“I think the value of Sonny Assu’s piece, Breakfast Series in SAM’s permanent collection, has a lot to do with righting the wrongs of history.” – C. Davida Ingram
Consider the value of contemporary Native art through the perspective of Seattle-based artist, curator, educator, and writer, C. Davida Ingram. Visit SAM’s Native Arts of the Americas galleries and the Art and Life Along the Northwest Coast installation to contextualize Sonny Assu’s Native formline design elements in his representation of Tony the Tiger or the “12 essential lies and deceptions” in his box of Lucky Beads. How does your perspective on food and access to land change as you consider the serious history behind this seemingly lighthearted artwork?
“What does it actually truly mean to be educated? And what would it mean to decolonize the idea of being educated?” – Chris Jordan
Every artwork has a story. For our Object of the Week Tacoma-based artist Chris Jordan shares Charlotte Turner’s story and asks us to question what education looks like in the face of the violent history of the slave trade. Consider this and more when you visit SAM’s collection and see Needlework Sampler in person. Want to hear more from local artists and creative community members? Check out our My Favorite Things playlist on YouTube for more perspectives on SAM’s collections.
Remember when you were in school and everyone nagged you about what you wanted to do when you grew up? You may have known, you may not have known, you may have thought you knew and ended up changing your mind. SAM’s High School Career Day programs differ from others by rejecting the notion that 15 and 16 year-olds need to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Instead we explore the vast career options within a museum whilst creating a space for students to feel okay with the unknown.
SAM’s Equity Team’s Career Days center the interests of aspiring youth while involving staff from across departments and shedding light on the real people who navigate the creative, interesting, and sometimes odd, world of nonprofits, art, and museums. Students have heard from folks in SAM’s Education, Curatorial, Security, and Development departments, as well as from teaching artists, and more!
Our last Career Day on April 25, 2018 was with Mount Rainier High School and 85% of students said this experience helped them better understand their future career interests and plans for after high school. Nearly 70% of students said this experience helped them think about school in a new way, or motivated them to do better in school. Some of the students shared their thoughts with us after their visit!
“I thought about how it would be an interesting job but it made me realize I need to do better in school to become what I want.”
“Learning about the history of some of the art made me understand and find a deeper appreciation for history in school I don’t enjoy.”
“We saw a figures in history exhibit where old paintings had been re-imagined to represent a larger modern community. I’d like to work harder to later represent youth and help educate about identity expression at school.”
Our next Career Day is in November and we will continue to offer this program in the future. If you would like to bring your group to the museum for a Career Day experience, please email us!
– Rayna Mathis, School and Educator Programs Coordinator
These are the first five words of SAM’s mission statement. Staff and volunteers read these words on the wall every day when arriving at work. It’s the lens through which we view everything we do.
One crucial part of that mission is to work for equity and inclusion within our own walls, knowing that the museum must reflect the community it serves. In 2016, SAM launched the Emerging Arts Leader Internship, a paid internship aimed at candidates who are underrepresented in the museum field. It’s an interdisciplinary internship that allows the intern to interact with diverse aspects of museum work and contribute their unique insights and perspectives. Members of SAM’s Equity Team, representing several departments at the museum, make up the hiring committee for this important internship that is just one way SAM is working to create points of entry into the museum field.
This summer, two more interns begin their work. Near the end of their internship, they’ll lead a free tour in the galleries focusing on some what they’ve learned while contributing to SAM.
Introducing SAM’s 2018 Emerging Arts Leaders:
Born and raised in Seattle, Dovey is triumphantly returning to the city after completing her Bachelor’s in Studio Art at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. As a Honduran American and the child of immigrants, Dovey initially explored becoming an immigration lawyer. Fortunately for the arts and for SAM, she turned her focus to art: to the formal qualities of paint, to depicting the lives of marginalized communities, and to working for equity and inclusion.
