SAM Celebrates Pride: The Talented Mr. Delafosse

In honor of Pride Month, SAM Blog features reflections by SAM voices on collection artworks that explore LGBTQIA+ art and artists. Queer lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate histories of joy, advocacy, and resistance. Stay tuned for more Pride-related content on SAM Blog, including another object spotlight and a list of queer film recommendations curated by SAM’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group.

If you Google “Léon Delafosse,” you’ll get more information on John Singer Sargent’s portrait of the French composer and pianist—part of SAM’s collection since 2001—than on Delafosse’s life story: his early years of poverty, rise as a piano virtuoso and composer, and the eventual destruction of his promising career by powerful men.

Before the arrival of recordings, musicians who were not independently wealthy or well-connected needed patrons and made money by performing in the private salons of rich people. Delafosse made two famous gay friends who propelled his career in Paris: Count Robert de Montesquiou (a social snob and poet-poseur) and writer Marcel Proust. Each of these men acted as unofficial “agents” for Delafosse, promoting his talents to their powerful friends. It’s long been assumed Montesquiou, in addition to being Delafosse’s principal patron, was his lover, too, and that their fraught relationship is immortalized in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (with the bisexual violinist Charles Morel as Delafosse and the gay Baron de Charlus as Montesquiou).  

Gay sex was decriminalized in France in 1791, but men who loved other men emotionally and sexually remained (for the most part) quiet about their private lives. Men who were suspected to be homosexual, who had “feminine” voices or mannerisms, wore colorful and outlandish clothing,  engaged in non-traditional (unmanly) careers were described in code words such as “dandy,” “decadent,” “artistic” and “aesthete” (admittedly better than the alternatives of the time:“sodomite,” “invert,” and “pederast”!)

Montesquiou was easily bored and his temper was volcanic. When Delafosse made the inevitable mistake (unknown, but believed to be the fact he was more interested in music than in anything or anyone), their breakup was cataclysmic. Montesquiou and his accomplice, Proust, set out to destroy Delafosse’s reputation and have him barred from important musical salons all over Paris. They succeeded. Delafosse was devastated and hopeless as he became a laughingstock in the capital. 

Enter: John Singer Sargent.

Sargent (whose obsession with the male body is evident in his work) took a liking to the handsome Delafosse and in genuine friendship promoted his talents to influential Americans like arts patron Isabella Stewart Gardner. Beginning in 1895, Sargent painted Delafosse (then in his early twenties) and gave him the portrait as a lavish gift. Delafosse kept the painting until the day he died.

Pride Month is a celebration of LGBTQ+ history and a time to ponder the world as it is. Community is fragile, and examining the story of Léon Delafosse presents a warning and a quandary. In Belle Époque France, anyone who did not fit easily into standard society, whose sexual identity or gender expression made them outsiders, had to examine and monitor their appearance, their every move, their every spoken or written word. Such nonstop, intense, and protective self-scrutiny must have been exhausting, infuriating. And seeing “yourself” in another man or woman who was like you must have been frightening and intimidating, and it often led to betrayals, based not just on what was held in common but what was different: money, class, looks, and the power that those things bestow.

When I examine Sargent’s image of Léon Delafosse with contemporary eyes and in the current worldwide political climate, I wonder: is Delafosse emerging from the darkness or receding into it? 

– Kevin Stant, SAM Docent

Kevin Stant has been a docent at SAM since 2002. Kevin’s next assignment will be at the Seattle Asian Art Museum; beginning August 31, he’ll give Saturday tours on the exhibition Meot: Korean Art from the Frank Bayley Collection.


Celebrate Pride Month in Seattle with these suggested events:

Sat Jun 22
Youth Pride Disco
Break out your disco wear for this LGBTQIA+ Pride party, planned for and organized by LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13 and 22! Join us for drag performances, great music, friend-making activities, food and soft drinks, a quiet room, and more.

Through Sun Jun 23
Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales: Together Again, Again!
Experience the comedy, music, and saucy stylings of two of the Pacific Northwest’s standout drag entertainers, in this wildly hilarious extravaganza set in an apocalyptic future. Check the event calendar for information about performances for teens, ASL interpretation, captions, and masking.

Fri Jun 28
Trans Pride Seattle 2024
Started in 2013, Trans Pride Seattle is an annual event organized by Gender Justice League. Visit the Volunteer Park Amphitheater from 5 to 10 pm for live music, community speakers, performances, and a resource fair all dedicated to increased visibility, connection, and love of the Seattle-area TwoSpirit, Trans, and Gender Diverse (2STGD) community.

Sat Jun 29
PrideFest Capitol Hill
Spanning six blocks of Broadway and Cal Anderson Park, this all-day market features queer local businesses, beer gardens, family and youth programming, and three stages with an unforgettable lineup of live performances.

Sun Jun 30
Seattle Pride Parade
Spend the final day of June by taking part in the 50th annual Pride Parade led by grand marshals Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe. Then, head over to Seattle Center for the can’t-miss performances, hundreds of acts, beer gardens, food vendors, a new family area—and dancing in the iconic International Fountain.

Visit the official Seattle Pride website for even more suggested events.

Image: Léon Delafosse, ca. 1895–98, John Singer Sargent, Born Florence, Italy, 1856; Died London, England, 1925, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 x 23 3/8 in. Given in honor of Trevor Fairbrother by Mr. and Mrs. Prentice Bloedel by exchange, and by Robert M. Arnold, Tom and Ann Barwick, Frank Bayley, Jeffrey and Susan Brotman, Contemporary Art Council, Council of American Art, Jane and David R. Davis, Decorative Arts and Paintings Council, Robert B. Dootson, Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth, P. Raaze Garrison, Lyn and Gerald Grinstein, Helen and Max Gurvich, Marshall Hatch, John and Ann Hauberg, Richard and Betty Hedreen, Mary Ann and Henry James, Mrs. Janet W. Ketcham, Allan and Mary Kollar, Greg Kucera and Larry Yocom, Rufus and Pat Lumry, Byron R. Meyer, Ruth J. Nutt, Scotty Ray, Gladys and Sam Rubinstein, Mr. and Mrs. Allen Vance Salsbury, Herman and Faye Sarkowsky, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Scheumann, Seattle Art Museum Supporters, Jon and Mary Shirley, Joan and Harry Stonecipher, Dean and Mary Thornton, William and Ruth True, Volunteers Association, Ms. Susan Winokur and Mr. Paul Leach, The Virginia Wright Fund, Charlie and Barbara Wright, Howard Wright and Kate Janeway, Merrill Wright, and Mrs. T. Evans Wyckoff, 2001.17. Photo: Elizabeth Mann.

Step Into the Whirlpool of Yirrkala at SAM

Is paradise lost? Or is there a place on Earth that has been able to avoid climate catastrophes, species loss, homelessness, and menial jobs, and that constantly involves everyone in making art and ceremony? There is. For visions of a culture that has cared for the environment and every living species in it for millennia, and now creates art which invites us to consider alternative ways of navigating life on this planet, let’s turn to Yirrkala.

Yirrkala is a small town on the northeast edge of Australia, which is a central hub for the people who call themselves Yolngu and live on territories from the waters off the Blue Mud Bay in Arnhem Land. Their art gives form to a database of relationships and laws that govern the way humans interact with one another and with natural phenomena. Their signature is seen in intricate designs that arrived with the great culture heroes whose bodies were marked by patterns of water, salt, and foam that dried on their skin. For centuries, Yolngu have painted clan designs on bodies for ceremonies and on sacred objects.

More recently, Yolngu artists have painted on bark, incised metal, and developed media to provide outsiders with hints of how they see their world. Thirty examples of art from Yirrkala were selected from the nearly 100 in the collection formulated during visits to the Top End by Bob Kaplan and Margaret Levi. A cultural keynote of Yolngu culture is the law of sharing and not excluding any people or anything from the group. Kinship extends to all living beings they come in contact with: from birds and insects to snakes and crocodiles. Then there are the ancestral beings who may make their presence known in sparkling water, blazing fire, or the angry eyes of a shark.

Will Stubbs, a Yirrkala resident, has described a difference in what Yolngu art reflects upon. As he has written, “If you think of a time before television, when entertainment was not beamed from remote sources, you would have been grateful for a fully functioning ecosystem… In a fully enriched ecosystem, you cannot separate yourself from the environment: fish will literally fly past your face, snakes slither into your house, and insects crawl into your bed.”1 A visit to this gallery will surround you with messages from Yolngu who offer a long, sustained look at their territory and want us to know how extraordinary it is.

Yirrkala: Art From Australia’s Top End is now on view in SAM’s third floor galleries.

– Pam McClusky, SAM Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb Curator of African and Oceanic Art

This article first appeared in the February through May 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

1 Will Stubs, Larrakitj: Kerry Stokes Collection (Australia: Fremantle Press, 2011), 40.

TAG Talks: Disco, Dancing, and Bringing the Magic of Teen Night Out to Life

SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and are excited to make SAM a fun and engaging space for teens. TAG members meet weekly from October to May to learn about the behind-the-scenes work of an art museum, lead engaging gallery tours, plan Teen Night Out, and so much more. TAG Talks is an ongoing SAM Blog series on SAM Blog that serves as a space for SAM’s teen leaders to express themselves and their love of art. Keep up with all TAG adventures by following @samteens on Instagram and stay tuned for more TAG Talks to come!

It’s a Friday night, and you’re bored out of your mind. The usual hangouts lack the frenzy, and your phone is out of new trends to show you. But wait! You suddenly remembered your friend telling you about the annual Teen Night Out at the Seattle Art Museum.

I joined SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) in October 2023. Walking into my first meeting, it was already known that our adventures at SAM would culminate with Teen Night Out, just like every year. Seeing the excitement and anticipation that consumed last year’s attendees put pressure on us to plan and execute another engaging and fun event for Seattle’s teens. This being my first year in TAG, I wanted Teen Night Out 2024 to be memorable.

When it came to deciding the theme and decorations for the event, it was truly inspiring to hear the ideas of other TAG members. They demonstrated an immense passion for art, and shared their hopes for the museum. Theme ideas ranged from ballgowns, disco, glam rock, and nature. Until, finally, we hit Junkyard Disco. We all had ideas in mind that basically described vintage 70s fashion with a touch of sustainability. With a disco ball too, of course!

Leading up to the day of the event, TAG meetings covered creating decorations for the museum, whilst also leaving time for fun, practicing art with teaching artists. The decorations were my favorite part. Some of the decorations I made ranged from giant cardboard disco balls to a huge “SAM Records” music disk. Oh! And we can’t forget the giant van paper frame that was used as part of the event’s photobooth. During this time of cramming to finish creating decorations and planning, the best part of it all was bonding with other TAG members. Creating new decorations with the help of others while also complimenting and discussing posters made by others was truly the highlight of the process for me.

The minutes leading up to Teen Night Out were full of moving heavy packages of sparkling water and sneaking in some snacks along the way. Every TAG member had amazing, lavish disco outfits that truly matched the theme of the evening. What excited me most, however, was the sheer amount of disco balls, something I could’ve only dreamed of! Mere seconds before the doors opened, I created my own disco ball headband with the support of the tiny disco balls that filled countless buckets along the entrance of the museum. At exactly 7 pm, teens rushed in after the conclusion of the award ceremony of Seattle Public Schools’ Naramore Art Show on the museum’s lower level. I remember teens instantly running to the junkyard area we had in the front of the museum, taking all the tiny and large objects that soon transformed into original breathtaking creations.

Teen Night Out was a blur, but in the best way possible.

I remember creating many headbands and little gadgets that soon found a place on my bedroom bookshelf. In the middle of Teen Night Out, my friends and fellow TAG members Hamda and Samira alerted me to our new TAG audio guide, finally installed in American Art: The Stories We Carry. I remember jumping with joy after seeing our hard work in its full and final form for museum visitors to see and interact with for years to come.

To end off the night, students of the School of Acrobatics & New Circus Arts (SANCA) gave an amazing performance, entirely powered by youth! It was refreshing to see an organization that willingly grants youth the power to form their own decisions, something I admire about SAM as well.

Looking back, Teen Night Out felt like a huge hangout for teens with different backgrounds, but all united through art. Art possesses a healing power that has followed me throughout my life, and it’s truly rewarding to see other teens express themselves through various artistic means. To all teens, Teen Night Out is one night a year, but may very well be the best night of your entire year. You are guaranteed to make friends, have fun, make some great art, and find yourself along the way!

