Visions of a Coming City: William Whitaker on Louis Kahn’s Legacy in South Asia

Despite achieving a legacy as one of the 20th century’s preeminent figures in architecture, many remain unaware of Louis Kahn’s substantial achievements across South Asia and their embodiment of his deeply held modernist artistic ideals.

On Saturday, June 10, SAM’s Saturday University Lecture Series will host curator and archivist William Whitaker for a discussion on Kahn’s many travels to South Asia accompanied by rare images and documents from the Kahn Archive at the University of Pennsylvania. In advance of his talk, SAM Manager of Public Engagement Haley Ha spoke with Whitaker to understand what made Kahn’s architectural vision in South Asia so noteworthy.


Haley Ha: You were trained as an architect and currently serve as a curator of the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. Can you tell us about your role and explain a day in your life as an archivist?

William Whitaker: I see myself, in part, as a teacher who uses collections to educate young architects and landscape architects about thinking and developing their ideas through design. Looking at the drawings of an architect like Louis Kahn can reveal much about their individual talent and way of working, but also about their collaborations with others in the drafting room, on the job site, or in conversation with their clients. The big idea is that thinking through drawings helps you to understand what is good, what is really good, and most importantly, the difference between the two. I meet with high school and college students to talk about and think through topics such as “taking notes on site.” We do this over a large table packed with archival collections: artist sketchbooks are always a favorite, but photography and other techniques also inform and reshape the understanding of place—and these techniques are not always visual! Archives provide an essential tool for understanding why things are the way they are, so incorporating the archive into public exhibitions and tours to a broader public is important to me and the work that I do.

HH: How did you first encounter Kahn’s work? What about it caught your interest?

WW: You can learn a lot from Louis Kahn. His way of working was a struggle that remains visible in his writings and lectures, as well as in the histories of the clients and staff who worked closely with him. His work was also consequential in reinvigorating architecture and its connection to history, place, and the craft of building. He brings a wonderful sense of the human element into his architecture with the expectation that places have the potential to profoundly impact the people who use them.

As an architecture student in the late 1980s, Kahn’s work was often discussed so I knew there was something to learn by looking at his work and understanding his collaborations with engineers, landscape architects, and clients. The first building I ever saw that he designed was the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California (1959–67). A friend and I drove through the night from Albuquerque, New Mexico to see the building and it was a life changing experience. Working toward my Master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania opened up the possibility of working in the Architectural Archives where Kahn’s papers and drawings are kept. I’ve been there 30 years now and continue to learn from his work on a daily basis.

HH: This month’s Saturday University lecture presents a rare opportunity to engage deeply with Kahn’s work in South Asia. Can you tell us about his time in Asia and the lasting impact it left on him and his legacy?

WW: Between 1947 and his death in 1974, Kahn traveled extensively across the continent where he worked as an architect across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Nepal, and Israel. Meanwhile, back at the University of Pennsylvania,  his “master’s studio” was comprised of 68 students from Thailand, India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. In Japan, at the Katsura Imperial Villa, Kahn experienced the deep interrelationship between a building and its landscape, including the magnificent ways the elements of nature—from light to wind and sound—are modulated to inform or shape the human experience.

HH: Kahn, unlike many of the Western architects working in Asia at the time, engaged deeply with the social and political fabric of the cities he worked in and considered their existing architecture, histories, and cultures when drafting his designs. How will these concepts be explored in your Saturday University lecture?

WW: There are distinctions to be made between buildings that serve and support a civic purpose and those conceived of as drivers of economic development. Kahn saw his work as supporting “institutions” important to the development of individuals and their ability to realize their own worth—places to learn, places to assemble, or places that honored human endeavor. It was Kahn’s search for a deeper purpose in architecture that continues to be relevant to this day and serves as the foundation of my lecture.

HH: While Kahn belonged to no particular faith, he was drawn to religious sites and left behind many sketches of ancient temples, churches, and mosques. How do you see the notion of spirituality or the “sacred” manifest in Kahn’s work?

WW: I think you can see it in his appreciation of the everyday. Kahn has an amazing eye for such moments and this is made clear in his notion that, “A city should be a place where a little boy walking through its streets can sense what he someday would like to be.” I would point to the study carrels in his library at Phillips Exeter Academy, the candle niches of the Hurva Synagogue, or the monumental steps at the Four Freedoms Park as expressions of how an individual becomes aware that they are part of something much larger than themselves.

HH: Visitors to Kahn’s works have been quoted as having something close to a ‘spiritual experience’ while occupying his spaces. Can you explain what Kahn meant when he said that the “building is a living thing” and how this may explain visitors’ experiences at his sites? 

WW: Kahn based the conception of a building on human desire and providing a platform to support the impulse to express. As such, his buildings are an expression of human experiences and feelings. Here, Kahn is thinking in non-technological, non-practical, and non-physical terms–in his words this is “silence.” Those human impulses are then brought to “light” through all the circumstantial aspects of building–this is the brick and mortar, budget and code, and client and user part. For Kahn, the success of a building—what he thought of as “an offering to architecture”—was to be found in the structure’s ability to evoke an essential aspect of humanity. That he spoke to a brick is a well-known detail of Kahn’s persona (“You say to brick: ‘What do you want brick?’ To which brick replies, ‘I like an arch.’”). Behind that dialogue is an acknowledgment of human ingenuity, living traditions, working with materials, and more.

HH: Lastly, if you had to choose, which of Kahn’s sites would you recommend visiting to those who travel to South Asia?

WW: This is a difficult question to answer—it’s like asking someone who their favorite child is! It is also difficult because for various reasons, Kahn’s works are difficult for the public to access. If one can manage to access the Capital Complex in Dhaka, I’d put that at the top of any list. But I would also say that there are places where Kahn ventured–the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, the “pols” of old Ahmedabad, the Stepwell at Adalaj, or seeing the landscape of Dhaka along the Buriganga River—that can shed light on his thinking. All are well well-worth a visit.


Hear more about Louis Kahn’s travels to South Asia from William Whitaker, Curator and Collections Manager at the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design, on Saturday, June 10 at 10 am at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in the final lecture of the 2022–2023 Saturday University Lecture Series. Tickets are still available—get yours now!

– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum

Images: Dhaka, Bangladesh, © by Jatiyo Sangshad Bhaban, Creative Commons. William Whitaker, photo: Barrett Doherty. Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, Louis Kahn, 1959–1965, photo: John Nicolais, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania. Louis Kahn in His Office in Philadelphia, 1970, photo: Joan Ruggles, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania. Dhaka Complex, Bangladesh by Louis Kahn (1962–83), photo: Nurer Rahman Khan.

Supporting the Arts: SAM Trustees Called to Serve the White House

A museum board does many things: provide oversight and support for the institution’s financial and operational health, offer guidance and insights based on their professional expertise, and represent the museum within the community and the broader world. SAM’s board trustees are an impressive bunch, serving as leaders across many fields including the arts, education, technology, and the law, but they are also community service allstars, giving their time and resources to support SAM’s mission to connect art to life.

It’s really exciting, then, when our board members are recognized in their respective fields or tapped for their leadership. Recently, two significant appointments to Presidential Committees were announced by the White House. President Biden announced the appointees to his Committee on the Arts and the Humanities; on the star-studded list that includes Lady Gaga, George Clooney, and Shonda Rhimes is Kimberly Richter Shirley, a SAM trustee since 2011. The news was announced around the world, including by the New York Times and the Hollywood Reporter.  

Per the White House, this committee “advises the President and the heads of U.S. cultural agencies on policy, philanthropic and private sector engagement, and other efforts to enhance federal support for the arts, humanities, and museum and library services. The PCAH will also engage the nation’s artists, humanities scholars, and cultural heritage practitioners to promote excellence in the arts, humanities, and museum and library services and demonstrate their relevance to the country’s health, economy, equity, and civic life.”

“Being invited to serve on this committee is a tremendous honor, as it recognizes the vital role that creativity and culture play in shaping our society and advancing the human experience,” said Richter Shirley. “I am very grateful and humbled to have been asked.”

