All posts in “Lessons From the Institute of Empathy”

Docents Defined: Nina Vichayapai

Are you a fan of the Seattle Asian Art Museum who loves discussing your favorite artworks? Consider volunteering as a docent at the Asian Art Museum when it reopens later this year! SAM is recruiting new docents to start training to lead tours of the newly installed galleries and you have until May 31 to apply.

Docents bring their unique interests and backgrounds to each tour they lead and that’s what makes them fun and engaging for SAM’s diverse audiences. A docent like Nina didn’t go to museum growing up but later found them to be an important part of her life and started leading tours with SAM to help others become invested in museum visits early in life. Find about more about Nina in the interview below!

SAM: Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to become a docent?

Nina: I am an artist and studied at an art school in San Francisco. Since I was young, I loved making art and knew I wanted to become an artist. It wasn’t until I was older that I also learned to love looking at art. A huge part of my college education took place at museums and included wonderful opportunities to meet the people who help these spaces function. Growing up I never really visited museums and by the time I became an adult, I somehow fell into the impression that the museum was a space reserved for people unlike me and the stories being told there did not represent mine.

After seeing many different museums, I was blown away by how much these spaces offer our communities. By the time I finished college and decided to move back to Seattle I knew that as much as I wanted to continue making art, I also wanted to find opportunities which would allow me to tap into the joy I have for museums. Becoming a docent with the Seattle Art Museum was really the perfect outlet for that joy. I was especially compelled to become a docent given my previous background of apprehension toward museums. There are many people who avoid museums out of feeling excluded. Having once been one of those people, I have a lot of patience and understanding when it comes to sharing what I think we can all learn from art.

What’s the best part of being a docent?

The best part of being a docent for me is definitely getting to see all the incredible connections people make to their own lives all just from looking at art. I’ve worked primarily with younger students and whether we are looking at a piece from the Pacific Northwest or from somewhere far away, whether it was made last year or hundreds of years ago, I’m always so thrilled to see how quickly the students will begin to relate the work to their own lived experiences.

Another thing I must mention as being a huge highlight is the wealth of resources we have access to! Through the online database, which docents can access, and the library at SAM, there is so much to learn about the art in SAM’s collections. Docents are always contributing to this wealth as well. For any art lover, it’ s really a dream and very fun to get lost in exploring the archives.

What’s your favorite work of art to tour?

My favorite installation to tour is Lessons from the Institute of Empathy. This installation includes the work of Saya Woofalk along with pieces from many other artists, so there is a lot to work within the gallery for the many different tours we do. But what I love most is seeing how students light up when they step into that space. The whole installation really breaks a lot of preconceived ideas about what art and museums are supposed to look like. And the concept of empathy is always one that generates really deep and often touching conversations.

What’s your most memorable touring experience?

I gave an Elements of Art tour to a particularly enthusiastic class once. They walked in without much prior experience of talking about art, but by the end of our tour they couldn’t contain their excitement at discovering the different elements we had just discussed in every artwork we passed. It was as if I had revealed a magician’s trick to them and their glee was really contagious!

What advice do you have for people applying for the docent program?

Visit museums! Not just art museums too. Seattle has so many great museums. I think it’s important to get a feel for the culture and approach to education unique to each museum. It helped me understand what qualities I felt were important and how I could bring that to my role as a docent.

– Yaoyao Liu, Seattle Asian Art Museum Educator

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Object of the Week: Chukwu Okoro Masks

“This is one of the best places I’ve seen masks installed because normally they would hang it on the wall. But doing it this way, with the costumes and everything, also gives it character because these masks were not really meant to be hanging on the wall like that.” – Emeka Ogboh

Remember when Disguise: Masks and Global African Art was on view in 2015? We’re bringing you a flashback to Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh discussing masks by Chukwu Okoro in SAM’s collection, why he chose them as one of his favorite things in the museum, and their significance in regards to the soundscapes he created for Disguise. Currently, these masks can be viewed in our African art galleries as part of Lessons from the Institute of Empathy where three Empathics have surrounded themselves with works from our African art collection as a way to help visitors awaken their own empathy. The Empathics display their trademarked process for transformation and ask you to consider the other artwork around you. Come see what we mean.

Image: Installation view Chukwu Okoro Masks at Seattle Art Museum, 2016, photo: Natali Wiseman.

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Object of the Week: Soundsuit

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.”

– The Empathics, The Institute of Empathy

Images: Soundsuit, 2006, Nick Cave, fabricated fencing mask, human hair, sweaters, beads, and metal wire, approx. 6 feet tall, on mannequin, Gift of the Vascovitz Family in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2007.70 © Nick Cave. Installation view of Lessons from the Institute of Empathy at Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photos: Natali Wiseman.

 

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Muse/News: A prescription for art, life-changing DJs, and an epic visit to the Louvre

SAM News

The Seattle Times explores “why art is becoming part of doctors’ education at Virginia Mason in Seattle” with a recent front page feature. The Art & Medicine program at SAM uses art education techniques to teach medical residents skills like visual literacy, empathy, and self-care.

The Stranger’s Charles Mudede visits the Lessons from the Institute of Empathy installation, finding connections to the blockbuster film Black Panther and to Afrofuturism.

“These African masks, African jewelry, African clothes—made to be worn by fictional figures who run a fictional institute that deals with things like Empathy Deficit Disorder, and made to exist in real and virtual spaces—now have, for young and old Americans, a mainstream point of reference.”

Priya Frank, SAM’s Associate Director for Community Programs and co-chair of the museum’s Equity Team, shares her reflections for the NAEA’s Museum Education blog on the work of centering racial equity and creating an institutional culture shift. Priya was also a recent guest on the No Blueprint podcast and profiled in profiled in UW’s alumni magazine Columns.

Local News

Don’t miss this incredible story in the Seattle Times—a collaboration among writer Jerry Large, photographer Bettina Hansen, and videographer Corinne Chin—about a Seattle attorney’s collection of “some ugly, some inspiring” historical artifacts.

To know Riz is to love him: The Stranger’s Charles Mudede with a beautiful and convincing piece for their Queer Issue on “how DJ Riz Rollins changed Seattle.”

I can’t believe it’s almost July. Seattle Magazine has great picks for cultural happenings next month, including an upcoming show at the Henry featuring Figuring History artist Mickalene Thomas as photographer, designer, and curator.

Inter/National News

The New York Times’ Roberta Smith reviews the Met’s exhibition History Refused to Die (great name!); it features work from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, whose focus is self-taught Black artists of the American South.

Hyperallergic’s John Yau takes a look at The Morgan Library & Museum’s show of Wayne Thiebaud’s works on paper.

“I may need to lie down.” Yes, the art world and everyone else recently went—well, you know—when Beyoncé and Jay-Z released a new joint album and a video shot at the Louvre. Artnet has a good round-up on the mania.

And Finally

The art historical and cultural resonances of APES**T will live forever—but this is the reaction I laugh about DAILY.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

Image: Installation view Lessons from the Institute of Empathy, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman.
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