– Ivy Liu (she/her), 15, First-Year Teen Arts Group Leader

Photos: Chloe Collyer & Cristina Cano-Calhoun.

Professor Sonal Khullar on a New Approach to Imagining Geographical Borders in South Asian Art

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics on Asian art and culture across time. On Saturday, June 8, Sonal Khullar, W. Norman Brown Associate Professor of South Asian Studies in the Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, will discuss the growing preoccupation with nations, borders, and partitions in contemporary art from South Asia since the 1990s. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Khullar about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, her travels to Lahore, Pakistan in 2018, and the role art has played and will continue to play in South Asian politics.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

Sonal Khullar: My lecture will highlight contemporary art from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka that takes up the problem of nations, borders, and partitions in South Asia. Since the late 1990s, artists have aimed to materialize a region distinct from the one conceived by nation-states and multinational corporations. They have done so through collaborations in the form of artworks, projects, exhibitions, and associations despite immense and growing conflicts within and between nation-states. Although globalization is generally imagined through networks and flows and discussed in terms of mobility and circulation, it can also be understood as their converse: obstacles to, or restrictions on, movement, evident in Pakistani artist Bani Abidi’s series of inkjet prints Security Barriers (2009–2019), the double-channel video installation The News (2001), and the film The Distance from Here (2010), which I will address in my lecture.

In researching my first book Worldly Affiliations (University of California Press, 2015) on modern art in India, I became aware of a contemporary art world that was different from what had come before in its formal and social commitments. Yet, legacies of modernism were everywhere in art institutions and imaginations, and highly significant for contemporary art. I wanted to explore that dynamic further. In the 21st century, artists from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka regularly show their work in India, where galleries, museums, dealers, and critics agglomerate, and large-scale, recurring international art exhibitions are hosted, both in the region and outside of it. These conditions for art have enabled cultural exchanges across borders and generated aesthetics and politics of what I call ‘everyday partitions.’ A sense of loss, edginess, and haunting, with the past looming over the present, is palpable in these works, as exemplified by Indian artist Shilpa Gupta’s work shown in the collateral exhibition My East is Your West at the Venice Biennale in 2015.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

SK: My visit to Pakistan to speak in the Academic Forum of the inaugural Lahore Biennale in 2018 was unforgettable. It was my first time in Pakistan, though Lahore was familiar. It is the city in which my grandmother, Sudarshan Nayyar, spent her childhood and adolescence, living in 5 Scotch Corner off Mall Road, and attending Sacred Heart Convent School, where Belgian nuns valued discipline and enforced purdah (practices of gendered segregation). Her father, my great-grandfather, Sohan Lal Nayyar, a civil engineer with the Public Works Department, came from Qila Sobha Singh in Sialkot District, now Qila Ahmed Abad in Narowal District in Pakistan. I had long imagined Lahore with its tree-lined boulevards and Mughal monuments to be like Delhi, the city in which I grew up and which no longer exists, in part because the old Lahoris among whom I grew up are no more. I remembered their tehzeeb (manners) and zubaan (language) in encounters with artists and intellectuals in universities, museums, galleries, and art schools.

Lahore is also the city in which Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941), an artist I have written about, lived, worked, and died. It was a thrill to trace her footsteps and that of critics such as Charles Fabri (1899–1968) and Mulk Raj Anand (1904–2004) and poets such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911–1984) and Saadat Hasan Manto (1912–1955), who made the city their home and built literary and artistic worlds in modern South Asia. Their work continues in the contemporary art I saw during the Lahore Biennale in Mughal buildings, colonial gardens, a modernist art center, the Lahore Museum, and an eighteenth-century haveli (mansion) in the old city that had been converted into an art school and Imambargah, a congregation hall for Shia Muslims, among other venues. This art presented a different vision of Pakistan than the one we most often see in the news where security, terrorism, religious nationalism, and gendered violence dominate headlines. I was interviewed twice about my research while in Lahore. You can access the published articles here and here.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

SK: Pushpamala N.’s Motherland-The Great Sacrifice, from the Mother India Project (2010; print date 2012) speaks to themes of my lecture: the critique of nationalism, political uses of the past, and the role of artists as citizens. Based on a popular image of the Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh (1907–1931) sacrificing himself to India, personified as a mother goddess, this digital print refers to commercial images known as calendar art and to contemporary and historical practices of studio photography in South Asia with its use of backdrops and props, evident in the bright, flowery curtains that give this scene a theatrical quality. Assuming the role of Mother India, the artist performs for the camera and plays on normative notions of gender and sexuality. She invites us to consider how national myths of motherlands and sons of the soil suffuse everyday life. Mother India imagery is ubiquitous in offset printed calendar art displayed in offices, homes, and shops. In South Asia, politicians present themselves as mothers and fathers of a nation modeled on a family. 

In 2014, I taught a course at the University of Washington in conjunction with the exhibition City Dwellers: Contemporary Art from India, curated by Catharina Manchanda. We studied Pushpamala’s work as an example of contemporary artists’ engagement with photography and cinema cultures in India, a major theme of that exhibition, evident in works by Manjunath Kamath, Nandini Valli Muthiah, Dayanita Singh, and Vivek Vilasini. That exhibition featured Pushpamala’s Flirting (After 1990s Kannada Film Still) from the project Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs (2000–2004) in which the artist poses as a schoolgirl-like figure with a stainless-steel tiffin box or lunch carrier with a man who holds out a plastic rose. A bottle of beer and snacks for two in the background suggest that they are in a hotel room. In other words, the coy seduction playing out before our eyes may be more complicated than that. Pushpamala restages a film still from Sowbhagya Devathe [Gods of Good Fortune] (1995), directed by Om Saiprakash, to show how the workings of gender and sexuality in everyday life are inflected by popular culture

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

SK: Most of South Asia will be at the polls in 2024. National elections were held in Bangladesh and Pakistan in January and February, elections are underway in India and scheduled in Sri Lanka between September and October. Politics and politicians have been the focus of media attention. What do art and artists tell us about the region? How do they represent it differently from the state and civil society? Visual representation, cultural symbols, and history books matter, as these elections have reminded us. 

Discourses in the global north on the global south tend to emphasize death and disaster, floods and famine, war and genocide. While it is essential to address violence, such discourses tend to overlook forms of beauty and pleasure and acts of creativity and resilience. My scholarship considers those forms and acts as responses to border walls, security fences, road closures, barricades, and checkpoints in the global south and north. Art worlds in south and north are closely linked because of a history of empires, migrations, and diasporas, as I propose in an episode of the EMPIRE LINES podcast on Bani Abidi’s Memorial to Lost Words (2016) released on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the partition of British India in 2022.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

SK: I can’t resist the opportunity to recommend my edited volume Old Stacks, New Leaves: The Arts of the Book in South Asia (University of Washington Press, 2023) with contributions by scholars and artists, including contemporary art projects and works of creative nonfiction. Tracing a history of illustrated books in South Asia since 1100 CE, this volume relates Indic and Islamic book cultures and manuscript and print forms, which are usually treated as discrete categories in scholarship. It discusses the role of institutions, including temples, warehouses, libraries, and museums, and highlights use, exchange, and the social lives of books. These topics seem newly important, indeed urgent, given attacks on authors, books, presses, archives globally. 

Contemporary artists across South Asia have turned to the book form to reflect on their societies and histories, and consider the impact of wars, empires, nations, and partitions. The cover image of Old Stacks, New Leaves is a detail from The Karkhana Project (2003), a set of twelve paintings produced collaboratively by six graduates of the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan: Aisha Khalid, Nusra Latif, Hasnat Mehmood, Imran Qureshi, Talha Rathore, and Saira Wasim. Citing Mughal manuscripts and artists’ books by Muhammad Abdur Rahman Chughtai (1894–1975) and Sadequain (1930–1987), The Karkhana Project addresses problems around art education and cultural expression in Pakistan. Old Stacks, New Leaves taking its cue from such artwork, and presents words and pictures that aim to “delight and instruct,” to quote Martin Amis quoting John Dryden.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photo: Matt Leib.

Global Agitator: An Interview with Anida Yoeu Ali

Since the debut of Hybrid Skin, Mythical Presence in January, visitors to the Seattle Asian Art Museum have been enthralled by Anida Yoeu Ali’s dynamic performance-based artworks. Now, we speak with the Tacoma-based international artist with the activation of The Buddhist Bug behind her and the activation of The Red Chador taking place on Saturday, June 1.


SAM: Something that connects The Buddhist Bug and The Red Chador is their incredible visual impact that sparks immediate curiosity and delight: the humor and vivid color of the bug and the entrancing sequins of the chadors in all colors of the rainbow. Is this an artistic strategy?

ANIDA YOEU ALI: I know people in general don’t expect to see my specific Asiatic face, with its stoic countenance—which I have inherited from my mother and grandmother—as the visage of The Buddhist Bug or The Red Chador. I’m interested in hypervisibility and an acknowledgement of my presence. I tend to place my body in colors that evoke some kind of joy and pleasure or an infusion of “fabulousness.” For me, performance allows for a magic of reinventing the self and projecting a larger-than-life persona that isn’t imprisoned by oppressive representations. There’s an awareness of the spectacle and ultimately a power in reclaiming the gaze, which has trapped and dehumanized so many of us and our communities.

SAM: You’ve said that the sculptural garments are “artifacts” when not being performed. Tell us about the exhibition space experience you’ve hoped to create for visitors to the museum.

ALI: Many of my installations, whether wearable garments or otherwise, require activation in which the live body completes the artwork. My art form is performance-installation where meters and meters of textile act as skin, as a way for the surface of my body to extend into public spaces, and as a metaphoric device for stories to spread across an expanse. But those stories aren’t literal or spoken; they are experienced through performances and encounters. The audience will need to do the hard work of figuring out what all this might mean to them: personally, politically, and/or spiritually.

I want visitors to pay attention to the encounter they are having with the colors on the walls, the colors of the textile, the highlighted text quotations, the artifacts of performance through exhibited videos, photographs, and installations. In the end, visitors will feel something and they might even be provoked.

SAM: It turns out that The Buddhist Bug and The Red Chador have both been performed at least 16 times. What new discoveries have you made as you’ve enacted the works at different times and places around the world?

ALI: As a performance artist, I put my body into public spaces and take on people’s reactions and responses. If my work provokes, then that means people are not only thinking but they are feeling. I create out of feelings and I want others to feel as well. With every live performance, my body is so publicly accessible that I must engage in a lot of visualization and meditative activities in preparation for a worst-case-scenario situation. However, what grounds me is knowing that someone will be positively affected, whether it’s the ability to bring warmth and smiles to them for a brief moment or offering something unexpected that they will think about beyond the live moment. For me, in every location around the world children and youth have responded with the most joy, curiosity, and genuine wonder. Children have disarmed rare situations in which adult reactions have been alarming or hurtful.

SAM: And what are you excited about for the upcoming performance of The Red Chador on June 1?

ALI: Because my works are more known outside of the US context, I am excited to finally bring this epic performance to the Seattle area. There’s a freedom I feel with performing in public spaces and enacting fantastical/mythical heroines that’s extremely powerful and necessary. All I want to do is to be able to offer people inside and outside my communities an opportunity to witness, engage, and experience a glimpse of the world that I have worked so rigorously to hone.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

This article first appeared in the February through May 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photos: Chloe Collyer & Alborz Kamalizad.

Dr. Prita Meier on the Vibrant Arts of the Swahili Coast

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics on Asian art and culture across time. On Saturday, May 11, Dr. Prita Meier, Associated Professor of Africanist Art History in the Department of Art History and Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, will discuss the vibrant contemporary art and architectural scenes of the Swahili Coast. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Meier about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, the boundaries of culture and geography, and her extended travels to Mombasa, Lamu, and Zanzibar.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

PRITA MEIER: I will introduce audiences to the vibrant arts and architectures of the Swahili Coast of present-day Kenya and Tanzania. This maritime region of eastern Africa is where Africa and the Indian Ocean intersect. This vibrant arena of convergence has been a center of globalism and intercultural negotiating for more than a millennium. The Swahili Coast has an especially long history or engagement and exchange with Asia. My lecture will focus on a range of artifacts, ornaments, architectural forms—and even photographs—from the early modern period to the present. I will invite audiences to rethink how they draw boundaries between cultures and geographies. Oceanic places like Swahili port cities are transcontinental and multicultural in ways that challenge our ways of seeing the world. The main question animating my lecture will be: Where does Africa end and Asia begin from the vantage point of archipelagos, islands, and itinerant objects moving across the sea?