Richter Shirley is a retired attorney who serves on several boards and is an active supporter of arts, education, and human services organizations. On SAM’s board, she serves on the Audit, Equity, and Finance Committees. Along with her husband Jon, she also recently made an extraordinary gift to the Seattle Art Museum of 48 works by iconic American sculptor Alexander Calder, along with a $10 million endowment and other financial support to establish SAM as a center for Calder-related exhibitions and research. Congratulations, Kim, on this exciting appointment (and say hi to the rest of the committee for us)!

Also just announced were the appointments to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, which included SAM trustee John E. Frank. The White House notes that this committee “is charged with establishing policies relating to the museum function of the White House, its state rooms, and collections. It also works to make recommendations on acquisitions for the permanent collection of the White House and provides advice on changes to principal rooms on the ground floor, state floor, and the historic guest suites on the residence floor of the White House Executive Residence.” This is Frank’s second time serving on the committee, he last served from 2016–2018. 

Frank is the Senior Vice President and Chief Public Affairs Officer of Illumina, Inc. He is also a collector of French decorative arts and an art history hobbyist. In fact, he recently sourced a chair from the original suite of furniture made by Pierre-Antoine Bellangé and purchased by President Monroe in 1817 to refurnish the White House after it was burned down in 1814. Frank purchased the chair in coordination with White House curators and donated it to the collection. The Bellange suite of furniture is now in the Blue Room of the White House. Here’s a fascinating video from the White House Historical Association on the restoration of the Bellangé suite

The White House is a very special place for our nation,” says Frank. “I am looking forward to how we evolve the White House collection so that every American who walks through the building can see and feel a personal connection to our shared history.”

Frank has served on SAM’s board since 2008, including tenures as Vice President (2010–2013) and Board Chair (2013–2015). He currently serves on the Collections committee, advising on new works to SAM’s collection, a role that aligns with this appointment very well. Thank you for helping keep the People’s House beautiful, John!

Congratulations and thank you again to Kim Richter Shirley and John E. Frank for your service to SAM and the nation.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photos: Photo of Kim Richter Shirley by Spike Mafford, Zocalo Studios, LLC. Photo of John E. Frank courtesy John E. Frank.

Remembering Alfredo Arreguín

“Art is life. It is a vessel that allows me to express my perception of the world, my sense of beauty and my social concerns–which, I believe, are shared by many other persons around the world.”

– Alfredo Arreguín, in an interview with Artophilia

Everyone at the Seattle Art Museum was very saddened to learn of the recent passing of beloved Seattle painter Alfredo Arreguín at the age of 88. Acclaimed for his lavish, intricately patterned, and highly symbolic canvases, he was one of the Pacific Northwest’s most prominent Chicano artists. Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Alfredo when the museum purchased his artwork, Four Self-Portraits (1995) for the collection. We were in the midst of checklist development for our major project to reimagine the museum’s American art galleries and were struck by the underrepresentation of Mexican American artists in the museum’s collection—particularly given the breadth of this community in our region. Jake Prendez, owner and co-director of Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery, a member of our Advisory Circle for American Art: The Stories We Carry, and a wonderful resource on Seattle’s Chicanx community and its artists, invited me to his gallery to view Alfredo’s work. I was hooked. One visit to the artist’s studio later, and we were on our way to acquiring the first of his paintings to enter SAM’s collection.

Alfredo was born in Morelia, Michoacán in 1935, and was encouraged by his grandparents (who raised him) to begin painting at a young age. When he was nine, he enrolled in the Morelia School of Fine Art, eventually moving on to the prestigious Escuela Nacional Preparatoria at the University of Mexico, from which he graduated in 1956. That same year, encouraged by a local family, he came to Seattle and obtained a permanent visa so that he could attend Edison Tech (now Seattle Central College) to study English, earn his US high school diploma, and enroll at the University of Washington to study architecture. When a condition of his visa made him eligible for the draft, he entered the army and was stationed in Korea and Japan. Upon his discharge in 1960, he returned to architectural studies, eventually transitioning to interior design and, finally, the School of Art. While there, he studied alongside celebrated artists Alden Mason, Michael Spafford, and, for a time, Elmer Bischoff. After receiving his MFA in 1969, he settled permanently in Seattle, becoming a force among artists and an integral member of the local Chicanx community.

Alfredo is celebrated for his astonishing signature style: exuberant, mosaic-inflected, all-over compositions comprised of motifs derived from the rainforests and Indigenous cultures of Mexico, the compositions of Hokusai and Hiroshige, and the nature and topography of the Pacific Northwest. His work is closely aligned with American Pattern Painting of the 1970s, yet it is also deeply personal and symbolic. A series of paintings of historical figures Emiliano Zapata and Frida Kahlo, for example, pay homage to activists whose interests resonate with his own, while a body of landscape paintings encode the flora, fauna, and natural beauty that inspire him. For him, painting was a form of therapy, a flow activity to which he returned every day.

Arreguín’s singular—even autobiographical—approach is nowhere more evident than in his large number of self-portraits, of which Four Self-Portraits is perhaps the most extreme and challenging example. A tapestry of tropical flowers, birds, leaves, arabesques, and ancient symbols interlace to camouflage four distinct portraits of Arreguín: two at the top and two more, mirrored, at the bottom—literally merging the artist with the places and cultures of his ancestry. Remembering Alfredo, I find myself seeing this engrossing painting afresh, grateful that SAM now shares in the legacy of this distinguished artist. Its acquisition will shape our collection strategy for years to come, as we amplify our efforts to bring in artworks—both historical and contemporary—by Chicanx and Latinx artists.

– Theresa Papanickolas, SAM Ann M. Barwick Curator of American Art

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad. Four Self-Portraits, 1995, Alfredo Arreguin, Oil on canvas, Painting: 49 3/8 x 42 3/8 in. (125.4 x 107.6 cm) Frame: 55 x 43 in. (139.7 x 109.2 cm), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, 2022.13 (c) Alfredo Arreguin.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Kalina Wińska

Brightly colored artworks draw in and engage visitors in Kalina Wińska’s art studios. She works in a sunny room in the Equinox Building in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood and focuses on larger installation projects in a studio in Capitol Hill. In each of these spaces, Kalina’s colorful artworks create imagined worlds that explore our rapidly changing climate.

Kalina begins by pouring brightly colored media and water on yupo paper on the floor of her studio. The free-flowing quality is essential, as the media dries naturally, leaving beautiful patterns. Kalina covers areas with blocks of flat color in gouache, creating a juxtaposition of organic forms and hard edges. Kalina then begins a labor intensive and time-consuming process of layering small handmade marks. Through this meditative process, the marks accumulate to create larger shapes that resemble clouds or imagined landforms.

In creating these imagined worlds, Wińska explores how climate change is impacting our weather and adding unpredictability. She works to make this invisible concept visible for viewers, through her swirls of color and obsessive layering of marks. The tiny marks began as concentric circles of targets and have evolved into the repeated chemical symbols for the greenhouse gases methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The symbols are repeated thousands of times within a single work, creating larger shapes that resemble clouds, toxicity, or pollution. Each work unfolds into something unpredictable, as Wińska allows the materials to speak for themselves and develop their own layers of meaning.

See artworks by Kalina Wińska in person or online at SAM Gallery. Her work will also be on view at Meta Open Arts and the San Juan Islands Museum of Art later this summer. Learn more about SAM Gallery on Instagram by following gallery manager Erik Bennion at @atSAMGallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Shopping for Ikats: A Look at SAM’s Exhibition Shop

The decision to reopen the Seattle Art Museum’s Exhibition Shop on the museum’s fourth floor after a three-year closure wasn’t an easy one to make. Knowing that Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth was heading to SAM, however, SAM Shop Buyer Renata Tatman and SAM Associate Director for Retail Operations Lindsey Dabek agreed that it was time to bring back this specially curated shopping experience and got right to work.

“We knew that the reopening of the Exhibition Shop had to be irresistible,” said Tatman. “We’re not always able to find products that have a direct relationship to an exhibition, but Ikat was different. There’s an abundance of artisans and textile artists from all over the world that we knew we could reach out to and carry their creations in the shop.”

In the shop, visitors will find textile-themed books, notecards, postcards, and magnets, but the space’s emphasis is unsurprisingly on handwoven textiles. With beautiful cloths from Uzbekistan, Japan, Bali, Borneo, Guatemala, Cambodia, Thailand, and India covering nearly every surface of the space, the shop offers museum visitors an opportunity to touch, connect with, and take home a work of art in a way that’s forbidden in the galleries. 

