Pacific Northwest Ballet. She joined the company in 2016 as an apprentice and was promoted to corps in 2017. In addition to dancing, Morgan is a choreographer and founder of her own project titled “The Seattle Project”, which aims to collaborate with multiple artists in Seattle and create new work that is accessible to the community. She has choreographed for PNB’s Next Step at McCaw Hall (2018, 2019), Seattle International Dance Festival (2019), and curated her own show at Northwest Film Forum this past February of 2020. She is currently continuing to still create and connect with artists during this time, and has a dance film coming out in collaboration with Nia-Amina Minor for Seattle Dance Collective this July.
Power and dynamic combined with softness and beauty.
Remembering all it is and what it feels like to be a Black woman.
Always acknowledging how much strength and resilience it requires to become the Black dancer in this artwork and the Black artist that painted it.
Michele Dooley is a native of Philadelphia and began her dance training at The Institute of the Arts under the direction of Cheryl Gaines Jenkins. She graduated from the High School for Creative and Performing Arts under the direction of LaDeva Davis and earned a BFA in dance at The University of the Arts, under the direction of Donna Faye Burchfield. While earning her degree, she spent three seasons with Eleone Dance Theatre. Michele trained at Bates Summer Intensive, BalletX summer program, and DCNS Summer Dance Intensive, worked with choreographers such as Gary Jeter, Tommie Waheed-Evans, Dara Meredith, Milton Myers, Nora Gibson, and Ronen Koresh, among others.
I see her and she’s flying.
Purposefully turned away from a world that is often drawn to her image partly because she makes it look so easy. But I see the effort, the commitment, and I can stand to learn something from the subtlety. I remember reading that a bird’s wings have evolved to provide lift and reduce drag. They use their strongest muscles to lift while their wing anatomy minimizes turbulence, friction, and all that would drag them down to the ground.
I see her and she’s flying.
Nia-Amina Minor is a movement based artist and dance educator from South Central Los Angeles. She holds a MFA from the University of California, Irvine and a BA from Stanford University. Nia-Amina is a co-founder of Los Angeles based collective, No)one Art House, as well as a Company Dancer and Community Engagement Artist Liaison with Spectrum Dance Theater.
Every January, SAM honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a week of spotlight tours led by museum staff, focused on artists and artworks currently on view in SAM’s galleries that speak to themes of race and social justice. Free and open to the public, the tours are also a big draw for SAM administrative staff, who step away from their desks on the fifth floor and head down to hear from one of their colleagues. Grounded in a love for, and knowledge of, the collection, the tours are often deeply personal, as the speaker finds resonances in the art with their own experiences of race and social justice.
Since launching the series in 2015, there have been many memorable tours. In 2017, Public Engagement Associate David Rue danced his tour in front of Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, a major work by the Black artist that had been recently been brought into the museum’s collection. He moved to the sounds of The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” simultaneously celebrating the increased visibility of Black artists and wondering whether it was just lip service—or the beginning of a new future of true equity.
Actress and performance artist (and SAM Visitor Services Officer) Adera Gandy led a tour in 2018 that visited the current show Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. Anchored by an immersive installation by contemporary artist Saya Woolfalk, the show includes works selected by the artist from SAM’s African art collection. Adera focused on Fulani and Ghanaian gold jewelry, reminding us that just as practitioners of alchemy attempted to find a universal elixir by turning base metals into gold, we must work towards equity not only with external steps—measurable policies and practices—but with internal shifts to transform the collective mind and create authentic and sustainable change.
In 2019, Social Media and Communications Coordinator Nina Dubinsky visited the current installation Body Language and discussed Akio Takamori’s ceramic sculpture Willy B. It’s inspired by a famous 1970 photo of German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling down and silently bowing his head at a monument to the thousands of Poles killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Nina connected Takamori’s interest in this evocative gesture as a political statement to her generation’s use of social media to unite in social movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #TransRightsMatter, and #MuteRKelly.
Also this year, we expanded the series beyond staff to include tours by Dr. Cherry Banks, a SAM trustee and Professor in Education Studies at the University of Washington Bothell, and Celeste Ericsson, a SAM docent who participates in the SAM docent corps’ Equity Working Group. The Art and Social Justice Tours continue to change the way we all experience the works in our collection. Including more perspectives only deepens their impact. Join us next year when we continue this tradition of honoring the radical and loving legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
At the recent Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition, SAM Education’s Priya Frank and David Rue joyfully represented as judges; don’t miss this Evergrey video with Priya about the event, which raises funds for our neighbor the Pike Market Senior Center.