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

PM: I am trained as an Africanist, which means my primary research method is fieldwork and ethnography. That is, I talk to people about their culture in order to learn from them. I have been traveling and working in the port cities of Mombasa, Lamu, and Zanzibar for over twenty years. I have become deeply connected to families in Old Town Mombasa, who have been nurturing me and sustaining me for a long time. While my research on the arts of the Swahili Coast is focused on object and material culture, I am first and foremost dedicated to centering the amazing Kenyan individuals who have mentored me and guided me over the years. In fact, I have just spent the month of April in Mombasa and Nairobi, working on a new research project with local collaborators.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

PM: I am fascinated this Pakistani Bodhisattva from the mid-2nd to 3rd century. I love artworks and cultural forms that challenge our ideas about where an object or style belongs. This is a sacred Buddhist manifestation, but its style and figuration is connected to the Hellenistic world. It belongs to two artistic traditions, but also exceeds those traditions. It is a fascinating artwork of the crossroads.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

PM: Here are a few recommendations:

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Headshot by Josh Kwassman. Hair Comb, about 1800, from Swahili coast of eastern Africa, courtesy of Minneapolis Museum of Art. Image of Bodhisattva by Paul Macapia.

Teens Look Forward: Emerging Arts Leader Karla Pastrana Reflects

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I have been asked this question since I was a child. Now, as a junior at the University of Washington Tacoma, that question has evolved:

“What do you want to do after college?”

No matter how it’s phrased, the question still sends a wave of nerves down my body. Growing up, there were high expectations for me to excel. As the only US citizen in my family, I wanted to show my parents that their sacrifices were worth something; as a student with a learning disability, I have struggled to catch up to my classmates; as an early-career professional, I constantly face uncertainty about what success looks like for me. Whenever I am asked who I want to be, I am reminded of my childhood fears—of the dark, the unknown, and what the future holds for all of us. 

I joined SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) in 2020 as a senior in high school, and just recently wrapped up my second year as an intern helping to oversee the same program. As part of SAM’s education team, my goal was to provide youths with the same community experiences and leadership opportunities I received when I was a TAG member.   

I joined TAG at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, I was beyond scared about my future. I knew I wanted to go to college and get a degree in writing, but I was uncertain about where to take that experience afterward. While serving as a TAG leader, I learned that there were many opportunities out there which combined my passions for art, writing, and creating inclusive community programs.

After graduating high school, I decided I was interested in learning more about museum education. More specifically, I wanted to play an active role in creating artistic and educational opportunities for young students of color, populations who—like myself—have been historically excluded from art museums as a result of income inequality and systemic racism. Throughout 2020, TAG meetings were often spent discussing this issue because many of us had personally experienced exclusivity from art institutions. We made it our goal to prioritize inclusion across all our events, encouraging BIPOC teens from all social backgrounds to showcase their art and feel welcome at the museum. This led to On The Verge, a teens-only exhibition featuring artists whose perspectives and identities are shaped by race, gender, ethnicity, and social background. This exhibit was free, accessible, and open to the public—all of which helped artists, and my TAG colleagues, feel seen and valued at the museum.

As I have grown into my role as the Teen and Family Programs Intern, I have learned so much about how TAG is planned and executed behind the scenes. On the same day I am writing this reflection, I am also helping develop TAG’s yearly and weekly schedules, lead discussions and presentations with TAG participants, create content for @SAMTeens on Instagram, plan icebreakers and team-building activities, coordinate guest speakers, and provide mentorship opportunities for this year’s cohort of teens.

TAG is intended to help teens explore their passions and build leadership skills that will benefit them long after their time at SAM. I know how confusing and stressful it can be to navigate life after high school, and know how vital it is for teens to have a safe place to learn, ask questions, and make mistakes. As a TAG mentor, I’ve encouraged teens to anticipate problems, discuss questions, and think deeply about their short- and long-term goals—all of which are skills I have found helpful in my work as an Emerging Arts Leader.

My internship experience at SAM has expanded my view of what art and museums can be. By collaboratively planning projects and facilitating group discussions, I came to realize how great diversity leads to greater inclusion in museums. The teens I work with all come from different backgrounds, use different art mediums, and have different styles of leadership that shape their worldview.

I still have much to learn about running a community program like TAG, but my experience so far has shown me that I am on the right path in achieving my goals and overcoming my uncertainties about the future. Now when I get asked what I want to do when I grow up, I can confidently say: “I’d like to work for an amazing organization like SAM, making sure art is accessible and inclusive to all.”

– Karla Pastrana, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Teen Programs

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Professor Aurelia Campbell on the Rarity and Artistry of Chinese Buddhist Burial Shrouds

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics on Asian art and culture across time. On Saturday, April 13, Aurelia Campbell, Associate Professor of Asian Art History at Boston College, will examine the artistry and significance of the elaborate Buddhist burial shrouds that were excavated from the graves of high-ranking men and women from China’s Ming and Qing dynasties. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Campbell about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, her first encounter with a burial shroud, and prevalent misconnections of Buddhism.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

AURELIA CAMPBELL: My talk will introduce Buddhist burial shrouds excavated from tombs dating between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties in China. The shrouds vary in form depending on the identity of the tomb occupant (for instance, those of lower-ranking individuals are printed on paper, while those of higher-ranking individuals are embroidered on silk). Some shrouds are executed in a Chinese style while others reflect a more Tibetan style, which was popular after the Mongols ruled China in the 13th and 14th centuries. Despite these differences, the shrouds all combine text and image to create a kind of power object that was thought to help bring about an auspicious rebirth. I was initially drawn to the topic of Buddhist burial shrouds after first encountering one in 2016. Since then, I have found out about several others while conducting research for my new book project on Ming dynasty burials. I now know of at least five burial shrouds, all of which are quite extraordinary, and I eventually plan to publish my research on them in a journal article.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

AC: Given the fragile nature of these burial shrouds, they are rarely on display in museums. Moreover, only a few survive and, in some cases, they are associated with very lofty individuals, including emperors and empresses. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, to obtain access to them in China. Perhaps surprisingly, my first encounter with a burial shroud, and my only travel related story pertaining to one, was in California. This shroud was part of an exhibition entitled Royal Taste: The Art of Princely Courts in Fifteenth-Century China held at the University of Southern California Pacific Asia Museum in 2016. At that time, I had never heard of this burial shroud, nor did I know that Buddhist burial shrouds even existed China. The shroud was massive and was entirely covered with text and image printed in red. I probably spent a half hour looking at it, totally captivated. Sometime soon, I will travel to see another burial shroud in the collection of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Staten Island. Beyond that, I’m not sure I’ll be able to see any of the precious shrouds in person, unfortunately. 

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

AC: The Seattle Art Museum has a fantastic collection of East Asian art, so it is difficult to choose just one. But I’m fascinated by this sleeveless undergarment with Buddhist text from 19th century Japan. The garment, made of hemp and silk and printed with Sanskrit and Chinese Buddhist text, was meant to protect the wearer from evil spirits. According to the object’s description, it may have been worn during rituals or when going into battle. The talismanic function of the sacred writing on this garment is analogous to that of the burial shrouds that I will be discussing in my talk. However, it obviously differs in the sense that it is fabricated into an item of clothing and worn by the living. I would love to be able to study this garment more closely.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

AC: It might be useful for the audience to think about what the burial shrouds examined in my talk tell us about what Buddhists living in the Ming and Qing dynasties believed and how they practiced. I have often felt that there is a general misconception that Buddhism is not a religion, but rather a “philosophy” centered on meditation. While that may be true in some times and places, these shrouds reveal that spells, magic, rituals, and notions of salvation were actually much more closely associated with lay Buddhist practice at this time than was meditation.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

AC: Paul Copp’s The Body Incantatory: Spells and the Ritual Imagination in Medieval Chinese Buddhism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014) provides an excellent introduction to the apotropaic function of Buddhist writing in China. He investigates spells inscribed onto a wide range of objects that were situated in temples, worn on the body, and buried with the deceased. The book is richly illustrated and full of interesting material that has not traditionally been examined in academic scholarship. Although the book focuses on an earlier period than I will cover in my talk, it helps set the scene for the Ming and Qing period by demonstrating the longstanding perceived efficacy of Buddhist texts and images in a funerary context. 

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Headshot by Ashley Craig. Wang Shancai 王善才, ed. Zhang Mao fufu hezang mu 張懋夫婦合葬墓 (The tomb of Zhang Mao husband and wife). Beijing: Kexue chubanshe, 2007. Sleeveless Undergarment with Buddhist Text, early 19th century, Japanese, Hemp and silk with ink, 36 x 24 in. (91.44 x 60.96 cm), Purchased with funds from the Estate of Pauline King Butts, 93.166.

Connecting Art to Life in Every Way: Accessibility Updates from SAM

“This bronze sculpture of a seaweed stalk sits on a freestanding pedestal a few feet off the ground. The overall shape is abstracted, made of rounded, wavy, leaf-like shapes. The surface color is a dark, chocolatey brown that blends with lighter patches of deep caramel. As you move around the sculpture, the color shifts as light reflects off the patina from different angles.”

This is an excerpt from the verbal description for the collection work Mo (Seaweed) (1977) by George Tsutakawa. These detailed audio explanations bring artworks to life for visitors with low or no vision and are available for smartphones via QR codes.

With the guidance of an accessibility trainer and contributions from community members—including SAM Visitor Experience Representative Derek Bourcier and former SAM docent Donnie Wilburn—we’ve revamped our production of verbal descriptions. In addition to creating them for many artworks in special exhibitions, such as Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map and Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, we are also working to create them for collection galleries such as American Art: The Stories We Carry at the Seattle Art Museum and Boundless: Stories of Asian Art at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

“We want our verbal descriptions to meet the needs of the people they’re serving,” says Ramzy Lakos, SAM Museum Educator for Digital Learning, who leads their development. “The goal is to have one for every artwork on view. We get a little closer to achieving that every year.”

In addition to verbal descriptions, the museum offers large-print copies of the object labels for select exhibitions as well as transcripts of all smartphone tours. SAM also offers ASL interpretation upon request. At Coat Check, visitors can borrow baby carriers and strollers, canes, stools, wheelchairs, disposable magnifying glasses, earplugs, large-print maps, colorblind glasses, a text telephone device, and Android phones with headphones for accessing online audio tours and descriptions.

“It’s all about progress,” says SAM Visitor Experience Manager Chelsea Leingang. “It’s about acknowledging that SAM can do better and actively working to make the artwork in our galleries more accessible to visitors.”

Check out visitsam.org/accessibility or call us at 206.654.3210 for more information about our accessibility options, to request accommodations, or obtain a large-print version of SAM magazine.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

This article first appeared in the February through May 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Nichole DeMent

In the Studio highlights the private workspaces of local artists represented by SAM Gallery. For more than fifty years, SAM Gallery has supported artists from across the Pacific Northwest and provided private and corporate clients with a wide range of services, from purchasing their first work of art to building extensive collections. To browse a featured artist’s entire catalogue of artwork available for rent or purchase, visit SAM Gallery on the lower level of the Seattle Art Museum.

The sun shines into Nichole DeMent’s beautiful West Seattle studio on the winter day of our visit. DeMent has spent eleven years in this space, creating mixed media encaustic works. Her encaustic artworks are characterized by their intricate layers, producing depth and complexity.

“I really fell in love with layers because life is complicated,” she said. “Layers portray my understanding of the world in a way that I hope helps bring peace.”

Nearly three decades later, DeMent’s process still begins with photography. When she is taking photographs, there are instances when she has a clear plan and others when she is open to wherever her intuitive process leads. She most commonly photographs people, animals, and botanicals.

After printing her photographs, she fuses them to wood panels using the basic ingredients of the encaustic medium: beeswax, resin, and pigment. She then brushes layers of the encaustic over her photographs, incorporating layers of organic materials including rust, tea, and mica flakes. Once there are enough layers of encaustic, she affects the layers using heated carving tools, creating texture and movement. She wants the surface to “have its own history with scars that are representative of the image and very organic.” 

One artwork that illustrates her multi-layered process is part of a series titled Inner Sanctum of Pech Merle (25,000 BCE). Hanging on her studio wall, this large-scale work depicts a horse in profile, in the midst of a step forward. DeMent took the photo of the horse on a colleague’s farm in Snohomish, WA. When the owner let all of the horses out, DeMent took photos while standing in the center of the field. The horse depicted in this work, she said, ran straight toward her before turning to its side to avoid colliding. DeMent views the horse as a strong, powerful, and beautiful animal who carries others when needed.