Staying true to the themes explored in the exhibition, the products available in the shop—everything from kitchen towels and scarves to vintage kimonos and jewelry with textile elements—are woven by hand; fabrics factory-printed with ikat patterns are nowhere in sight.

Tatman also worked closely with six local artisans and designers to create special products for the store, including one-of-a-kind jackets made with ikats imported from Uzbekistan by Judith Bird, bucket hats featuring ikats from Bali by Amy Downs, a jewelry collection by Marita Dingus that incorporates small scraps of ikat textiles stitched in layers, and bundles of plant-dyed thread and linen by Kata Golda for anyone feeling inspired to create their own textiles after seeing the exhibition.

“Our customers love color, so I looked for handwoven products with striking color combinations,” said Tatman while reflecting on how she decided what textiles were worth featuring in the Exhibition Shop. “I looked for items with good workmanship, value, and intricate designs. Anyone who visits the shop after exploring the galleries will find something that catches their eye.”

The Exhibition Shop is located on the fourth floor of the Seattle Art Museum adjacent to the galleries. It is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm and is only accessible with museum admission. Browse SAM’s entire collection of handmade gifts, books, puzzles, housewares, jewelry, textiles, and more online or on the museum’s ground floor that is accessible via First Ave and open to all. Get your tickets to see Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth and explore the Exhibition Shop through Monday, May 29!

– Lily Hansen, Marketing Content Creator

Photos: Chloe Collyer

Perspectives on American Art: Inye Wokoma on Beauty, Critique, and Personal Revelations

As part of the collaborative process to reimagine its American art galleries, SAM invited Inye Wokoma—artist, filmmaker, journalist, and co-founder of Wa Na Wari in Seattle—to curate Reimagining Regionalism, a gallery that offers a distinctive new interpretation of works from SAM’s collection. Here, he shares about his experience. 

A good friend recently asked about my relationship to SAM prior to embarking on my curation project for American Art: The Stories We Carry. The question took me back to my childhood; some of my earliest memories are of going to the original Volunteer Park location to see vintage cinema with my mother and sister. For years I was infatuated with one film I saw there, Alexander Mackendrick’s The Man in the White Suit (1951). The final scene is of “the man” running through the streets at night in his luminous “indestructible” suit, pursued by an angry mob of textile workers and factory bosses inflamed by industry captains. His incredible fibers begin to disintegrate in the fracas, and the anger of his pursuers evaporates in the face of his near nakedness. It was an early experience with art that critiqued capitalist oligarchs and complicit proletariats. At seven years old, I was too young to understand its clearly Marxist undertones, but my young imagination was captured by the image of the man, glowing, urgent, and gliding through the dark streets of an English city.

Still from The Man in the White Suit (1951). Courtesy of STUDIOCANAL.

Subconsciously, memories of this film intertwined with my feelings about SAM, regarding it as an institution where provocative art can find a home. And it informed my curatorial approach, which was inspired by its rich interplay of aesthetic beauty, political satire, social commentary, and economic critique.

Inye Wokoma with SAM curators Theresa Papanikolas and Barbara Brotherton in the galleries of American Art: The Stories We Carry at SAM. Photo: Chloe Collyer.

Art helps us acknowledge that no gaze is neutral. My personal and creative lens is shaped by being a Black American man and more specifically a man of dual heritage via my father’s Nigerian origins. Approaching this project, my perception was shaped by the previous galleries’ predominant themes: classical landscapes, portraits of the powerful, fetishized representations of Indigenous people, and objects of conquest. I was called to confront the roles my ancestors played in the histories these works depict without a sense that the curation was a two-way conversation between these realities. With this gallery, I wanted to upend that dynamic while avoiding a flattened protestation of America’s racial and colonial history. I wanted to be able to relay stories through my curation that included these historical truths, but were also personal and therefore infinitely accessible. Hopefully.

– Inye Wokoma, Guest Curator of American Art: The Stories We Carry

A version of this article first appeared in the February through May 2023 edition of SAM Magazine and has since 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!

Photo: James Harnois.

A Cherished Gift: 48 Artworks by Alexander Calder Are Coming to SAM

Today, we have a major announcement: Thanks to the generosity of Jon and Kim Shirley, one of the most important private collections of Alexander Calder’s artworks will make its way to SAM. The gift of the Shirley Family Calder Collection includes 48 of the artist’s works and is supported by a $10 million endowment and an annual financial commitment to support Calder-related exhibitions and research.

“Calder is an artist whose work is seemingly ubiquitous,” said Amada Cruz, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO of the Seattle Art Museum. “In truth, we’ve lost sight of the enormous artistic innovations that he was responsible for—from pioneering wire sculpture to inventing the mobile—and the tremendous impact he has had on artists of the 20th and 21st century. The extraordinary generosity of Jon and Kim Shirley allows us to explore the many facets of this creative genius.”

The Shirleys’ gift will be the centerpiece of an ongoing series of annual exhibitions and programs. Beginning this November, SAM will present an inaugural exhibition featuring all 48 works from the collection, offering an extensive look into the artist’s work, practice, and life. Following this inaugural show, a group exhibition planned for 2024 will emphasize his impact and legacy in global contemporary art.

“I first fell in love with Calder as a young man, creating a passion that has only grown with time,” said Jon Shirley. “From the moment I bought my first work 35 years ago, I treasured the experience of living with Calder and from that point built my collection very intentionally. I visited the seminal Calder exhibition at the National Gallery in 1998 and soon thereafter decided to build a truly museum-worthy collection of his work. Kim and I are so happy to have found a permanent home for our collection at the Seattle Art Museum.”

Learn more about this generous gift from the Shirley family in The Seattle Times and ARTnews.

Images: Red Curly Tail, 1970, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, painted steel and stainless steel, 192 x 275 x 144 in., Promised gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Nicholas Shirley. Bougainvillier, 1947, Alexander Calder, 1898-1976, sheet metal, rod, wire, lead, and paint, 78 1/2 x 86 in., Promised gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, © 2023 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Nicholas Shirley.

Woven With Purpose: The Story of “Ikat” at SAM

IKAT, not IKEA, is now on view at the Seattle Art Museum. The surprising similarity in appearance of these two words came up a few months ago when fonts for the exhibition’s marketing campaign creative were reviewed. But how different they actually are is why it’s worth seeing this exhibition.

Walking through IKEA is the ultimate contemporary shopping experience. It provides everything you need for an entire home to be outfitted—except the clothes—and it is all made by machines in a swift industrial manufacturing practice that strives to be as affordable as possible. Its aesthetic does rely on designers who add individual creativity to the company, but the handmade is missing.

Walking into galleries of Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth is a chance to take a break from a world of manufactured reality and be surrounded by the intimate sense of cloth exquisitely made for very distinct purposes. The exhibition was curated by Pam McClusky, SAM Oliver E. and Pamela F. Cobb Curator of African Art, and can only be seen at SAM.

However, as a first step, you need to understand what ikat is. Given how few people weave themselves, ikat might be considered a strange term from the past that is hard to connect with. To help recognize the thought and dedication that ikat requires, the exhibition features an entire gallery designed as a loom to walk through by contemporary artists Roland and Chimani Ricketts. From this immersive moment, you’ll embark on a world tour of ikat cloths, sometimes being greeted by garments, although most are of minimal tailoring, honoring the integrity of the fabric as it comes off the loom.

Textiles from Japan include futonji (bed coverings) and kimonos for adults and children as well as the Noh theatre. The Japanese cloths have a similar palette to those from Africa, indigo being prevalent, but the designs from numerous regions of Africa on view are distinct, with variegated stripes and medallions featured on cloths and dramatic robes. Indian and Southeast Asian ikats introduce cloths that are relied upon for ritual observations. Cloths from Uzbekistan are filled with flowing arabesques and exuberant designs in brilliant colors, including a robe of silk velvet which seems to come from a textile paradise. European ikats from 17th- and 18th-century France serve as a reminder that hand woven traditions faded away with the coming Industrial Revolution. And American ikats will include ponchos from the south and recent works from Santa Fe.