Dovey was a member of Rainier Scholars, a Seattle-based college access program. One of her mentors there said this about her work:
“Her paintings convey the real struggle and sacrifice of her family and the millions of other amazing families working in agricultural fields and cleaning houses in order to create opportunities for the next generation of children hoping to benefit from the American promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Thanks to her interest in contemporary art and with working with the public, Dovey will be working primarily with the Curatorial department and with the Education department on public programming.
Seohee is preparing to graduate this June from the University of Washington with a degree in Communications and a minor in Diversity. A first-generation Korean American, she grew up in a predominantly white community in the American South. A self-described Third Culture Kid, Seohee had to balance the divergent rules and codes of school and home. It was at college where she learned to “embrace both cultures equally, and to value the challenges as learned opportunities to wield as tools in assisting those who similarly feel wedged between cultural identities.”
Embracing her multifaceted identity and experience is what guides Seohee’s interest in communications, in which she’s excelled. One of her former professors shared,
“Seohee has a longstanding interest in visual cultural production as a medium for communicating about racialized difference. Her schoolwork and previous experiences have long focused on the simultaneous negotiation, power, and disconnections between her various identities.”
Because of her passion for storytelling and multilingual and intercultural fluencies, Seohee will work primarily with the Curatorial and Communications departments, researching and writing about art.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Equity Team Outreach Taskforce Chair
As National Poetry Month comes to a close, if you’re not sure what to read, visit the library inside of the exhibition Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, closing May 13. While there you’ll notice a book of poetry by Morgan Parker titled There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House, 2017). It’s a recent favorite read of this particular copywriter and the cover of the first edition (now sold out) featured a Mickalene Thomas artwork. More importantly, within the pages of this smart, irreverent, and deeply personal collection of poetry is a piece inspired by Thomas, reprinted below! Morgan Parker simultaneously brings great depth to listening to Drake and immense weight to racial discrimination as she fearlessly invokes generations of social injustices within her powerful and playful prose. Parker stopped by the exhibition while visiting Seattle and shared some thoughts on Figuring History as well!
We Don’t Know When We Were Opened (Or, The Origin of the Universe) after Mickalene Thomas
By Morgan Parker
A sip of liquor from a creek. Saturday syndicated
Good Times, bare legs, colors draped like
an afterthought. We bright enough to blind you.
Dear anyone, dear high-heel metronome, white
noise, hush us, shhhhh, hush us. We’re artisinal
crafts, rare gems, bed of leafy bush you call
us superfood. Jeweled lips, we’re rich
We’re everyone. We have ideas and vaginas,
history and clothes and a mother. Portrait-ready
American blues. Palm trees and back issues
of JET, pink lotion, gin on ice, zebras, fig lipstick.
One day we learned to migrate. One day we studied
Mamma making her face. Bright new brown, scent of Nana
and cinnamon. Shadows of husbands and vineyards,
records curated to our allure, incense, unconcern.
Champagne is how the Xanax goes down, royal blue
reigning. We’re begging anyone not to forget
we’re turned on with control. We better homes and gardens.
We real grown. We garden of soiled panties.
We low hum of satisfaction. We is is is is is is is is
touch, touch, shine, a little taste. You’re gonna
give us the love we need.
SAM: Reading We Don’t Know When We Were Opened there’s a lot of assonance that creates repetition and fragmentation that feels to me like a sonic equivalent to Mickalene’s visual fragmentation. What in Thomas’ work inspired you and this poem, formally or thematically?
Morgan Parker: I’ve always loved Mickalene’s work, for the glitter and the color and the attention and the audaciousness. Her work is a celebration, and it’s also a politically intentional decolonization of the art history canon. She builds new worlds and revels in those worlds. I wanted my poem to reflect her work and add to it, translate it in my own words.
How do you think the persona poem and the way that Mickalene Thomas casts her models as art historical figures and tropes relate? Mickalene’s figures are looking right at you and this alters their role—makes them dimensional, such as in a painting like Tamika sur une chaise longue avec Monet. Where do you think that same dimension lives persona poems?