In closely examining this artwork, its intricate details and layers begin to reveal themselves. The complex artwork’s deeper layers incorporate pages from books embedded in the wax. Meanwhile, sepia drawings inspired by prehistoric cave paintings are set amongst the layers. DeMent studied prehistoric art and architecture in college, visiting many caves during travels abroad. She brings the inspiration from ancient paintings of spotted horses seen in Pech Merle, a prehistoric art site in France into this work. These subtle details, she said, “leave little treasures for the attentive viewer.”

View Nichole DeMent’s available artworks at SAM Gallery on the featured sliding wall or online. Stay updated on all that’s happening at SAM Gallery by following us on Instagram at @atSAMGallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Reaching My Full Potential at SAM: Emerging Arts Leader Teagan Nathe Reflects

Growing up, I was always allured by the welcoming mystique of museums. There’s something soothing in the ever-changing exhibitions, never knowing what you’ll find around each corner. A gallery is a space where you can be swallowed up by the art on every wall and forget about the world outside for a moment. I never dreamed that I would be able to be a part of the magic that is Seattle Art Museum and its team of dedicated individuals.

Throughout the course of my internship, I found myself questioning what it meant for a person or community to be reflected on museum walls. Art institutions have historically been a place of exclusion and were known to primarily display the artwork of white male artists. Yet, as society changes before our eyes, these institutions are also changing as they adopt equitable values and acknowledge the harm of their past actions. From my first day on the job, it was clear that everyone at SAM was (and still is) committed to doing this necessary work. The existence of my own role at the museum is evidence of the thought that SAM is putting toward greater inclusion.

In January of 2023, I was offered the position of an Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Equity and Communications. In the six months I spent at SAM, I was able to gain a unique perspective on the inner workings of an incredible institution and highlight the internal work necessary in connecting art to life. During one of my last weeks at SAM, I led a gallery tour discussing artworks that made me feel at home and the significance of changing canon museum artifacts. I took a Socratic approach to my tour, posing critical questions in order for participants to engage deeply with two works: Dawoud Bey’s David Hammons, Pissed Off (1981) and excerpts from Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor (1977–1985). I was drawn to these pieces partially because I’m a photographer and these photos were shot on black and white film. More so, these images portray the raw and emotional nature of life. Whether it’s the complexities of race within the arts world or economic class barriers, these artists capture the reality of our contemporary moment.

One of my favorite aspects of this internship was the opportunity to meet so many individuals who are palpably enthusiastic about their jobs. I would like to say thank you to everyone who made me feel at home on the SAM staff, and particularly to my supervisor, Priya Frank. Priya made me realize that I don’t have to sacrifice a single part of myself to be successful and that giving a commencement speech at T-Mobile Park while wearing sparkly Doc Martens, big hoops, and a bright pink lipstick is not only acceptable, but also aspirational. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of meeting Priya will tell you how she exudes pure light and embodies the philosophy of using “joy as my weapon.” Thank you for everything Priya, you’re my idol.

As a newbie to Seattle, I felt disconnected from the art world, as it’s always hard to break in and form connections in a new city. Throughout my time at SAM, I was able to meet many different artists and worked alongside so many talented interns. Thank you to Emma, Zak, Alexa, Jo, Aranya, Elizabeth, and many more folks who brought a smile to my face every day at work.

This opportunity has made me believe in myself as an artist and leader, showing me that nothing can stand in my way from achieving what I want. I am immensely grateful for the ways my SAM internship pushed me to my full potential, and for everyone at SAM who believed in me.

– Teagan Nathe, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Equity and Communications

This article first appeared in the February through June 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Curator Jeannie Kenmotsu on the Untold Stories of Women Printmakers in Postwar Japan

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics on Asian art and culture across time. On Saturday, March 9, Dr. Jeannie Kenmotsu, Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art at the Portland Art Museum, will share insight on the remarkable influence of women printmakers in postwar Japan. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Dr. Kenmotsu about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, the persistence of sexism in art history, and the significance of bringing the stories of these women printmakers to light.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

Dr. Jeannie Kenmotsu: In 2020, I organized the exhibition Joryū Hanga Kyōkai, 1956–1965: Japan’s Women Printmakers at the Portland Art Museum. This was the first close examination of the activities of this important group, Joryū Hanga Kyōkai, or the Women Printmakers Association. I was fascinated by this collective, which organized collaborative exhibitions together over the course of ten years and seemed to serve as a catalyst for a number of artists, yet had received so little scholarly attention. Of course, I am indebted to many colleagues who have also championed the work of women printmakers in Japan, through their writing, teaching, and exhibitions. But two things remain true: one, that women printmakers were overshadowed by their male counterparts in the twentieth century, a situation that persists today. And two, that there is much more primary documentation and excavation to do in this area, particularly in terms of exploring the depth and richness of individual artists’ stories.

My upcoming Saturday University lecture will provide a broader introduction to the topic of postwar women printmakers, so it is suitable for anyone with an interest in, but limited knowledge, of Asian art, of creative prints (sōsaku hanga), or even of printmaking more generally. I’m interested in the historical conditions that shaped their work, their contemporary reception, and how we do—or don’t—talk about them today. I’m equally interested in bringing to light both the commonalities and the diversity of their career trajectories. Therefore, my focus will be on bringing their stories into greater focus and celebrating their work.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

JK: In a funny way, my work in this area has been shaped by a lack of an ability to travel. In early 2020 I was making plans to pursue research in both Japan and North America for the Joryū Hanga Kyōkai exhibition. That quickly became impossible, but I was fortunate to have already received a trove of amazing archival materials related to that artist collective, which I could sort through once I was able to get back into the museum building. After that, it became very much “research by mail” — on the one hand, I was able to secure some fantastic loans for the exhibition that were critical to telling the story; on the other hand, secondary research was virtually impossible, as I had very limited library access. The exhibition opened September 2020. While one of my big regrets is that so few people were able to see it, it was one of the intellectual and personal bright spots for me during a difficult time in the world.

Yoshida Chizuko (Japanese, 1924–2017), Ao no fūkei (Landscape in Blue), 1972, color woodblock print with blind embossing on paper, image: 22 in x 16 1/2 in; sheet: 25 in x 18 3/8 in, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Asian Art Auction proceeds. Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 2016.23.1.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

JK: Choose just one? Goodness, that’s hard. The Deer Scroll, with calligraphy by Hon’ami Kōetsu and decorated paper painted by Tawaraya Sōtatsu, makes my heart sing. Another favorite is Tsuji Kakō’s two-panel folding screen, Green Waves, from SAM’s excellent nihonga collection, for the artist’s deft handling of mineral pigments on silk to explore light on water. It’s stunning in person, and captures that mesmerizing sensation of watching the ocean.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

JK: My lecture will introduce some understudied but wonderfully creative artists. But of course my research is also driven by some deeper scholarly questions about discourse and reparative history, in this case through the lens of gender and art. I consider my work in the area of postwar printmaking to be just one contribution to a larger, ongoing conversation, and it is my hope that these projects will spark questions and critical engagement from other scholars, particularly the younger generation.

Iwami Reika (Japanese, 1927–2020), Mizu no fu 78-H (Song of Water 78-H), 1978, color woodblock print with embossing, gold leaf, and metallic pigments on paper, image: 16 1/8 in x 10 15/16 in; sheet: 20 3/16 in x 14 in, Gift of Marge Carter. Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 2018.58.2.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

JK: Alas, to date there is limited English-language literature focused specifically on the women artists I will discuss in my talk, let alone on the collective conditions that shaped and attended their careers despite their highly individual practices. That said, they are widely collected and have been included in many group exhibitions, catalogues, essays, and academic monographs over the last few decades. But the point is that these artists have rarely been the focus, with a few notable exceptions, such as solo retrospectives (usually focused on artists who have lived abroad). Some broader publications on modern Japanese prints more generally that might be enjoyed by those new to the topic include Made in Japan by Alicia Volk or Hanga by Chiaki Ajioka, or the classics Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn by Oliver Statler and The Modern Japanese Print by James Michener. These last two are still widely available, and I’ll touch on them in my talk.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Jeannie Kenmotsu.

TAG Talks: An Ancient Tour of Achaemenid Arts and Culture

SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and are excited to make SAM a fun and engaging space for teens. TAG members meet weekly from October to May to learn about the behind-the-scenes work of an art museum, lead engaging gallery tours, plan Teen Night Out, and so much more. TAG Talks is an ongoing SAM Blog series on SAM Blog that serves as a space for SAM’s teen leaders to express themselves and their love of art. Keep up with all TAG adventures by following @samteens on Instagram and stay tuned for more TAG Talks to come!

I’m assuming you are confused as to what is happening. Where you are, how you will get back, why you are here, all these questions are dancing in your mind. It’s okay, all will make sense in due time. Here are the basics we should begin with. Yesterday, on your way home from work, you stumbled upon a rectangular, wooden box. The box had the symbol of a lion and a sun engraved on its wooden exterior. Naturally curious, you opened the box and saw spinning gears. The gears seemed to get faster as you continually observed them. That can’t be right; there was nothing powering the box. Yet it was. The gears kept accelerating until they vanished completely and the box was left empty. Confused, you placed your hand inside. This was the turning point. 

Sucked into a cloud of debris, your senses blurred, losing contact with the physical realm. The sensation of disconnect lasted for five or so minutes. Covered in dust, you tumbled to the foot of an elderly woman dressed in robes draped in sweeping folds. Are you beginning to remember now?

I am the woman you met. I welcome you to the sixth century BC Achaemenid Empire. You are one of the first to make it here successfully. I know you may be scared; the Greeks painted our history to be uncivilized compared to their own. Under Cyrus the Great however, our reign has promoted religious tolerance and human rights regardless of nationality. We also contributed to innovations in commerce and trading networks, as well as funding for public works to improve the lives of our people. But that’s all textbook information I doubt you care for. Your purpose here is to travel and explore, that’s it. You’ll be home before you realize, so make the most of your stay.

Our empire is in the lands you now call Egypt, Eastern Europe, and east of Asia to the Balkans. It will go on to be considered one of the largest empires of the ancient world. Even as a resident, I can’t help but marvel at the sheer magnificence of what we have. While you’re visiting, I recommend you see Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of our empire. Thank goodness you are arriving in the springtime. Due to the remoteness of the region, travel is often difficult here during the rainy Persian winters. The mountainous terrain, however, allows the city to remain a secret from the outside world, protecting our art, artifacts, archives, and royal treasury.

Here you’ll also find residential quarters, a treasury, and ceremonial palaces. One palace you can’t miss is the Apādana Receiving Hall. Built by Darius I, the roof of the structure is supported by 72 columns each standing at 24 meters, with the whole palace having the footprint of 1,000 square meters. The column capitals are either twin headed bulls, eagles, or lions to represent authority and kingship. The monumental stairways on the North and East sides depict 23 subject nations bearing gifts to the King. If you tell the King I sent you, he will take you as a guest. Don’t forget to bring some form of tribute though. A cypress tree will do.

One final thing – you will need money and proper clothing. I will give you some gold coins known as daric. Use these at the market and buy yourself some long robes. As the palace welcomes you, you shall be greeted with lavish feasts, drinks, and games. Do wander into the sensuous gardens and hunt if you so please. Alright, now I believe my job here is done. I recommend you embrace the chaos and uncertainty this land will reveal. I’ll send you the box once when you’re ready to go. I wish you the best on your journey. 

– Smriti Tiwari (she/her), 16, Second-Year Teen Arts Group Leader

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

The Boys in the Boat: See UW Rower Robert Moch’s Vase Collection at SAM

Originally published in 2014, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown recounts the true story of how nine University of Washington rowers beat the odds to win gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Following the December 2023 release of the story’s film adaptation, we thought we’d take this opportunity to share about one of the rowers’ special connection to the Seattle Art Museum.

While browsing through SAM’s European art galleries, you may spot the name Robert G. Moch. Known as Bob and Bobby to those who knew him, Moch led the University of Washington rowers to victory as the team’s coxswain. Following his retirement from rowing and an illustrious law career, he and his wife, LaVerne Moch, donated several pieces of 19th century French glass to the museum. 

These 10 vases, donated by the Moch family in 1995, were designed by well-known glass designer Émile Gallé (1846–1904) around the end of the 1800s and utilize the popular technique known as cameo glass. With their stylized floral patterns—like silhouettes layered atop the lighter glass—the artworks demonstrate the Art Nouveau style and the influence it derived from Japanese designs.