As we expect the urge to touch and feel cloth to emerge, we’ve created a cart just outside of the galleries’ entrance with threads and samples of ikats available for handling. And SAM Shop has set up adjacent to the galleries to showcase cloth made by artists who use natural dyes and woven processes that have a sustainable impact on our world. This spring, be immersed in the global reach and powerful beauty of this exceptional art form.

This article first appeared in the February through May 2023 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.

Mira Nakashima on the Life and Legacy of George Nakashima

“Our approach is based on direct experience—a way of development outward from an inner core; something of the same process that nature uses in the creation of a tree.”

– George Nakashima

This Saturday, March 11, the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas at the Seattle Asian Art Museum will welcome architect and woodworker Mira Nakashima as part of the 2022–2023 Saturday University Lecture Series. Mira, daughter of celebrated American architect, master woodworkers, and thinker George Nakashima, will discuss her father’s influence and legacy as the founding figure of the 20th century American studio art movement.

As the creative director of George Nakashima Woodworkers, Mira continues her father’s legacy by integrating his deep appreciation and reverence of nature with her own warmth, unmatchable prowess, and ingenuity in incorporating contemporary sensibility into his philosophy. In her upcoming talk, Mira will explore the development of her father’s lesser known spiritual spaces and articulate the ways in which they emphasize his philosophical and personal formation as an architect.

In anticipation of this fascinating lecture, Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, caught up with Mira to discuss what visitors can expect to see, learn, and experience this coming Saturday.


The Nakashima Arts Building in New Hope, PA.

HALEY HA: You are the current creative director of Nakashima Woodworkers. Can you tell us a little bit about your days as the creative director?

MIRA NAKASHIMA: First of all, ‘creative director’ is a term I borrowed from a friend of mine who heads a chamber music group, as I didn’t know what else to call myself.  When I first started in 1970, I was the general ‘gopher,’ doing everything from typing up orders to driving the truck to raking leaves, etc. As time progressed, I learned how to make the shop drawings, got to work in the shop making small objects, and accompanied my father to the sawmill. Following my father’s stroke, I began supervising the work in the shop, and after he died, I had to be responsible for conceptual as well as working drawings. There was always something to be done maintaining the buildings, grounds, and machinery, so that became a part of my job too. And after my mother died, someone had to keep an eye on the accounting. As it was a bit overwhelming for one person to do it all effectively, we hired both a manager and an assistant designer which made life more complicated, but better. As ‘creative director,’ I oversee the creation of all the furniture made here, but I am just one of the many people devoted to preserving our history and craft tradition. I usually have a hand in selecting and pricing wood for every project, create the conceptual and sometimes shop drawings, oversee the final cut lines, base and butterfly placement, and sign each piece before it leaves the shop.

Mira Nakashima at work.

HH: Your father is considered one of the most celebrated woodworkers and architects of the 20th century in the US, Japan, and across the world. As a woodworker and architect in your own right, what do you consider to be the challenges and blessings of carrying out Nakashima’s legacy today?

MN: My father studied architecture at Fontainebleau, France, worked in the office of Antonin Raymond in Tokyo from 1934-38, and was sent to Pondicherry, India in 1936 to build a reinforced concrete building, so he had deep roots in many cultures and countries of the world.

His furniture practice grew in the aftermath of World War II, embracing and manifesting Japanese aesthetic ideals during a time when they were not socially accepted and slowly making his mark along both US coasts. In 1963, my parents sent me to Tokyo to attend Waseda University where I earned a Masters in Architecture. My father went on to join the Minguren group and earned the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor of Japan in recognition of his cross-cultural activities in 1983. After his passing in 1990, his work became ‘vintage’—a part of the renewed interest in 20th-century design worldwide. Auction houses began selling his work both locally and internationally, leading his fame to spread.

It has been a challenge to live up to my father’s legacy and to continue the work as he hoped we would. With his book The Soul of a Tree, originally published in 1981, generations of woodworkers have been inspired to take up the practice, and indeed, to copy his designs. We strive to preserve his original methodology and mindset by working from the pile of wood he collected during his lifetime and hiring younger craftsmen and designers to learn the Nakashima way. Fortunately, we have been able to keep Nakashima alive and well, and we will do our best to keep it going beyond my lifetime.

The Nakashima family.

HH: Your family was forcefully moved alongside over 12,000 incarcerated Japanese Americans to the Minidoka Camp in Idaho when the war broke out. Could you tell us about how this period impacted your father, his work, and your family?

MN: I was a baby when we were incarcerated. My mother was traumatized by the relocation while my father made friends with a highly skilled Japanese carpenter named Gentaro Hikogawa. Gentaro taught my father many that he would not have otherwise learned in developing his craft. Fortunately, in 1943, my father’s employer in Tokyo, Antonin Raymond, had moved to Bucks County and offered to sponsor my father to work on his farm so we did not stay in the camp as long as our other relatives. While in Idaho, my father’s friend, artist Morris Graves, carefully kept our meager belongings in Seattle and returned them all to us when we moved to Pennsylvania to start our new life. My father prophetically called the move a “New Hope” and found many artists in the area to call his friends. He called the incarceration “stupid” but said that eventually, “the wounds healed over and left no scars.”

Golconde, Pondicherry, India, Nakashima Foundation for Peace.

HH: As we know, your father’s sense of spirituality deeply influenced his practice. You’ve previously been quoted as saying that for him, work “was a spiritual calling, a form of prayer.” Can you tell us about a bit more about the relationship between his beliefs and practices and explain a bit more of what you’ll be focusing on in your talk this Saturday?

MN: When my father was working on the reinforced concrete building for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India, he learned that physical labor was “karma yoga,” no less a yoga than meditating, praying or chanting all day. There, he and the other workers devoted their time to creating a hitherto unimagined place of beauty and peace. When he visited France’s Chartres Cathedral in the 1930s, not only was it an astounding space because of its incredible engineering, beautiful sculpture, and stained-glass windows, but also because it was built over several centuries by people from all walks of life whose only intent was to create a sacred space for the glory of God. In Seattle, my father converted to Catholicism and developed a deep kinship with the Benedictine monks and their monasteries. He volunteered to assist them in not only designing, but helping construct their remote chapels by gathering materials, building technology, and hiring local craftsmen.

George Nakashima with his daughter Mira.

HH: While he considered his work as a spiritual calling, his reverence for materials was remarkable yet practical. For example, could you tell us how kodama—the Japanese belief of offering a second life to a tree—became a central belief to his practice and how it bore the iconic aesthetic of Nakashima Woodwork?’

MN: I do not think the concept of ‘offering a second life to a tree’ is particularly Japanese, but in Shinto, Druid, Native American, and other so-called ‘primitive’ belief systems, inanimate objects like trees, stones, and water are respected not merely as ‘dead’ objects, but as living examples of the Creator. Perhaps my father’s connection to trees was fostered by his early days as a boy scout where he spent long weekends hiking throughout the Pacific Northwest and sleeping amongst the trees. In Japan, the forces and forms of nature are respected, honored, and integrated into everyday life. So, it is perhaps this practice which found voice in the Nakashima aesthetic.

HH: The Nakashima estate in Pennsylvania became a National Historic Landmark in 2014. I’m envious of your beautiful home and curious to know what it is like to live in a space with such powerful intention, art, and legacy?

MN: To me, this is simply the home where I grew up and have worked all of my life. I didn’t realize it was anything special until I returned from my first trip to Japan in 1966, and not until I wrote my book in 2003 that it became clear how groundbreakingly bold the architecture was for its time. It is indeed a responsibility to maintain the property, and to allow limited access so that it does not suffer from too much traffic, while encouraging and educating people about its history. I do not live on the original property, but in a house across the road that my father built for me in 1970, so it is an easy commute but also provides some distance to the place I now call home.

HH: In our ongoing Saturday University Lecture Series, we’ve been exploring the different notions of sacredness within built environments amid our ongoing climate crisis. There seems to be a sense of reverence, deeper recognition, and ecological thinking that is rooted in your father’s practice. Would you agree?