God I love this painting. I like to think of all my first-person poems as playing with dimensionality. I’m interested in using the singular figure, or voice, to call up cultural figureheads and historical tropes. Persona poems are an extension of that—they have two first-person speakers.
What stuck with you from your visit to the exhibition? Any lingering or new thoughts?
Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir I always makes me cry. It was also fantastic to see Robert Colescott’s work in person, as I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I love the way it engages stereotypes and recasts history so playfully and comically. In a different way than Mickalene, there’s trickery in acknowledging the audience’s gaze—that’s something I’ll be thinking over for a while.
Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night. In 2019, a third collection of poems, Magical Negro, will be published by Tin House, and a young adult novel will be published with Delacorte Press. Her debut book of nonfiction will be released in 2020 by OneWorld. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the creator and host of Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets with Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She lives in Los Angeles.
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist & Social Media Manager
In February, as I prepared to enter the Seattle Art Museum for the Community Celebration for Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, what seemed like endless thoughts swirled around in my mind. It was Black History month and opening weekend for the movie Black Panther— the joy and exuberance of Black culture was palpable in the air.
This was in stark contrast to just over a year earlier, when the collective anguish and discontent of Black society was reeling in the wake of the latest barrage of Black bodies murdered in the streets and broadcast in ‘real time’ for all to view. I still recall the gut-wrenching emotion of watching a Black father, murdered in his vehicle, minutes away from where my own father lived. I remember this pain so vividly because it was not the first time I’d felt it. It was not the first time the Black community watched their brothers, fathers, and sons murdered at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. It was not the first time we were dehumanized in the public theater. It was not the first time we were criminalized for being. It was history repeating itself.
The weight and memory of historical trauma accompanied me into the museum, tugging at my coat with each breath of Black excellence I inhaled. As I stood in gratitude for Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, and Robert Colescott, I also stood in sorrow of the circumstances that produced such beautiful stories and art. In each historical work I found traces of my own story. In Colescott’s Matthew Henson and the Quest for the North Pole, (pictured at the top of this post) the images of Black bodies being simultaneously brutalized and fetishized depict the story of my great-great-grandmother who was raped by her oppressor, giving birth to my great-grandfather who would later be praised for his “passable” complexion, wavy hair, and light eyes. Marshall’s Souvenir II portrays a cloud of witnesses, prominently featuring Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, hallmarks in the home of my own, and many other Black grandmothers across the country, and emblematic of the complicated socio-political relationship we share with this nation.
In Thomas’ Resist, the Civil Rights era struggle of my parents was laid in front of me through a collage of violent vignettes. As I watched this piece I saw my uncle’s resistance, which left him brutally beaten and jailed for having the audacity to seek a human existence. I also saw my father and his siblings, the first to integrate the school systems in North Carolina. I felt the collective fear and courage he carried with him as the only Black student in his school. And as my chest tightened, breath shortened and fists clinched I remembered where I stood—rooted in the past, squarely in the present, carrying my portion of the mantle of Black excellence. As I gathered myself, I walked out of the museum breathing in the joy and exuberance of Black culture. Each breath gradually healing the wounds of my genetic trauma.
– Benji Anderson, Artist (@benjipnewton)
Benji Anderson is an artist, theologian and philosopher. Three identities that suffered separate existences for much of Benji’s life. Born in the South and raised in the Mid West, his early cultural learnings taught Benji that it was not only prudent, but necessary to compartmentalize his identities. Surprisingly it was through his academic journey that Benji began to fully exist as a being capable of complex, and seemingly contradictory identity. As a Master of Divinity student, Benji embarked on a process of deep self-excavation, which, upon completion of his degree, provided Benji with the license to live authentically.
As theologian and philosopher, Benji is concerned with the quality and depth of life. As artist, Benji concerns himself with the creative expression of his theosophical existence. Using a variety of mediums Benji endeavors to create multi-sensory pieces that thrust the viewer into the experience of the artist – not simply as a voyeur, but as a participant.
I always loved running—it was something you could do by yourself and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.