The 1936 Olympics in which Moch and his teammates competed were particularly notable as a result of increasing political tensions brought on by Adolf Hitler’s dictatorial rule. Although the city of Berlin had been chosen to host the Games before Hitler’s rise to power, he used the international attention of the Olympics  as a way to propagandize Germany’s superiority and bolster his fascist and racist beliefs. The Nazi Party intended to ban Black and Jewish athletes from competing, but decided against enforcing these restrictions after the US and other nations threatened to boycott the Games.

Some Jewish members of the US Olympic team, including Moch, described feeling tense as they competed in front of Hitler and other Nazi leaders. Moch had learned of his Jewish heritage shortly before making the voyage to Berlin. 

Despite the fraught political and social circumstances of 1936, the story of the “boys in the boat” is inspiring in itself. The rowing team was composed of young men attending a public university to seek a better life and financial stability amid the hardships of the Great Depression (1929–1939). They beat out other Ivy League collegiate teams to qualify for the games and launched a public fundraising campaign to travel to Berlin. During the actual race, the team faced horrible crosswinds, one of their rowers was dealing with a severe bronchial infection, and Moch missed the starting call. Yet, the rowers managed to steadily pull up from last to first place in a nail-biting finish.

In addition to rowing, the US brought home the gold in many other events, including Black athlete Jesse Owens’s historic four gold medals in track and field.

The release of Daniel James Brown’s book brought renewed attention to this epic moment in American history. In 2016, PBS produced the documentary The Boys of ‘36 and in December 2023, a film adaptation of the book directed by George Clooney was released with Luke Slattery portraying Moch.

Ten years after donating his vases to SAM, Moch passed away. While we don’t know much about how he and LaVerne collected these glass vases, the museum is grateful for their donation to SAM and to retain a piece of Moch’s legacy. Many of the vases the Moch family donated are now on view in SAM’s fourth-floor European art galleries through March 2024 and will return later in 2024 when the museum’s European art galleries reopen!

– Nicole Block, SAM Collections Associate

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Professor Christina Sunardi on the Spiritual Knowledge of East Javanese Performing Arts

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics on Asian art and culture across time. On Saturday, February 10, Christina Sunardi, Associate Professor in the School of Music at the University of Washington and Chair of the Department of Dance, will explore the spiritual knowledge, or ilmu, that performers imparted on her while conducting fieldwork on gamelan music and dance in Malang, east Java from 2005–2007. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Sunardi about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, her travels in Malang, and the raw, emotional power of the performing arts.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

CHRISTINA SUNARDI: I will present some of my research on ilmu (spiritual knowledge) that performers imparted and encouraged me to obtain while I conducted fieldwork on gamelan music and dance in Malang, east Java from 2005–2007 and subsequent visits. I intend to analyze the importance performers placed on ilmu as substantive, embodiable knowledge, often secret and esoteric, which can be physically transferred from one being to another, or from an object, and which provides the ability to do something remarkable or remarkably well, including performing music, dance, and theater. I will contend that through their ilmu-related beliefs, practices, and verbal discourse, Malang performers were maintaining and producing local systems of knowledge, transmission, and competence. I am also so excited to be partnering with master gamelan musician and puppeteer Ki Midiyanto as he demonstrates how one of the instruments from the gamelan ensemble is played throughout my presentation. We’ll also allow plenty of time for questions from the audience!

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

CS: Although it’s hard to choose just one, one experience that may be of interest is the ceremony that my first dance teacher in Malang facilitated to ensure that my studies of gamelan, dance, and the Javanese language would go smoothly. I now understand this ceremony as him preparing me to receive ilmu. I remember feeling a tingling sensation on the back of my neck during the ceremony. Maybe it was the smell of the burning incense cubes, or that I was moved by my teacher’s wish for me to succeed, or maybe it was both—I haven’t totally sorted all of that out yet.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

CS: Ooh! I really love this 19th-century Wayang Topeng Mask. I had the opportunity to study masked dance while in Malang and it is such a beautiful, entrancing form. I love how the individual dancer sort of disappears into the character and how the dancers can make their masks come to life. ilmu can certainly be involved with this, as I will speak about in my presentation!

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

CS: Thank you so much for inviting me and thank you so much to those who are interested in attending. It is always such an honor to be able to share my research and to share what I have learned from the artists I was fortunate enough to study with during my fieldwork.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

CS: I hope this is not too bold, but my book, Stunning Males and Powerful Females: Gender and Tradition in East Javanese Dance (University of Illinois Press, 2015), may be of interest.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Steve Corn & Christina Sunardi.

Improving Your Museum Experience with Technology: Emerging Arts Leader Shuprima Guha Reflects

I’ve always enjoyed spending time in art museums. With ambling hallways and multiple rooms featuring a variety of historic and contemporary art, it’s the excitement of not knowing what I’ll discover next that first got me interested in working at one. I joined SAM with the intention of learning more about how different museum departments come together to facilitate ideas. Suffice to say, I checked off this goal during my first few weeks at SAM. 

As an interpretation intern, I learned how SAM uses technology and verbal descriptions to improve accessibility for different audiences at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Verbal descriptions explain a work of art in terms of its color, size, texture, and other features so that individuals with low or no vision can better experience the piece. I developed the skill of writing for auditory purposes in this process. Conducting research on the most inclusive ways to approach writing these descriptions—along with the continuous feedback provided from the rest of the verbal description team—helped me overcome this learning curve of shifting from writing for reading purposes to writing for listening purposes and led me to produce some of my best work. 

While conducting this work, I began to ask questions about the smartphones that museum visitors can check out while browsing the galleries—part of SAM’s effort to improve in-gallery accessibility. This led to important conversations about how we envision visitors interacting with these devices and what museums can do to support such interactions (thank you to the visitor experience team for their expertise). Beyond these tasks, I also helped in developing the interpretive elements of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, including the touch cart, in-gallery guide, and the digital collage interactive.

The support I received from the museum’s staff, security, volunteers, and my fellow interns played a tremendous role in how I approached my work. Asking questions to people from different departments created a system of support in which I knew everyone at the museum was eager to help. From isolating digital elements of Hokusai prints with the design team to prototyping a touchscreen interactive with staff from multiple departments, I believe collaboration was essential to my time at SAM. Deciding which topics to research and conducting meetings related to the Hokusai interactive taught me about not only project management, but also about Japanese culture and history. In writing the guide the exhibition’s interpretive touch cart, I also became familiar with the materials used in Japanese woodblock printing—thank you Jessica and Sorrel for your help!

As I began my SAM internship, it was exciting to see all of the tasks that SAM’s staff had planned for me; there was so much to do and so little time! Prioritizing tasks was one of the most important skills I developed. Although each new day was filled with exciting events and meetings, I made important decisions on which ones I attended and which I did not to ensure I could independently complete my tasks within a timely manner. Another skill I learned through this internship was networking. I learned how to ask questions about different staff members’ experiences and took advantage of the opportunity to get to know new people in the office, kitchen, elevators, and galleries. These skills are something I will carry forward in my academic and professional life. 

This internship showed me the initiatives the museum takes in making art accessible to visitors— something that I am particularly passionate about. Knowing that so many people care about the same things gives me immense hope for the future of museums. From accompanying docent-led tours to conducting surveys in the galleries, I learned how to engage with the public and lead conversations about art. As someone who has always been a bit hesitant to voice my opinion in large groups, my newfound confidence and eagerness to speak in public is one of the most valuable lessons I learned at SAM.

None of this would have been possible without the support of my incredibly supportive and encouraging coworkers. I want to particularly thank my supervisor, SAM Educator for Digital Learning Ramzy Lakos, whose creative ideas played an integral role in shaping my SAM experience. His optimism and sense of humor always made even the most challenging task feel simple. I want to thank everyone on the education team as well. Their excitement about the museum’s future shines through in everything they do. Lastly, I am grateful to everyone who I reached out to at various points in the last few months: thank you for making me feel like a part of the SAM community. I look forward to carrying these experiences into the next step of my career.

– Shuprima Guha, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Interpretation

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Curator Yayoi Shinoda on the Traditional Japanese Art of Mended Ceramics

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Seattle Art Museum. On Saturday, January 13, Yayoi Shinoda, Assistant Curator of Japanese Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art will offer a discussion on the Japanese tradition of mending damaged ceramics to bring them renewed life. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Shinoda about what visitors can expect to learn about in her upcoming talk, how her research on mended ceramics began, and the intimacy of this time-honored practice.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

YAYOI SHINODA: My presentation will focus on the practice of mending ceramics in Japan’s Edo period (1615–1868). The ceramics I highlight were used in tea practice and cherished by their owners, and their restored bodies embody the care they received. Some repairs were made visible intentionally—with some including gold embellishments—that bestowed a new a significance to the original ceramic work. Today, this practice of visible mending is fondly called kintsugi, and has garnered the attention of scholars from a variety of specialties, including psychologists.

My research on this topic began several years ago when I wrote a term paper for a seminar I took at the University of Kansas. The course focused on the transcultural exchanges between Korea and Japan from ancient times to today. One of the areas I love to research is ceramics, so I decided to study a 16th-century Korean bowl that became a tea bowl in Japan. The large bowl is made of a porous, soft porcelain and features a dramatic repair of golden filling along its body. It is such a fascinating work and I knew I had to learn more about it. I had many questions: What is up with this dramatic change? Why and how did that happen? Are there more examples like this? When did this kind of mending begin? After that semester, I continued to study that bowl and others like it. Eventually, Dr. Halle O’Neal invited me to dive into the topic further. My presentation at this January’s Saturday University will be based on my scholarly article on mended ceramics that was published last year.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

YS: My research journey took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I could not travel anywhere, not even locally. However, the Nelson-Atkins collection has some ceramics with visible mends, so I was able to study them. Also, thanks to the dedicated librarians, museum colleagues, and other professionals throughout the US and Japan, I was able to access resources remotely. I was fortunate to meet lacquer artists such as Naoko Fukumaru in Vancouver, BC and Gen Saratani in New York via Zoom. And I hope to visit them soon now that we are back to traveling more. Their insights were critical for me in thinking through the meanings of different repair methods and philosophies.    

In assessing the Nelson-Atkins’s collection of mended ceramics side-by-side, I found myself considering the intimate connection shared between the tea bowls and their owners, whose names may be known or unknown to us today. The works also display the owners’ taste and sensibility, which likely guided the mending technique and material choice. Another issue that emerged during my research was how little we know about the people who mended these works or when they underwent their bodily change. Although I intend to introduce a few examples of recovery stories in my lecture, many tea ceramics’ physical transformation processes are unrecorded. This is the focus of my ongoing research and may require me to travel in the coming months. Looking to the future, I would also love to learn more about how tea practitioners in the Edo period used the ceramics they had mended.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

YS: There are three objects in SAM’s collection that pique my interest. One is Tea Powder Container from the Edo period. The bags made of exquisite textiles speak to the immense significance the owner placed on the container, which is important in thinking about human-object relationships. The second example I love is this beautiful Tea Bowl (“Fuji”) by Ryōnyū (Raku IX; Japanese, 1756–1834). The area in which the glazed and unglazed segments meet creates a striking landscape that resembles Mount Fuji. The lens to see this kind of “accidental” effect as a landscape also applies to appreciating mended ceramics’ transformed bodies. Lastly, I want to spotlight Tea Cup, named “Red Plum in Winter,” by Dōnyū (Raku III; Japanese, 1599–1656) because of its charming and carefully mended embellishments made with gold powder. The fine golden lines gently transform the cup’s body, while also testifying to the care it received from its owner.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

YS: This is a tough question to answer because of the many informative resources that already exist. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Yayoi Shinoda. Tea Bowl, Japan, late 16th to early 17th century. Glaze stoneware (Karatsu ware) with lacquer mending. Overall: 3 x 5 1/2 inches (7.6 x 14.0 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-62/6. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Tea Bowl, Japan, late 17th century. Stoneware with pinkish white crackle glaze (Gohonde ware) with lacquer mending. Overall: 3 1/2 x 5 5/8 inches (8.9 x 14.3 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 32-62/2. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.

The Power of Storytelling in Art Curation: Emerging Arts Leader Elizabeth Xiong Reflects

My first recreational adventure after settling in Seattle in 2021 was to SAM. As I had just recently decided to pursue a second degree in art history, I felt strangely comfortable throughout my visit. I left the museum that day filled with countless stories told through the installations, a growing curiosity for art curation, and a hope that I would be back soon.