MN: My father built each of his buildings with a sense of economy and ecology that was way ahead of his time. From working in Japan, he instinctively knew the principles of kimon—in Chinese, feng shui—including the auspicious positioning of buildings and usage of the rooms according to its geography, path of the sun, seasons, and source of water on the site. He selected each site because of its south-facing slope and built most of the buildings along the brow of a hill, intentionally leaving an open slope and field in the center. All of his buildings have large expanses of glass to the south, and their carefully proportioned roofs overhang to keep the rooms cool with cross-ventilation in the summer and warm in the winter with solar gain.

George Nakashima’s final project: the Reception House.

On the Pool House, built in 1960, he installed a series of water pipes along the rooftop as a way to heat the shower water by passive solar energy when no one else was even thinking of that. His last building, the Reception House, built in 1975 during the first oil crisis, has a plenum and fan system behind its Franklin stove-like fireplace to heat the entire house. There is also a cook-top on the fireplace hood and an oven compartment in the wall of the fireplace like the old Bucks County farmhouses. There is even a large sunken Japanese bath with water heated by a wood-burning boiler imported from Japan. We are currently working with the University of Pennsylvania to create an overall campus plan which will minimize our dependence on fossil fuels in the future by installing both passive solar and geothermal energy sources, and of course, increasing insulation and minimizing air infiltration without destroying the original design concepts. It’s bound to be an exciting challenge!

HH: Lastly, what kind of legacy would you like to leave behind to the next generations of woodworkers?

MN: Harvest materials sustainably and replant as many trees as possible. Know and respect the woods local to your area and use them whenever possible. Learn to do honest joinery yourself.  Do not imitate forms, but create your own. Remember that less is more; don’t complicate things just to be different.

– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum

Photos: Courtesy of George Nakashima Woodworkers.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Joseph Steininger

Most visitors to Seattle artist Joseph Steininger’s Pioneer Square studio are mesmerized by his walls of spray paint. On one wall, the full cans are sorted by tone and color in an organized grid system. On the opposite wall, empty cans fill open spaces, surrounding completed works. Like Joseph’s artworks, the studio’s colors are vibrant and draw attention.

Steininger’s artistic process begin with a photograph. All of his paintings originate from photos he has taken in cities around the world. Many capture landscapes in Seattle and New York City, but others include scenes from cities such as London, Florence, and Portland. For his next big trip, Joseph plans to travel to and photograph Tokyo, Japan.

Once he has decided on a photograph, Steininger digitally designs stencils based on his selection. Each artwork typically requires 14–24 stencils. He digitally color matches the stencils, prints them, and cuts them by hand with an exacto knife. Cutting the stencils is time intensive, taking up an approximate 95% of time it takes to complete a single canvas. He spray paints the stencils on panels, one layer at a time, to build an image with depth and intricate detail.

Steininger’s work is inspired by street art culture and his background in printmaking. He began his art career as a relief printmaker and implements these methods across his artworks. His art often shows urban scenes, including graffiti, infrastructure like bridges and water towers, and rail yards or train stations. Up next for the artist? Commissions for the Washington State Convention Center and Avenue 55. Plus, he’ll be participating in the celebration of SAM Gallery’s 50th Anniversary in November 2023.

Check out his artwork in person or online now at SAM Gallery and discover more featured gallery art and artists by following @AtSAMGallery on Instagram.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

Object of the Week: ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space

In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will feature artworks from SAM’s collection that explore Black art and artists. Black lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and legacies of Black leaders in civic and cultural life. Exploring and reflecting on the past and present of Black lives is one important way to continue to imagine better futures. Here’s the final of four reflections from four different SAM voices on one artwork and what it means to them.

Black History Month is the perfect time to envision a new world, one that is governed by empathy, equity, and justice.

Through her multi-year project, ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space (2015–16), New York-based artist Saya Woolfalk invites viewers to imagine a new reality. When you step into her virtual utopia, it invokes the spirit of the Empathics, a fictional race of women who can alter their genetic makeup and fuse with plants. Their world centers around the divine feminine, and their superpower is the ability to unite with the plant and animal kingdoms.

Woolfalk’s immersive installation was acquired by the museum in 2017 and is now on view as part of Lessons from The Institute of Empathy. There, her dynamic work is in dialogue with works from the museum’s African art collection, along with thought-provoking “empathy lessons” from the Empathics to guide your experience. Her aesthetic produces a resonance that stirs the soul. The choice of African symbols and rich colors, the incorporation of digital media, and the inclusion of sculptures that resemble spiritual totems create a hypnotic experience that transports audiences into an imaginative world. Deific figures speak to you through the movement of the images in the backdrop, evoking a sense of wonder and awe. The result is that through the exhibition, you also fuse with empathy and sense the etheric euphoria that comes from authentic connection.

Today, the immersive world portrayed in ChimaTEK is more relevant than ever. Society, from farmers to financiers, is being forced to examine business as usual. For example, the concept of regeneration, from regenerative agriculture to regenerative capital, exposes the harmful impacts of creating monocultures, being extractive, and being reductionist (on the soil and on the human soul) and offers a powerful alternative. These new approaches are proving that mimicking the ways of nature—embracing diversity, interdependence, and cooperation—are reversing the climate crisis, restoring plant and animal health, and providing the conditions for abundance, thriving, and flourishing in our businesses, institutions, and relationships.

Lessons from Woolfalk’s Institute of Empathy, like regenerative models, remind us that humanity is a part of nature, not apart from nature. That the result of a true union with nature can produce a sea change: a society where everyone resonates with the frequency of empathy. The Institute reminds us that nature’s language is love.

As Black History Month concludes and we transition from winter to spring, let’s reflect on our collective future and imagine a world governed by indigeneity (the fact of originating or occurring naturally in a particular place). Let’s respond to Woolfalk’s call to action to create a future that is inclusive, just, abundant, and flourishing. Let’s fuse with nature and shape our world, empathetically.

– Falona Joy, President of SNP Strategies, Inc. and SAM Trustee

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Celebrate Black History Month in Seattle with these suggested events and additional resources.

Art Now on View

Resources

Object of the Week: Forgive Us Our Debts

In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will feature artworks from SAM’s collection that explore Black art and artists. Black lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and legacies of Black leaders in civic and cultural life. Exploring and reflecting on the past and present of Black lives is one important way to continue to imagine better futures. Here’s the third of four reflections from four different SAM voices on one artwork and what it means to them.

Twenty eight days a year isn’t long enough to commemorate hundreds of years of Black history that has shaped the world we live in. The contributions to the United States by Black Americans is everlasting; even the White House was built by Black Americans, free and enslaved. Every February, American institutions pay respects to the brave Black Americans for fighting an almost impossible battle against white supremacy to advocate for the value of Black life. Celebrated are the many contributions that have been made by Black culture: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., jazz music, the invention of peanut butter, and more. Many Black Americans find it is hard not to feel like these recycled acts aren’t performative when ushered right back into that impossible battle on March 1. This anxiety and dissociation is captured so authentically in a short film currently on view in SAM’s galleries through August 6, Howard L. “GATO” Mitchell’s Forgive Us Our Debts (2018).

Based in Portland, Oregon, GATO is an award-winning American director. GATO showcases his unique point of view as an Afro-Panamanian along with the tangible and intangible intricacies of his identity in his artwork. His universal theme is to depict what isn’t seen. GATO’s multi-disciplinary talents in painting and filmmaking make his work a full sensory experience. This 15-minute narrative film is about a young Black 13-year-old boy named Trey, who is struggling to make sense of the hate he was born into. Riddled with stress and anxiety, the almost disorienting video truly captures the chaos of being a Black person in America living in poverty. Between tender family dynamics and unsettling visuals, Mitchell gives viewers a sense of the helplessness that is left behind from the impact of racism.

Every day, Black people fight to live peacefully and prosper. As a teenager, Trey is learning how to become a man from his father, who teaches him how to be tough through the power of his fist. With generational trauma instead of generational wealth as a legacy, Trey’s coming of age is complex. A good education, livable income, providing for your family, and pursuing your dreams: none of these are presented options as for Trey. Being a young teen, it’s heartbreaking for Trey to accept these harsh truths, when he would likely prefer to live as the average American teen as portrayed in the media: discovering themselves, having fun, and getting a good education.