— Jesse Owens
One of 29 artists commissioned to design a poster for the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Jacob Lawrence chose to highlight the achievements of Black athletes. In his Study for the Munich Olympic Games Poster, five runners, depicted in Lawrence’s characteristic graphic flatness, recall the figurative style of Greek vase painting—an apropos homage on the occasion of the Games of the XX Olympiad.
The iconic colors of the five interlocking Olympic rings—blue, yellow, black, green, and red—recur throughout the study, from batons and jerseys to shorts and shoes. Framed by the curvature of the track, the runners’ physicality and strength are difficult to ignore. Together, their musculature, movement, and form encapsulate the excitement and competitive finish of the relay—where gold, silver, and bronze are determined by mere tenths of seconds.
Known for his stylistic experimentation and depictions of African American life, Lawrence’s commission also has special importance within the context of the Civil Rights Movement and history of the modern Olympic Games. Created only four years after the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics, and on the occasion of the first Olympics held in Germany since 1936, his representation of Black athletes is especially meaningful.
In the 1968 Olympic Games, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos respectively won the gold and bronze medals in the 200 meter race. Upon climbing the podium, with the Star Spangled Banner playing behind them, both Smith and Carlos, donning black gloves, raised their right and left fists and bowed their heads—a symbol of protest and strength on an international stage. Though interpreted by many as an explicit demonstration of Black Power, for Smith, it was a human rights salute: “It was a cry for freedom and human rights. We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard.”
Just 32 years earlier, in 1936, the Summer Olympics were held in Berlin. Though Germany had won the bid in 1931, prior to the rise of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler’s rhetoric of white supremacy and antisemitism was already well established. For Hitler, the Olympics became a stage upon which Germany could prove his theories of racial superiority. It was within this Olympic setting—in which athletes of color and Jewish heritage were openly discriminated against—that Owens won four gold medals, set two world records, and came away the most successful athlete of that year’s games.
For Smith, Carlos, and Owens, these Olympic victories allowed them to transcend—and publically challenge—the political divisions and discrimination taking place in the United States and abroad. Similarly, Lawrence’s Study for the Munich Games Poster, depicting all Black athletes, is an important work that finds its place within this complicated history of the Olympic Games.
– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator
 Other artists included Hans Hartung, Oskar Kokoschka, Pierre Soulages, David Hockney, and Josef Albers, to name just a few.
 Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race with a world-record time of 19.83 seconds.
 It is believed that Smith raised his right fist, and Carlos his left, to represent Black unity, forming “an arch of unity and power.” BBC News, “1968: Black athletes make silent protest,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/october/17/newsid_3535000/3535348.stm.
 Rick Campbell, “An Olympic moment—from 1968,” Houston Chronicle, August 5, 2008, http://blog.chron.com/40yearsafter/2008/08/an-olympic-moment-from-1968.
The theme of the American Alliance of Museums 2017 Annual Meeting was Gateways for Understanding: Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion. I appreciated how the various sessions I attended and the conference overall tackled this themes in all aspects, from identities (race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity) to abilities. It is apparent that these things are at the forefront for professionals in the field from museums of all sizes, of all types, and from all areas of an institution, and that these issues are incredibly integral to shaping the future of the museum.
The #AAM2017SlaveAuction incident in the MuseumExpo during the conference however, indicated that even though these conversations and the work around these things are happening, we still have a long way to go. We need to find ways to hold ourselves accountable, have everyone on board at all steps in the process, and ensure we have the right voices at the table. To me, much of the work to shake up our institutions needs to start from within before our museums and cultural spaces can have external influence. Even though these conversations are happening at large in this moment, it’s also important to acknowledge that the things we seek to undo and change have been embedded in the fabrics of our institutions. In many ways these conversations are not new and have been happening outside of our institutions for years already. The conference left me optimistic and hopeful, so I’m excited to see where things go!
– Marcus Ramirez, Coordinator for Education and Public Programs
For more on SAM’s participation in AAM 2017 and thoughts from our staff on this year’s themes listen to the panels the SAM staff presented on during the conference.