And lucky for me, that desire came true. Working under the supervision of Theresa Papanikolas, SAM Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art, as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern over the last few months has allowed me to explore what curators do. As part of my role, I was tasked with research and writing supplementary information for the upcoming exhibition Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map. Opening Thursday, February 29 at SAM, the retrospective will survey five decades of Smith’s (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation) work. My work focused on researching and creating an in-gallery display for the exhibition that highlights the artist’s relationship to Seattle.

My research began with sifting through existing scholarship and archival materials on Smith. The more I read, the more I came to understand her as a leading contemporary Native American artist who examines American life by engaging with powerful ideas of Indigenous memory, culture, and history. Although I compiled a hefty list of Seattle public art, exhibition, and curatorial projects she participated in, I felt that it lacked cohesion since the documents appeared separate from existing discussions of her work. How, then, could I organize them together in a display case?

I temporarily filed these questions away as I sifted through 150 newly acquired scans from Smith’s personal archives dating from 1996 to 1998. These digitized letters outlined years of correspondence regarding the West Seattle Cultural Trail, a public art project she created alongside local artists Donald Fels and Joe Fedderson (Okanogan and Arrow Lakes).

As I meticulously pieced together these lengthy conversations, I watched the project unfold from a front row seat. It gave me a glimpse into the public arts process, the intentionality required, and the communications exchanged between differing personalities. I thought back to the initial questions Theresa encouraged me to consider within my work: What is Smith’s presence in Seattle? How do we illustrate it? I then recalled an interview in which Smith was quoted as saying, “All of our stories, all of our origin stories come out of the land.” Her words led me to reevaluate the trail’s physical dependence on land and its goal to “share in the collective memory of the West Seattle community.” 

Suddenly, the collaborative storytelling throughout her oeuvre did not exclude what she accomplished in Seattle. From the trail, my project expanded outwards into three main themes for the display: her dedication to teaching, and the importance of language in her practice, and the role collaboration has played throughout her career. Regarding the retrospective, Smith says “in this long journey, it is step by step, hand over hand, something like climbing a rope.” Therefore, my goal became to guide visitors to see Seattle as a crucial strand in the rope she climbed.

To demonstrate Smith’s dedication to education, her correspondences with Donald Fels revealed their shared interest in involving local students in the project’s development. Smith was adamant that the trail give visibility to hidden stories, and the accompanying Voices of the Community booklet gave students the opportunity to share their perspectives through poetry. Her commitment to education also extends beyond the trail to her other public works, lectures, and children’s workbooks. Considering how her Olympic Junior College art teacher once told her “she could teach… but she shouldn’t count on being a painter,” she powerfully accomplished both. Therefore, when she said “I go out and teach… that’s what my life is about, my work is about,” it is important that our illustration of her presence in Seattle brilliantly reflects this.

That said, the trail allows other dimensions of teaching in her practice to be explored, such as writing. Countless letters between Smith and other Indigenous colleagues reveal that the Native stories told on the trail are intended to teach visitors, and that their accuracy was of the utmost importance.

This intricate combination of writing and collaboration is evident throughout her own curatorial practice, which first blossomed in Seattle. In each exhibition, she approached texts intentionally because writing inclusively “[showcases] the voices of Native artists.” As a curator, her exhibitions helped propel the trajectory of Native recognition in the arts, in turn increasing visibility for new artists. Altogether, her curatorial practice emphasizes that writing and “networking [are] as much for her artistic medium as paint and canvas.”

Lastly, Smith’s insistence on collectivity through collaboration is not limited to her immediate Native community. Her cooperation with other artists of color is a lesser known fact, despite her clear belief that “passion for our art and for one another,” commitment “to narrative work,” and a “strong sense of survival” bonds them together. Therefore, as part of this last theme, which explores Smith’s involvement with Asian Americans through the trail project, I hope to challenge this chronically overlooked detail. 

Numerous letters reveal Smith’s dedication to including Asian American voices in retelling the history of Alki Beach. She spent weeks researching, and gaining approval from local experts and friends to ensure that the communities would be “proud of what is there.” With these letters, I hope to underscore how the diverse experiences and relationships that influence her are not constrained by gallery walls. These strands of her personal history may not be immediately apparent on the surface of her artworks, but through her ties to the city we share, they come to life. 

As a result of my in-gallery contributions to Memory Map, I hope visitors leave SAM with a clear understanding of how Smith and her relationship to Seattle do not stand in isolation. Their interconnectedness leaves room for the viewer to contemplate how their presence in the exhibition’s galleries is also an act of collaboration and learning with Smith. Therefore, it is important that her voice rings throughout my work, such that the answer to her question “can I take these feelings and attach them to a passerby?” is an overwhelming yes. 

I went into this internship eager to peel back the mysterious layers of museum work, in order to discover what processes are involved in curating exhibitions. Sitting at my desk in the corner of SAM’s administrative offices, I was initially afraid that I would feel alone. However, that sentiment couldn’t have been further from the truth. As I uncovered the intentional collaborations that flowed through Smith’s storytelling, I realized the same started swirling into mine. Through this experience, I found myself learning how to research unfamiliar topics with courage, and approach art curation as a storyteller. This growth was only possible because of the incredible SAM staff, who I want to take the time to thank.

I truly started to see curatorial work as storytelling after my lunches with Museum Educator for Digital Learning Ramzy Lakos, where he also encouraged me to use Smith’s own voice to frame my in-gallery display. It was after an insightful conversation with Catharina Manchanda, SAM Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, that compelled me to incorporate Smith’s involvement with other communities of color. I want to thank Carrie Dedon, SAM Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, for reminding me to courageously explore the intersections of my studies and extend a special thank you to my cubicle-mate, Danelle Jay, SAM Curatorial Print and Content Associate, for always lending a listening ear, and reminding me that our storytelling should relate to people. Most of all, I want to thank Theresa, for her indispensable expertise, patience, and genuine collaborative spirit that has made my SAM internship an incredible experience.

As my internship draws to a close, I look forward to seeing how my display comes to life when Memory Map opens at SAM this spring and urge you to visit the West Seattle Cultural Trail in the meantime. I am excited to take everything I have learned at SAM into my future endeavors, and am looking forward to where I next go.

– Elizabeth Xiong, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Curatorial

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Envisioning My Future in Arts Education: Emerging Arts Leader Zakaria Sadak Reflects

If you had asked me about my career plans a year or two ago, I would not have guessed that working at the Seattle Art Museum was in my future. It wasn’t until my first year of college when the histories, values, and principles embedded in my surroundings captured my full attention and academic interest. It left me with no choice but to abandon my math and economics studies in favor of art history. Combined with my latent interest in Korea, as fostered by a childhood richly patterned with Korean objects and visual culture, I chose to pursue a career in museums to further learn and digest my history through the lens of Korean art history.

It is with this background that I entered the Seattle Art Museum for the first time this past January. Though I grew up in various parts of Washington, visiting the Seattle Art Museum had always evaded me. I came to SAM with an interest in art history and connecting students to art, so my work within the institution’s education department creating educator and student materials was particularly relevant. Through all of this work, my supervisor SAM Manager of School & Educator Programs Yaoyao Liu’s mentorship and guidance was crucial.

Aside from putting up with my many (many) questions as I became acquainted with everything, Yaoyao and other colleagues in the education division were the resident experts who helped me get through it all and eventually join them as a staff member. Though general visitors may not be impacted by my work, I want to plug the SAM educator and student offerings. My work creating art activities and in-gallery materials with the exhibition Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth and the traveling exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will be available for students to work on in their classrooms and at home, as well as the numerous offerings created by colleagues.

A notable highlight of my internship was my work with Korean objects from SAM’s collection, on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In March, I offered a presentation to museum staff and the public on a four-panel chaekgeori screen and wooden chest as furnishings in Joseon homes. Through research on these objects, I grew to value the ambiguity of the objects a museum sees come through its doors. That is to say, my research of these objects through the Emerging Arts Leader Internship afforded me the opportunity to break up the polished object lists that neatly fit into textbooks, coursework, and curriculums with objects I might not otherwise encounter.

The Seattle Art Museum is a space to thoughtfully learn about and digest information on a diverse collection of culturally significant artworks. I began my internship at SAM with a limited understanding of museums and am leaving with a clear vision for my future in the museum field and art history. With a two-pronged goal of further understanding Korea’s art history and bridging the gap between esoteric arts research and the public, I can’t help but be sad that I am leaving the work at SAM so soon. As a visitor, intern, and staff member, I certainly have been able to explore where my interest in historical Korean art and I might fit in a museum.

By no means will this exploration end with my time as an intern at the Seattle Art Museum. I am thankful for the support of everyone at the museum both throughout the internship and ongoing as I resume studies in Chicago and begin my next role at the Smart Museum of Art. I want to offer a final thanks to Yaoyao, everyone in the education division, SAM Human Resources & Intern Programs Coordinator Samuel Howes, and my fellow interns for creating the bright, welcoming, and uplifting environment at SAM.

– Zakaria Sadak, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in School & Educator Programs

Photos: Natali Wiseman & Chloe Collyer.

TAG Talks: A Well-Known Wave and My Newfound Appreciation

SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and are excited to make SAM a fun and engaging space for teens. TAG members meet weekly from October to May to learn about the behind-the-scenes work of an art museum, lead engaging gallery tours, plan Teen Night Out, and so much more. TAG Talks is an ongoing SAM Blog series on SAM Blog that serves as a space for SAM’s teen leaders to express themselves and their love of art. Keep up with all TAG adventures by following @samteens on Instagram and stay tuned for more TAG Talks to come!

The iconography of the woodblock print Under the Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, commonly referred to as the Great Wave, is omnipresent.

I was initially turned off by the Great Wave’s ubiquity in the public sphere. Growing up surrounded by lovers of niche art, the Great Wave never struck me as anything special. It’s become so commercialized that even my friends far outside of the art scene have tote bags or stickers sporting the iconic image. Thinking its presence in the media was tacky and overused, I failed to truly look closely or consider the print’s value.

Although I was never the Great Wave’s biggest fan, I am an artist and printmaker myself and love to study Japanese printmaking techniques. I was excited to see the Great Wave’s creator and prolific printmaker Katsushika Hokusai’s work in person in Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the SAM. Anticipating the visit, I told my partner about the exhibition, highlighting everything except the Great Wave. Upon hearing I would see the famous print, he had a much more emotional response than I was expecting. I asked him how the art made him feel. He said, “It feels like ripping.”

The print depicts three boats cradled in the belly of a giant cresting wave framing Mount Fuji. The wave is a great magnanimous force, the boats borrow the ocean’s space. For the moment, the boats seem to become the wave. It is from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, each piece featuring a different landscape framing the mountain. The subjects of the 36 prints interact with the landscape harmoniously, human technology and nature are connected in this beautiful cycle and struggle. The Great Wave stands out from the rest because it is separate from the human ego. The wave doesn’t care what might be in its way; it tears. A beautiful reminder that humans are not gods, we cannot stop a wave from crashing down on us.

The Great Wave reminds us of the physicality and brutality of nature. There’s no room for metaphor or projection onto the ocean—it just is. The wave neither combats nor engages in human invention; it simply exists.

With my cohort of peers in SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG), we had the pleasure of learning from teaching artist Juliana Kang Robinson about woodblock carving and printing. I love linoleum carving and have spent years making prints, usually to put on my clothing or bags. Learning wood printing was special to me as there is something magical about how one has to work with the grain of the wood when they carve. It was an extra challenge for me, who was used to the careful precision I could execute on plastic, but it added so much life and character to have places where the wood texture was present. I am so grateful for this experience and encourage teens to not be afraid to branch out into exploring new mediums of art.

– Gwyneth Febus, 18, Third-Year Teen Arts Group Leader

Images: L. Fried. Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa-oki nami-ura), also known as the Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei), about 1830–31 (Tenpō 1–2), Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760–1849, woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Photograph ©️ Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Professor Julie Nelson Davis on the Life and Career of Katsushika Ōi

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Seattle Art Museum. This month, Julie Nelson Davis, Professor of Art History and the Department Chair at the University of Pennsylvania, will offer a discussion on the style, career, and legacy of renowned artist Katsushika Ōi on Saturday, December 9. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Nelson Davis about Ōi’s relationship to her famous father and her contributions to his studio, her favorite artwork in SAM’s collection, and more.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

JULIE NELSON DAVIS: I’m looking forward to sharing my research on Katsushika Ōi, the daughter of the famous ukiyo-e master, Katsushika Hokusai. Some people may be familiar with the Japanese animation, Miss Hokusai, that tells a fictionalized version of her life. I’ll talk about Ōi’s life and work, as we can reconstruct if from period evidence, and investigate possible ways that her contributions to Hokusai’s studio might be further revealed. Much of my previous work has been about women in early modern Japan and about collaboration between artistic producers; I’ve been thinking about Ōi as part of this larger investigation.