Society is telling Trey that he’ll always be seen as a criminal without resources or opportunities for a better life. He is forced to carry burdens passed down hundreds of years that cause him to grow up disadvantaged and affect his mental health negatively. Yet he also has to reconcile his love for his family and the hope they instill in him to live better than them. The familial responsibility along with the current and constant visualization of Black boys and men being murdered by police doesn’t allow Trey to stay in the naiveté of adolescence. There isn’t much difference from Trey and Trayvon Martin, and the film makes that clear in the shot of an officer with a “G. Zimmerman” name tag.

Racial tensions and inflation have increased tremendously over the past few years. With so many outlets and resources of information, America is more divided than ever on how to improve the quality of life for its citizens. Black Americans, and especially Black Americans living in poverty, are still having to overcome institutional racism while overt racism is on the rise. Many white Americans will denounce racism and claim allyship. Having liberal beliefs, online activism, and celebrating Black History Month, while commendable, isn’t enough. Young Black children similar to Trey continuously live in that perplexing reality regardless if people decide to vote blue or red. What can be done to help Black citizens all year?

Forgive Us Our Debts can be seen as a call to action for non-Black Americans to get involved in Black disenfranchised communities and organizations, whether it be volunteering, teaching a free class, or helping a local community center. It’s key to think about what Black history means and what can be done all twelve months of the year. Black Americans have to think about it every day, whether they want to or not.

– Karly Norment Meneses, SAM Marketing Coordinator

Photos: Forgive Us Our Debts, 2018, Howard L. Gato Mitchell, American, digital video, 15 minutes, Courtesy of the artist.

Celebrate Black History Month in Seattle with these suggested events and additional resources.

Art Now on View

Resources

Valentine’s Day 2023: Love at SAM Through the Decades

Happy Valentine’s Day! For the last seven days, we’ve been highlighting expressions of familial, romantic, and platonic love at SAM during our #SAMWeekOfLove on our Instagram. As part of the series, we shared photos and stories from four couples for whom SAM has played a significant role in their relationship. To give you an extra dose of love this holiday, we’ve rounded up all four of the love stories we previously shared on our social media below. Scroll below to learn how SAM played Cupid in all of these relationships!

Diane & David
July 22, 2022
Olympic Sculpture Park

“We were searching for a venue that had both an indoor and outdoor space and was both modern and simple. The sculpture park fit that search perfectly! I am a wedding calligrapher and event designer by trade, so working with the different areas of the venue was so much fun. The spaciousness of the park was also great—from our wedding album it looks like we went to several locations, but they’re all taken from different areas of the park!” – Diane

Tiffany & Aaron
October 3, 2003
Seattle Asian Art Museum

“I had my wedding at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. From childhood to adulthood, the museum and its camels will forever hold a special place in my heart. Pictured are me and my bridesmaids: my two sisters, and my two best friends.” – Tiffany

This photo and story was shared to us by SAM’s very own Director of Membership and Annual Giving Tiffany Tessada. Tiffany has been a part of the SAM family for over 24 years and our membership program wouldn’t be what it is today without her tireless work and dedication. Considering everything she’s done for SAM, we’re honored to have been a part of her love story!

Ciera & John
August 7, 2021
Olympic Sculpture Park

With most of their guests coming from out of state, Ciera and John wanted a venue that celebrates Seattle and the life they’ve built together in the city. With views of their home in West Seattle, the Olympic Mountain Range where they ski and backpack, and the iconic Space Needle, the park served as the perfect location to host their nuptials. Their most cherished wedding memory? Read it in their own words below:

“Our favorite memory was having the opportunity to sneak away to take quiet sunset photos around the park while our guests enjoyed cocktail hour overlooking the Puget Sound.” – Ciera

Tina & Greg
October 14, 1989
Seattle Asian Art Museum

A few weeks before their wedding, Tina and Greg dressed in their most glamorous and practical attire—her, red Converse hightops and him, green bowling shoes and a Puyallup Fair hat—and visited several Seattle locations that had a special meaning to them. With their photographer Shel Izen in tow, they captured fun and scenic moments across the city, including at the Seattle Asian Art Museum (then just called the Seattle Art Museum) where they had spent one of their first dates as a couple.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photos: Sam and Sola Lee. Courtesy Tiffany Tessada. Joe Tobiason. Courtesy Tina Koyama.

Object of the Week: Untitled Anxious Bruise Drawing

In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will feature artworks from SAM’s collection that explore Black art and artists. Black lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and legacies of Black leaders in civic and cultural life. Exploring and reflecting on the past and present of Black lives is one important way to continue to imagine better futures. Here’s the second of four reflections from four different SAM voices on one artwork and what it means to them.

There are images that have become synonymous with the pandemic years: boarded shop windows, deserted streets, protests, and tear gas, to name a few. Seattle was a center for it all, and there remain some remnants of that turbulent first year of the pandemic around the city. Still, we possess a collective anxiety. We have bruises on our hearts and souls from the images of violence and injustice; The feeling of powerlessness that came from being trapped inside and glued to our screens. It wasn’t safe to go out, but inside was a cycle of mania. 

These feelings are aggressively and powerfully rendered in Untitled Anxious Bruise Drawing (2021) by Chicago-based artist Rashid Johnson (b. 1977). He portrays the anguish, frantic energy, and damage of the upheavals of 2020 with sustained, forceful brush strokes until the paint thins to a faint wisp. A series of boxes with confused, startled eyes. Mouths blurred in motion. Oscillating from dense to light, black and blue. The unraveling chaos is contained by rough edges, where strokes of paint find their way out of bounds. With the same curatorial intent of modern media, we’re viewing a selection of the multitude of blue cells. All wavering, unnerved, and anxious. There’s more beyond what we see; truths we have yet to acknowledge. 

The unjust experiences of Black people in America continues to be a bruise on the national consciousness. It’s often difficult to talk about or relate to, although art can provide a conduit. With Untitled Anxious Bruise Drawing, there’s a possibility of relation, of realization, and even relearning. Johnson boldly carries the torch proclaiming that the arts have a role to play in confronting the past for a better future.

Acquired for the museum’s collection in 2022, Untitled Anxious Bruise Drawing is now on view as part of Reverberations: Contemporary Art and Modern Classics, which explores the idea of artistic exchange across generations.

– Jason Nail, SAM Visitor Experience Lead

Photo: Scott Leen.

Celebrate Black History Month in Seattle with these suggested events and additional resources.

Art Now on View

Events and Resources

Object of the Week: Hair Portrait #20

In honor of Black History Month, Object of the Week will feature artworks from SAM’s collection that explore Black art and artists. Black lives matter every day of the year, but this month is a particular opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and legacies of Black leaders in civic and cultural life. Exploring and reflecting on the past and present of Black lives is one important way to continue to imagine better futures. Here’s the first of four reflections from four different SAM voices on one artwork and what it means to them.

In January of 2016, I began working at the Seattle Art Museum. It was like going to a new school—I felt ready with an open heart, looking to shake up my norm, help me step out of my comfort zone, and provide me with something that I didn’t know how to express with words quite yet. After 16 years of working at the University of Washington, I left the stability of what had become a predictable world and delved right in. Part of this terrifying new world that I was immediately immersed in included giving a public tour for Free First Thursday, talking about artworks in our collection that I loved and connecting them to my life. My background was in communications and American Ethnic Studies, and so art was something I knew and loved, but not from an academic perspective. It seemed like everyone at SAM knew so much more than me, but I have always tried to lead with authenticity and leaned on that to guide me.  

Priya Frank leading a My Favorite Things tour during Free First Thursday at SAM in 2016.

The artwork I knew I wanted to end the tour with that night was my favorite in our collection: Hair Portrait #20 by Mickalene Thomas. The beautiful Swarovski crystals, the powerful face depicted over and over again, the magnitude of its size… all of those things drew me. I wore a sequined top so I could match. The piece stood out. It was so much different from everything else I saw at SAM and so different from all the neighboring art in that gallery. It felt… like me at that time. I felt so out of place, with such a different perspective and aesthetic from everyone else. But I kept remembering that that was why I was hired: to beat to my own drum and do things the way I do them. Hair Portrait #20 brought me comfort, and it reminded me that it was okay to do things differently, to stand out unapologetically and shine brightly, as a beacon of hope, light, and realness.