“’The aesthetic of the book is totally an homage to every community cookbook — every church, Junior League, elementary school cookbook — ever made,’ she says. She found an old-school cursive typewriter font to use for some of the recipes. ‘If I could’ve made it on a ditto machine, I would’ve,’ Ito adds.”
“’It’s one of the many ways we are embracing the idea of meeting our customers where they are, welcoming them to the space, helping them find surprise and delight,’ said Douglas Hegley, Mia’s chief digital officer.”
Sometimes our reactions and reflections on artwork do not take the shape of words. Sometimes the most accurate portrayal of emotion and thought is an ephemeral, physical reaction. David Rue, dancer and SAM’s Public Programs Coordinator, had just such a reaction to Robert Colescott’s Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas while leading an Art & Social Justice Tour in January of 2017. Enjoy this video of Rue’s response to the vibrant colors of Colescott’s “outsider’s” perspective. Colescott’s artistic identity as an African American painter led to a lifelong practice of inventing new narrative scenarios to address the persistent racial tensions in the US. See more work by Colescott in Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas opening at SAM, February 15, 2018.
Artwork: Les Demoiselles d’Alabama: Vestidas, Robert Colescott, American, 1925—2009, 1985, acrylic on canvas, 96 x 92 in., General Acquisition Fund, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, and Patricia Denny Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.12.
Welcome to our newest blog series, Muse/News—your weekly recap of what’s happening in art news at the Seattle Art Museum and across the world. Check back Mondays for updates on the artists and events making headlines around the world. With the Seattle Art Fair come and gone over the weekend, there’s plenty to digest and our PR Manager, Rachel Eggers delivers the scoop here in a perfect bite size. Enjoy!
All was fair in the city this past week as the Seattle Art Fair breezed into town for the third year in a row. What initially seemed an ambitious experiment is quickly becoming a welcome mainstay of the Seattle cultural calendar.
Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture (phew!) has been named Best Curator in Seattle Weekly’s annual readers’ poll. We’re glad everyone loves her as much as we do. Congrats, Chiyo!
“…Kusama’s inclination to control and present her own image in the 1960s seems well ahead of its time. Accepting the way images are consumed, she chose to control the construction, proliferation, and obliteration of hers rather than allowing someone else to do so. Some of her true self was left out in the fiction of the performance. But, she also ensured the performance was conveyed the way she envisioned it. To this end, maybe taking selfies, in an Infinity Mirror Room or elsewhere, can have meaning when done with similar intent—when they give us the chance to perform and let go of ourselves at the same time.”
Emily Pothast of the Stranger offered compelling thoughts on the fair and offered her five don’t-miss highlights.
Are you “here for the right reasons”? The New York Times visits a rose-filled one-night show. After the recent casting call here, maybe we’ll see a Seattleite embark on the “journey” next season (ugh, you know you’ll watch again).
A window is what I wanted. A gap in the wall where light could come in and color the dim room of my world and hopefully the world of those around me. But how do you crack open a wall of bias and expectation? How do you get to the human behind the facade? The goal with Color is Everything was this very idea; to find the bridge from one person to another, a path through the forest of differences so we can embrace what makes the individual truly and beautifully individual. Longing, pain, love, desire; So much binds us to one another beyond things like religion, gender choice, or race. I wanted to photograph individuals that not only celebrated what made them unique but even further—used that as a source of their power. But differences scare people. So often we see something unlike what we understand and it is seen as dumb, threatening or foolish. That is why I attempted to open the window of joy in all the people who participated in the project. I wanted their joy to shine brighter than anything an observer could find bias against. Because in a time of cultural tension, amongst all the things that bind us, why not choose joy to let some light in?
To do so was not hard. It was a simple recipe of music, dancing, and kindness. Lindsey Watkins helped choose the wardrobe from the outfits the individuals brought from their own closets. From that we chose color combinations in the backdrops. It wasn’t until later that I was honored to be put in touch with Imani Sims who took the project to the next step of tapping into the actual recipe of what gave everyone their own personal joy. When given the opportunity to exhibit the project I knew that scale was important. Joy, no matter what the recipe, is not small, it is a force writ large against the darkness and I wanted the joy of these amazing individuals to be imposing and fully immersive.
This project was co-curated by David Rue and Priya Frank of Seattle Art Museum.