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

JND: This research developed out of a project I was doing with the British Museum, and our group met a few times in Washington D.C., London, and Tokyo to discuss our work together, looking at paintings in storage, and viewing the British Museum exhibition on Hokusai in 2017. I also previously had the chance to travel with some colleagues to Obuse, a small town east of Nagano, to visit the Hokusai Museum and the Gansho-in Temple. Hokusai and Ōi traveled to Obuse in the 1840s on an invitation from an acquaintance, Takai Kozan. Kozan built a studio room for Hokusai and Ōi, and we were able to visit the house and see the studio. We also had the chance to look closely at a sketch in the museum’s collection that shows Hokusai’s plan for a painting he designed for Gansho-in, as well as to look at the two famous festival carts with paintings attributed to Hokusai. We then went to the temple to look at the ceiling painting of a magnificent phoenix. It was a beautiful, partly sunny, cold December day, and as we walked from the museum to the temple, we passed many traditional houses where people were drying bright orange persimmons; the rather monotone landscape and the coldness of the day helped me imagine what Hokusai and Ōi’s experience of working in Obuse might have been like. 

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

JND: Who can choose just one thing! If I must, I’ll say the Poem Scroll with Deer by Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, the beauty and rhythm of the painting and calligraphy is stunning. I still remember seeing it in storage when I was a grad student, seeing it unroll and glisten under the light. It was gorgeous.

SAM: What is one fact or story related to your lecture topic that the public would be surprised to learn?

JND: Perhaps that it was rare for women to work as professional artists in early modern Japan. Ōi was one of the exceptional cases. Many women worked in the period, but most worked for their family businesses, in shops, or in other roles. Few women had the opportunity to pursue careers as painters, and those that did were typically able to do so only because their husbands or fathers were also painters. (This was also often the case for women in other parts of the world at the same time.) Ōi had the opportunity to learn to sketch and paint in her father’s studio when she was young, becoming quite proficient. She left Hokusai’s studio for a few years to marry another painter, but after their marriage ended, she returned to work alongside her father for the last twenty-two years of his life. 

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

JND: There isn’t one yet! But to learn more about Hokusai, I’d recommend reading Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave (British Museum, 2017) or, of course, seeing the exhibition at the Bowers Museum through January 7, 2024! I wrote a small book as an introduction, Picturing the Floating World: Ukiyo-e in Context (University of Hawai’i Press, 2021) for people curious about the Japanese prints, paintings, and illustrated books in the ukiyo-e genre that might also be of interest.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

JND: I hope that they have a wonderful experience seeing Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence at SAM.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of Julie Nelson Davis. Night Scene in the Yoshiwara, 1850, Katsushika Ōi, ink and paper drawing, Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo. Poem Scroll with Deer, 1610, Tawaraya Sōtatsu and Hon’ami Kōetsu, ink, gold and silver on paper, 13 7/16 × 366 3/16 in. (34.1 × 930.1 cm) Overall: 13 1/2 x 410 3/16 in. (34.3 x 1041.9 cm), Gift of Mrs. Donald E. Frederick, 51.127, photo: Seiji Shirono, National Institute for Cultural Properties, Tokyo.

The Multitudes of Museum Work: Emerging Arts Leader Aranya Kitnikone Reflects

“What do you want to be when you’re older?” Time and time again, I’ve asked myself this question.

From a young age, I developed an affinity towards the arts from my older sister, who was an artist. As my role model, they influenced my passion and professional interest for the arts. However, as a first-generation Asian American, I’ve often had to confront the stigma that comes with pursuing a career in the arts and humanities over a more ‘lucrative’ or stable field like medicine or business. In my own family, this sentiment proved especially true; it was considered a waste of time to study the arts. This mindset naturally impacted the decisions I made regarding my own future.

While I love making art and consider myself a passionate and creative person, the negative opinion of my family and colleagues pushed me away from pursuing a career arts. In entering college, I decided to pursue Human Resources and Education (the idea of working adjacent to art had never really crossed my mind). It was only when I discovered an internship in the Seattle Art Museum’s Human Resources department that my passion for creative work was reignited. It served as an opportunity to combine my desire to work in the arts with my desire to pursue a broader career that might be seen as more ‘stable’ to my family (and admittedly, myself).

At SAM, I was encouraged to connect with other creatives to find out what goes on behind the scenes at an arts institution. I was able to schedule one-on-one meetings with staff across different departments of the museum, connect with other interns, and learn more about what museum work really is. I was most excited to meet the people behind the execution of the galleries and to see exhibitions go from the planning stage to the presentation stage. I especially want to highlight my meeting with Jenni Beetem, a fellow Emerging Arts Leaders in conservation, in which I learned about the preservation of yak milk from the Mongol Empire and the fundamentals of art conservation.

Working alongside the Human Resources team was also an invaluable experience. Ellie Vazquez, SAM Human Resources Specialist and my program supervisor, helped me to better understand what equity looks like in a museum setting and how it is practiced throughout recruitment and hiring processes. Throughout my project work, I was able to observe the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices currently in place at SAM, and was tasked with co-editing our Equitable Hiring Guide and hosting a gallery tour of American Art: The Stories We Carry that highlighted the topics of HR and DEI. In that tour, I spoke of how DEI and collaboration have shaped gallery spaces at SAM and beyond, as well as the importance of reflecting the diversity of local communities within museum staff and projects.

In my role as an Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Human Resources, I created training videos and resources for SAM’s internal staff. Sitting in on staff meetings and having one-on-ones with my supervisor helped me gain a greater understanding of what I wanted my role in (or out of) HR to be. As I performed research on staff benefits—which, admittedly, wasn’t the most exciting aspect of my role—I enjoyed knowing that I could assist someone to understand their workplace better. So, while Human Resources did not start off as a passion, I did find joy in the principles, the learning opportunities, and especially the collaboration and connection fostered in this space. While my work may not have been directly involved in the operations of the public-facing museum space, the opportunity to connect with others behind the scenes will always be a highlight for me.

My time at SAM has been a transformative experience. I have met people from all different walks of life and have been fortunate enough to see the passion that goes into running this museum firsthand. When I first came to SAM, I held all sorts of preconceived notions on what it would be like to work in a museum. In my mind, a degree of privilege and higher education was needed to work in an institution such as this and I thought myself to be a terribly under qualified outsider. The Emerging Arts Leader program does an amazing job of combating these notions, allowing those from different walks of life to participate in, and contribute to, museum spaces. It has given me a greater understanding and respect for these institutions especially as SAM continues to grow and reflect the values of Seattle’s ever-evolving community. In leaving SAM, it’s clear that this institution is the product of a community-wide effort from the visitors, the volunteers, and the staff. Being here has allowed me to shift my idea of museums from being an institution of privilege to a space made for communities.

Finally, I would like to thank the specific individuals who helped me during my time here. I would like to thank my supervisor, Ellie, for all her support and guidance. I would like to thank the rest of our Human Resources team, Kathleen Maki and Andrew Young, and especially our internship coordinator, Sam Howes, for facilitating the internship process and creating a support system for us. I would also like to thank my fellow interns Elizabeth Xiong, Teagan Nathe, Jenni Beetem, Zak Sadak, Rebecca Wong, and Jo Cosme—this experience has been an unforgettable one especially because of the other amazing interns I have met during my time here. While I am now at the end of my time here as an intern, it in no way means the end of my relationship with SAM and its community.

– Aranya Kitnikone, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Human Resources

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad & Sam Howes.

A Monumental Gift Goes On View: Inside Calder: In Motion at SAM

“How can art be realized? Out of volumes, motion, spaces bounded by the great space, the universe.”

– Alexander Calder

This November, SAM begins a long-term commitment to Alexander Calder, the American artist celebrated for revolutionizing sculpture with his renowned mobiles and stabiles. Earlier this year, SAM announced the incredible gift of more than 45 seminal Calder artworks by longtime supporters Jon and Kim Shirley. Their magnificent collection—one of the most important private holdings of Calder’s art—is the result of 35 years of thoughtful collecting. 

Now on view at SAM, Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection thematically highlights pieces from every decade of Calder’s career, dating from the 1920s to the 1970s. The exhibition also includes examples of Calder’s works on paper and an oil painting, among other media, representing the expansiveness of his oeuvre. Sections devoted to his artistic experimentation, natural forces and dynamics, and the artist’s lasting contribution to modern art are also featured.

“As truly serious art must follow the greater laws, and not only appearances, I try to put all the elements in motion in my mobile sculptures. It is a matter of harmonizing these movements, thus arriving at a new possibility of beauty.”

– Alexander Calder

To accentuate the artist’s exploration of height, scale, and movement, the exhibition is installed in the museum’s double-height galleries—a unique space for large-scale works with several overlooks from the floor above. The exhibition design captures a sense of movement, with an S-shaped, curved wall that wraps around the iconic 22-foot-tall sculpture Red Curly Tail (1970) and divides the galleries into a series of vignettes illuminating the exhibition’s themes and highlighting the lyricism of Calder’s creations.

Elsewhere on view are the oil painting The Yellow Disc (1958), a medium that Calder engaged with throughout his career but is not nearly as well known as his sculpture; Untitled (Métaboles) (1969), a mobile the artist created as part of a stage set for a ballet; and Fish (1942). The latter, a significant work from a rare series of mobiles created during and after World War II when metal was scarce, is made of wire framing and found materials.

The central gallery traces Calder’s career, highlighting his achievements across the miniature and the monumental. The expansive Toile d’araignée (1965), an airy, monochromatic mobile hovers over several artworks, including the masterful standing mobile Bougainvillier (1947).

“That others grasp what I have in mind seems unessential, at least as long as they have something else in theirs.”

– Alexander Calder

The final gallery considers the artist’s legacy, with works that demonstrate Calder’s accomplishments throughout his most productive decades and his impact on the evolution of modern art. It includes Untitled (1936), Little Yellow Panel (ca. 1936), Jonah and the Whale (ca. 1940), Untitled (ca. 1942), Constellation with Red Knife (1943), Yellow Stalk with Stone (1953), and Squarish (1970). This gallery also serves as a bridge into the museum’s modern and contemporary galleries.

The Shirley family’s generous gift will also inspire public programs exploring Calder’s artistic practice. Events are planned for both the Seattle Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park and will include talks, tours, performances, art-making workshops, and a family-friendly festival—stay tuned for more details!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

This article first appeared in the October 2023 through January 2024 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks!

Image: Bougainvillier, 1947, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, sheet metal, rod, wire, lead, and paint, 78 x 82 x 54 in., Promised gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Nicholas Shirley.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Joe Max Emminger

In the Studio highlights the private workspaces of local artists represented by SAM Gallery. For fifty years, SAM Gallery has supported artists from across the Pacific Northwest and provided private and corporate clients with a wide range of services, from purchasing their first work of art to building extensive collections. To browse a featured artist’s entire catalogue of artwork available for rent or purchase, visit SAM Gallery on the lower level of the Seattle Art Museum.

You can find artist Joe Max Emminger painting in his studio in Magnuson Park every day. His studio is located in Building 30 in the park’s campus. This building lives a new life as SPACE (Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange), after its construction in the 1930s for the Navy administration. The commander of the base once visited Emminger, who now paints in his previous office.  

Sunlight enters the studio through large windows, shining onto Emminger’s wall where he has mixed, tested, and blended paint for the last seven to eight years. He considers the wall a big palette, where he can mix paint while he’s working on paintings that are attached to the wall. He works close to the paintings, believing that “creating things is a messy business, it leaves the debris of creation behind.” The large painted wall contains hundreds of patches of bright colors in splotches, circles, shapes, and drips. It serves as a beautiful archive of Emminger’s artworks and process. 

Emminger’s artworks are based on things he sees, things he cares about, and stories in his head. Each painting has a story with characters that show up. He puts the characters into paintings, then creates new characters to add in and expand the story he wants to tell. He “starts throwing some color at the work, adds it, and adds more until it makes some sense.” He says his process is like moving furniture, a continuous cycle of balancing colors to bring something new to life. Many of his artworks include recurring characters, cats, birds, butterflies, and familiar sites from around Seattle such as Pike Place Market or Gasworks Park.