Thomas’s work continued to come back to me over the years, reminding me of the valuable lesson that MORE is MORE and not to be less in order to make others more comfortable. In 2018, the museum presented Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, exploring the work of these three pivotal Black artists. By then I was feeling more comfortable at SAM, and it helped that I had my colleague David Rue, who had become my SAM soulmate. He and I started working at SAM the very same day, and we had a similar love for all things bright, extravagant, beautiful, and authentic. David helped me feel so much more comfortable in my skin, and when Figuring History opened, it meant so much to both of us. We brought everyone we knew and created programming and partnerships that are still talked about in our community today. We reveled in the glory of Thomas’s muse, Racquel Chevremont, and dreamed of what it might be like to be someone’s muse (David has since pretty much become EVERYONE’s muse so there’s that!).

Priya Frank and David Rue pose in Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas at SAM (2018). Photo: Natali Wiseman.

After years of working from home, I recently made the commitment to spend more time in SAM’s galleries in order to inspire my own creative practice, which is a big focus for me this year. And lo and behold, I ran into an old friend: Hair Portrait #20, back on view again as part of a reinstallation in the modern and contemporary galleries called Reverberations. Immediately, I broke out into the biggest smile, thinking of all of the times that that piece made David and I feel like we were home. There she was: a continued beacon of hope. These last seven years have been the best of my life, and I continue to live unapologetically, unwilling to take shit, and more willing to shine bright like the Swarovski crystals that Thomas interweaves into this room-filling artwork. Getting to see a whole new generation of folx also experience the piece for the first time is the greatest joy. A few weeks ago, the UW Sisterhood Initiative came for a visit, and there was a gorgeous impromptu photoshoot in front of that pivotal piece. The mission of SAM is to connect art to life, and this piece provides exactly that: an opportunity to feel seen, and not just tolerated but acknowledged, celebrated, and seen. Unapologetically.

Same top, different era: Priya in 2023 with the same sequined tank from the 2016 My Favorite Things tour, displaying her own body art creation.

– Priya Frank, SAM Director of Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion

Photo: Jen Au.

Celebrate Black History Month in Seattle with these suggested events and additional resources.

Art Now on View

Events and Resources

#SAMPhotoClub Family & Community Spotlight: Alborz Kamalizad

SAM Photo Club is almost over! With Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue closing at SAM this Sunday, January 22, we are accepting the final photo submissions to the third defining theme and motif of these legendary photographers’ artistic careers: family & community.

To incentivize you to get your last-minute submissions in and join SAM Photo Club, we’re featuring some of the family & community photos taken by SAM’s two staff photographers: Alborz Kamalizad and Chloe Collyer. Outside of photographing all SAM events, exhibitions, installations, programs, and more, Alborz and Chloe are also working professionals. Browse through a few photos taken by Alborz of their family and community below, then discover which of Carrie Mae Weems’s photographs on view in SAM’s exhibition resonates with him.

Family & Community, 2021–2022

My family emigrated from Iran when I was three years old. This made me young enough to easily assimilate into American culture. But even though the bulk of my cultural connections are American, there is Iranian culture swirling inside me as well — culture that is usually easy to ignore while walking through an American life.

With a project I’m calling Rebuilding Babel I have friends engage with artifacts of my familial culture. These objects, which are mostly meaningless to them, render the images inaccurate to who they are. Instead, these photos of friends portray a relationship between my own American and Iranian selves.

The current humanitarian crisis in Iran, as people fight for freedom and equality, has underscored both my connection to and separation from the culture I was born in.

Untitled (Woman with Daughter and Children), Carrie Mae Weems, 1990

Walking into the space where The Kitchen Table series is displayed at the Seattle Art Museum feels like walking into the middle of someone’s psyche. It’s intimate. It’s a real testament to the need to experience photography in person. Moving your body from image to image while they transport you through time cannot be experienced on a screen.

Alborz Kamalizad (he/him) is a visual artist who moves between photography, animation, documentary filmmaking, and illustration. He was born in Iran, raised in the US, and currently works as a staff photographer for the Seattle Art Museum. As a visual journalist and photographer, his work has been featured by Los Angeles’s NPR affiliate, Mother Jones Magazine, the United Nations, The Nature Conservancy, MasterClass, and the Getty.

Participate in #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own family & community on Instagram and tagging us through Friday, January 20. Once the window for submissions closes, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: Untitled (Woman with Daughter and Children), Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953. Untitled (Woman and daughter with children). Kitchen Table Series. Gelatin silver print. 1990. 40 x 40 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

This Moment in Time: A Conversation with Anthony White and José Carlos Diaz

With his first solo SAM exhibition, Limited Liability, coming to a close in a few short weeks, 28-year old Seattle artist Anthony White woke up bright and early one December morning to meet Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz in the galleries of his exhibition before the museum was open to the public. Sitting around the retro lunchroom table—the centerpiece of SAM’s 2021 Betty Bowen Award winner’s gallery—the two spoke about the response he’s received to Limited Liability, the meticulousness of his practice, queer representation in art, what’s next for Seattle’s rising star, and what it means to artistically render this moment in time.

Read the full interview below and experience Anthony White: Limited Liability at SAM’s downtown location before it closes Sunday, January 29.


José Carlos Diaz: I want to start off here by thanking you and SAM curators Catharina Manchanda and Carrie Dedon for putting this exhibition together. Limited Liability was the second exhibition that opened after I joined SAM in July 2022, and it’s been a joy getting to know you and to see visitors interact with your paintings. So, my first question is: What has been the response to this exhibition. What have you observed? What have you heard visitors say while seeing your artwork at SAM?

Anthony White: Overall, the response has been great. I think people are excited to see work like mine in an established institution. My work is vibrant and modern, and I think it can be refreshing to see in a museum gallery. It’s always fun to see people stumble on artwork they weren’t really expecting to see at a museum. I will say, everyone is infatuated with my age. I didn’t expect I’d receive so many comments about that.

JCD: Did they think you were older?

AW: Yeah. Generally, people are surprised that someone my age is able to do this.

JCD: It’s definitely incredible that someone your age has a solo exhibition at a major regional museum.

AW: Totally, but it’s still incredibly surprising to me. And a lot of people did reach out to say that it was nice to have something that they could relate to. There were a lot of people that would identify with certain symbols and objects that came out of very specific time periods. It’s really cool to see how my artwork connects with people, even if in the smallest degrees.

JCD: That’s great to hear! Many people may not yet know this, but SAM actually acquired one of your works from this exhibition. The artwork that the curatorial team and the board approved is UNTIL THE END OF TIME (2022). It was really important to our team to acquire this particular artwork because it really reflects the diversity within SAM’s collections, but it’s also a representation of an artist who is living and working in Seattle. But, as a curator myself, I was curious how you’d like to see your artwork displayed and used in the future when you visit SAM? Maybe in a different context? With similar or different artworks? Is this something you’ve thought about?

AW: First, I want to say how excited and honored I am to have my artwork in SAM’s collection. It’s an incredible way to be connected to this institution for a long time. But I do often find myself thinking about what happens to artworks that end up in collections. I think most institutions either keep their works either independently displayed somewhere or they pull it into a group installation to give it additional context. My hope is that UNTIL THE END OF TIME is shown alongside other artworks at SAM that tell the stories of time.

JCD: Would you be interested in seeing it integrated into the European galleries, as having a conversation or even challenging the Old Masters?

AW: Certainly.

JCD: I think that’d be a really fun conversation to have! Many of the European artworks in SAM’s collection capture a specific moment or time in history. With your artwork alongside these other pieces, I think they’d be talking about the same exact things but across vastly different time periods. I love it!

AW: I think there are endless opportunities for my artwork to interact with historic artworks throughout SAM’s collection. It’s fascinating to see how our interpretations of everyday life have changed over time.

JCD: Plus, it’s the first artwork in the collection featuring Kim Kardashian. 

AW: She should be honored. Someone tell her!

JCD: I was so thrilled that you’ve gotten so much press from this exhibition. But what’s made me the most proud is seeing all of the national press you and SAM have received about the work that’s being done in Seattle in showcasing LGBTQ+ art. 