View Joe Max Emminger’s available artworks at SAM Gallery on the featured sliding wall, in the 50th Anniversary Show at SAM Gallery this November, or online. Stay updated on all that’s happening at SAM Gallery by following us Instagram at @SAMGallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Dr. Saloni Mathur on the Life and Legacy of Amrita Sher-Gil

SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. This month, Dr. Saloni Mathur, Professor and Chair of the Department of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles, will offer a discussion on the paintings of revolutionary 20th-century South Asian artist Amrita Sher-Gil on Saturday, November 11. In advance of her talk, SAM spoke with Mathur about her reaction to seeing Amrita Sher-Gil’s Self-Portrait as Tahitian for the first time, its similarities with Native contemporary artist Wendy Red Star’s Four Seasons series, and more.


SAM: What can the public expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture? What initially drew you to this topic?

SALONI MATHUR: I will be speaking about Amrita Sher-Gil (1913–1941), the part-Indian, part-Hungarian painter who stands at the cosmopolitan helm of modern Indian art. She was the first Indian to receive artistic training in Paris, attending the École des Beaux-Arts from 1929 to 1932. The biracial, bicultural, and bisexual artist was described recently by Time Magazine as “shockingly modern.” My talk will focus on her extraordinary painting, Self-Portrait as Tahitian (1934), in which she was supposedly responding to Gauguin’s stylization of the female nude.

I remember experiencing a sense of vertigo after first encountering this painting in response to the dizzying set of questions it raised. What were the conditions that made possible such an account of Gauguin by a non-western woman in 1934? What precisely was meant by Sher-Gil’s self-conscious placement into the body of a Tahitian nude? And how could art history have missed this painting, so deliberately a citation of art historical precedent? 

SAM: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture experience that you could share with us?

SM: Self-Portrait as Tahitian was housed with her descendants in a private collection for a long time. I traveled to Europe to study the painting on two occasions when it was displayed as part of larger exhibitions. The first time was for the exhibition Companionable Silences curated by Shanay Jhaveri in Paris, France in 2013, and the second was for Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany in 2017.

SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you? Why?

SM: I’ve always been a fan of contemporary Native American artist Wendy Red Star’s Four Seasons (2006) print series in SAM’s collection. Here, Red Star parodies and undercuts exotic stereotypes of the Indigenous woman by repeatedly stepping into the photographic frame herself. The way she challenges the conventions of looking with her own physical presence resonates a great deal with Amrita Sher-Gil’s own gesture of subversion in Self-Portrait as Tahitian, painted some ninety years ago. In both cases, the young non-white, female artist rejects the terms of her own objectification, and steps into the canvas or photographic frame to assume a new command of their situation.

SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your lecture?

SM: The Delhi-based contemporary artist, Vivan Sundaram (1943–2023), a major figure in Indian art who sadly passed away earlier this year, was also the nephew of Amrita Sher-Gil. A significant corpus of his work dealt with the legacy of his famous aunt. His Re-take of Amrita series of black and white digital photomontages based on archival photographs from the family archive are especially powerful. Using digital technologies, Sundaram reconfigures these photographs in highly creative ways, and recasts the family in new roles, retelling his family history.

SAM: What’s one book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?

SM: Amrita Sher-Gil: An Indian Artist Family of the Twentieth Century. Schirmer/Mosel, 2007. This catalogue—created as part of an exhibition previously held at the Tate Modern in London—includes many of Sher-Gil’s paintings alongside Sundaram’s Re-takes series.

– Simon Tran, SAM Manager of Public Engagement

Photos: Courtesy of Saloni Mathur. Self-Portrait as Tahitian, 1934, Amrita Sher-Gil. Oil on canvas. Four Seasons series: Indian Summer, 2006, printed 2016, Wendy Red Star, Archival pigment print on Sunset Fiber rag, Sheet: 23 × 26 in. (58.4 × 66 cm), Image: 21 x 24 in., Gift of Loren G. Lipson, M.D., 2016.13.4. Bourgeois Family: Mirror Frieze, Vivan Sundaram, digital photomontage of archival print, from the Re-take of Amrita series, 2001–02.

Artist Fulgencio Lazo’s Tapete Commemorates Migrant Children

Every year, artist Fulgencio Lazo designs a tapete for SAM in celebration of El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). José Carlos Diaz, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art, explores the theme of this year’s tapete and finds connections to an artwork on view in American Art: The Stories We Carry. The tapete is on view in SAM’s Brotman Forum, free and open to the public, through Sunday, November 5.

For SAM’s 29th annual celebration of Día de los Muertos, Seattle-based Oaxacan artist Fulgencio Lazo returns to commemorate innocent youth displaced or lost through extreme circumstances and violence. Acclaimed for his works on paper and paintings, here Lazo expands his visual narratives, often representing fact with folklore, through a short-term sculptural installation and a traditional Oaxacan-style tapete, a colorful “rug” made with sand, pigments, and mixed media.

Lazo dedicates this year’s installation to “the growing number of migrant children who have died as they have embarked on dangerous journeys from their homelands.” He adds, “Thousands of young people have increasingly risked their lives fleeing violence, war, climate change, and extreme poverty.”

On the third floor, visitors can view Diego Rivera’s Sleep (1932), which depicts huddled individuals sleeping, their children, also fatigued, collapsed against them. In a collective moment of peaceful repose, they are temporarily free from the difficulties of daily survival for immigrants. Part of the museum’s founding collection, Rivera’s print thematically links across the decades to Lazo’s installation.

While Rivera depicts unharmed Latin American bodies, including children, Lazo conceptualizes their demise. He notes, “We will honor and remember these young lives, cut short in their quests for brighter futures.” The installation’s central sculpture depicts stylized skeletons, representing deceased children and reflecting the increasing global statistics of lives lost. These mourned figures are accompanied by elements traditionally associated with childhood: toys, bicycles, and sweets.

– José Carlos Diaz, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art

Images: Photo by Chloe Collyer. Sleep, 1932, Diego Rivera, Mexican, 1886-1957, lithograph, matted: 20″ x 24″, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 44.619. 

Introducing TAG Talks: A Space for SAM Teens to Express Themselves and Their Love of Art

Teens always have a place at the Seattle Art Museum! Whether it’s enjoying the galleries over spring break, or offering their incredible talents through a variety of artistic programs, the voices of young people have helped to shape the museum in countless ways. SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) is just one example of the critical role teens play at SAM.

TAG is an intensive internship program for high school-aged youth who are eager to learn about themselves and the world through art, and want to make SAM an engaging place for teens. This cohort of young minds meets weekly from October through May to plan teen-friendly museum events and programs, discuss professional development in the arts, and connect around their shared appreciation for SAM’s vast collection. Additionally, and perhaps most notably, TAG members plan every aspect of Teen Night Out, SAM’s annual celebration where teens take over the museum.

TAG offers an environment for current high school-aged youth to safely challenge themselves and others, try something new, and accept failure as an opportunity for growth. TAG Talks, the newest SAM Blog series, is a space for these leaders to reflect on their adventures in the year ahead, offering first-hand accounts of the ways they are stewarding SAM’s mission of connecting art to life. 

TAG leaders outline their community agreements at the second meeting of the 2023–2024 school year.

Among its many incredible objectives, one particularly exciting aspect of TAG is the cohort’s undertaking of a yearlong project that demonstrates the skills they’ve learned throughout their time at SAM. In 2023, members worked fiercely to complete two concurrent projects: an illustrated TAG zine highlighting Seattle’s sights and scenes that any teen can enjoy, and a multimedia exhibition, Home Is Where the Heart Is, featuring the artwork of teens from across the region. This year, TAG will be working hard to develop engaging content that SAM visitors will enjoy for years to come. This top secret project will make its public debut on Friday, May 3, 2024 at Teen Night Out, so stay tuned for this exciting reveal.

SAM Teen Programs Intern Mori Peña sits beside artist Dawoud Bey as he speaks with TAG leaders in November 2022.

As a former TAG member and current SAM Teen Programs Intern, Mori Peña is no stranger to the inner workings of the program. Mori is excited to be working alongside this year’s cohort and is especially looking forward to watching the group’s plotting and masterminding unfold. This year’s top secret yearlong project is one that SAM staff have been entertaining for the last few years and for Mori, it’s thrilling to see the pieces finally fall into place. Alongside eagerly returning members, the 2023–2024 cohort is filled with many new faces—we can’t wait to see what new ideas and perspectives they all bring to TAG! 

SAM Educator for Youth Programs Cristina Cano-Calhoun in conversation with TAG leaders at their second meeting of the 2023–2024 school year.

Over the 2023–2024 school year, we’ll be sharing original content created by TAG members here on SAM Blog under the series title TAG Talks. As a teaser for what’s to come, you can look forward to a behind-the-scenes look at the installation of an upcoming SAM exhibition, TAG members discussing objects on view in our permanent galleries, and reflections from a hands-on workshop with a teaching artist. As we kick off another session of TAG this month, you can also expect a more active and ever-expanding presence on our Instagram. So, follow us at @samteens and stay tuned for the next installment of TAG Talks!

– Cristina Cano-Calhoun, SAM Educator for Youth Programs & Mori Peña, SAM Teen Programs Intern

Photos: Chloe Collyer & Alborz Kamalizad.

Meet the 2023 Betty Bowen Award Winner: Tariqa Waters

The Seattle Art Museum and the Betty Bowen Committee are proud to announce Seattle artist Tariqa Waters as the winner of the 2023 Betty Bowen Award! The juried award comes with an unrestricted cash award of $15,000 and a solo exhibition at SAM. This year’s committee included Gary Glant (Chair), Mike Hess, Mark Levine, Sangram Majumdar, Catharina Manchanda, Llewelyn Pritchard, Greg Robinson, Norie Sato, Anthony White, and Merrill Wright.

Tariqa Waters’s innovative practice encompasses mixed-media tableaus, paintings, photographs, film, and immersive installations that push the aesthetics of commercial advertising into surreal, otherworldly territory. It is at the juncture with product advertising that Waters interrogates the importance of styling and beauty, especially its significance for Black women. Her work will be featured at the Seattle Art Museum in a solo exhibition in 2025, with dates to be announced.

Solo exhibitions of Waters’s work have been shown in Seattle at the Hedreen Gallery, the Northwest African American Museum, and the Museum of Museums (MoM). She has been awarded multiple prizes and grants, including the Conductive Garboil Grant, the Artist Trust Fellowship Award, the Neddy Artist Award, and the Artist Trust Arts Innovator Award. Waters is a two-time finalist for the Betty Bowen Award, winning the Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award in 2020 and the Gary Glant Special Recognition Award in 2021. She was named one of Seattle’s Most Influential People in 2023 by Seattle Magazine.

Samantha Wall won the Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award and Mary Ann Peters won the Gary Glant Special Recognition Award, in the amount of $2,500 each. Finalists Derek Franklin, Lisa Liedgren Alexandersson, and Ido (Lisa) Radon will each receive Special Commendation Awards in the amount of $1,250, awarded annually since 2020. The six finalists were chosen from a pool of 414 applicants from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho to compete for the $23,750 in awards.

Founded in 1977 to continue the legacy of local arts advocate and supporter Betty Bowen, the annual award honors a Northwest artist for their original, exceptional, and compelling work. Betty Bowen (1918–1977) was a Washington native and enthusiastic supporter of Northwest artists. Her friends established the annual Betty Bowen Award as a celebration of her life and to honor and continue her efforts to provide financial support to the artists of the region. Since 1977, SAM has hosted the yearly grant application process by which the selection committee chooses one artist from the Northwest to receive an unrestricted cash award, eligible to visual artists living and working in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

“This award serves as a testament to the countless hours, sleepless nights, and relentless dedication that I have poured into my craft,” says Waters. “It is a validation of the risks I have taken, the boundaries I have pushed, and the artistic growth I have experienced along the way. As an artist, it is not always easy to navigate the complexities of the creative process, but this recognition affirms that my work has resonated with others and has made a meaningful impact.”

The 2022 winner was Portland artist Elizabeth Malaska. Her solo exhibition, All Be Your Mirror, debuts at the Seattle Art Museum November 17, 2023–June 16, 2024. Learn more about Waters and all of the 2023 Betty Bowen finalists here.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Images: Tariqa Waters by Alex Cayley. Samantha Wall by Stephen Slappe. Mary Ann Peters by Amanda Smart.

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