That being said, the work I find myself gravitating toward the most in Limited Liability is JOYRIDE (2022). Because you have such a deep visual archive, I was blown away when you revealed—at least to me—that the format of this painting is based on Picasso’s Still Life With the Caned Chair (1912), which was a really groundbreaking moment for Picasso. But then, looking deeper at your painting, this idea of a joyride, it has such a coded language specifically around queerness and blackness; It’s almost like a special language. Walking up to this painting—even as someone who works at the museum and has seen it many times—it’s clear that there’s so much joy in it. So, I wanted to ask you to elaborate on your use of coded or visual languages throughout your art.

AW: Yeah, I think JOYRIDE offers people a way of getting to know me, my practice, and my experiences that my other works may not do so much. There is a slightly discreet symbolism and language that I’m using in this work and that has led to the invention of an entirely new way of speaking within my practice, I think.

I don’t like to spoon-feed people and give them only one way to see, think, and interpret my work. For example, JOYRIDE includes a sticker that says ‘cruisin’ that can be interpreted in two totally different ways. You could either think about it within the context of hard culture and vehicle cruising, or think about it as speaking toward a homoerotic experience, activity, or participatory event. So, the decision to interpret pieces and little details like those throughout my work is ultimately up to the viewer.

JCD: I can definitely see the nature of the symbolism you’re talking about. I think there’s also this playfulness with the inclusion of the Lisa Frank stickers and the young anime woman in red. And, in looking at all the works in this gallery, I think you once told me that you make one self portrait per year. Is that true?

AW: It is true. 

JCD: Can you talk about the origins of this tradition? How is your process of depicting yourself different from that of the rest of your work?

AW: Every year, there comes a month where I feel an unrelenting need to get my feelings and the way I’m seeing myself onto a canvas. It’s been a very strict practice that I’ve had for the past five years. I think it’s just as important to depict myself within a specific period of time as it is to depict the cultural objects and symbols that define it.

My self-portraits are also a bit more dramatic than my other works. I feel more comfortable and honest with the subject since it’s myself. In HYPNOSIS (2022), I’m lying horizontally on my stomach, staring deep into the void.

JCD: The void being the cellphone.

AW: Yes, It’s that constant endless rabbit hole that we all get sucked into these days. I think this was a pretty daring piece to execute and I didn’t want to inaccurately represent someone else with a piece like this.

JCD: The subject is you but I think the work is really representative of all of us today. It’s a beautiful piece.

You’ve had many people ask you about your complex process. When I first saw your work, I thought they were textile-based. They almost looked like quilted pieces of material—even your self portrait. I know you’ve talked about your use of melted coils of colored plastics quite a bit but I think it’s a very revolutionary medium—I think it’s called polylactic acid. The device you use to paint is very meticulous too. You’ve mentioned that it can take over a hundred hours to complete a single painting.

AW: It can. Sometimes longer.

JCD: But you’ve also previously mentioned that there is a sort of intuition to creating your paintings; that it’s an organic process. How do you balance the strict boundaries of using polylactic acid with your organic, or intuitive, process?

AW: There are definitely some set boundaries with the process. The methods I use to melt the plastic and draw lines on my canvas are very specific. But, there’s also this sort of synthetic or artificial nature to it that I find complementary to what I want to represent on each panel. That was really fun to stumble on at the very beginning of my practice. Although everything is very systematic, there’s a natural intuition that comes into play the more I work with this medium. Like an oil painter, I create my own palette for each work.

JCD: Your use of this medium is incredible. There’s an intense satisfaction that I think everyone receives from seeing your work in person. Have you faced any challenges with the digital life of your work? It’s interesting because you source so much content from the digital world in your art, and now that art is part of our collective digital archive. Is this something you’ve thought about?

AW: There are challenges with not being able to translate my works accurately in a digital image. As we move forward in our technological world, there may be a time when our methods of documentation of works such as my own are displayed differently. But there is so much satisfaction with seeing my, and all, paintings in person. 

That’s not to say I want my work to be an exclusive viewing experience—I want anyone and everyone who wants to see my work to see it! But, I’ve heard many people say they had no idea of the meticulousness of my art until they saw it in person. Only then do they understand how much complexity there is within each of my works. You can see the evidence of my hand, every line that I make, what direction I led my pen, and the decisions I made with every mark.

JCD: I never like to ask an artist what inspires them, but I can’t stop myself this time. What is actually inspiring you right now?

AW: At this specific moment? A lot of podcasts.

JCD: I wouldn’t have guessed that.

AW: Of course, my main influences are social media, but a lot of the things I listen to while working are podcasts about white collar criminals, corporate fraud, technological advances, and the state of the world. All of my canvases are inspired by what I’m listening to and my perception of the direction our world is headed in, but I think that does change over time. One day, I want to be able to look at the archive of my work and pinpoint precise moments of my life. I’ll create a timeline by identifying certain symbols and objects across every work.

JCD: But that’s not to say your work itself is dated. It captures specific moments in time but has longevity in its interpretation.

AW: And the world moves so fast, too. So, I think it is accurate to say that some of my works are dated. Certain objects pictured within them are already obsolete.

JCD: It’s interesting to think how future scholars will interpret the artworks being made during this period in time, especially yours. That’s the dream, right?

AW: Yes, but I think they should be a bit more concerned with the state of their existence. There’s a meme I recently saw that said if you showed somebody back in 2000 how much content we consume now, they would have a meltdown. It’d be so overwhelming. Our past selves would be stunned by the pace of life today. Hopefully, it slows down in the years to come but you never know.

JCD: I’ve never thought about that.

You have an exhibition coming up, Extended Warranty at Greg Kucera Gallery, opening in January. It sounds like you’ve got no plans of slowing down in 2023. So what’s next? What can the public expect to see in that exhibition and what else are you working on in the coming year?

AW: Yeah! That’ll be a smaller exhibition than Limited Liability, but it’s sort of an extension of thought that resulted from building the body of work that’s on view at SAM. As this exhibition opened, I was still thinking through these ideas of materialism and digital culture and wanted to extend them into the exhibition at Greg Kucera Gallery. So, both exhibitions—Limited Liability and Extended Warranty—explore similar threads. I have these trains of thought that I’ve been exploring since I became an artist and I want to continue seeing them out in the months and years ahead.

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

SAM’s Teen Arts Group Meets Artist Dawoud Bey

On a fall day last November, 16 members of SAM’s Teen Arts Group (TAG) gathered around the craft tables of the museum’s Nordstrom Art Studio. Today, instead of making art, they’d be talking art with one of the most significant artists working today, Dawoud Bey.

Bey had traveled to Seattle for SAM’s presentation of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, an exhibition that brings together the work of the two friends and mutual inspirations for the first time. Bey would be giving a public talk that evening, but during the day, he generously met with these future artists and leaders.

Founded in 2007, TAG is an intensive program for high school-aged youth who are interested in learning about themselves and the world through art. The program cultivates the voice and leadership of diverse young people who share their passion for the power of art to build community. The group comes together in weekly meetings from October to May, learning about the behind-the-scenes work of the museum, making art, and leading tours. Their work culminates in Teen Night Out, a free teens-only event held in May with DJs, live music performances, art tours, workshops, and art-making activities.

Bey talked with the teens about his relationship with art and photography when he was their age and how his passion for music as a young man influenced the way he would make art more than 30 years later. Artists in their own right, TAG members were eager to learn about Bey’s thought process as he positioned a model for his portraits. He revealed that he only ever accentuated a pose or gesture the person was already doing naturally. Bey illustrated the point with program intern Karla Pastrana, encouraging her to bring her relaxed arm more forward for the sake of the shot.

Left to Right: Lila, Sreshta, Cris, Kaz, Faith, Charlotte, Gwyneth, Dawoud Bey, Ronan, Mori, Corrina, Nivedita, Smriti, and Lylah.

Here are some reflections from various TAG members on the experience of meeting Dawoud Bey:

“It was an amazing opportunity to meet an artist like Dawoud Bey in person. It was really cool to get to hear about his story, creative process, and inspirations. I’m personally interested in the arts and museum industry myself so his advice was really insightful and inspiring.”

– Charlotte, 16

“My first impression was that he was a very thoughtful person. He took his time when he sought to communicate something, and did so with purpose. That careful observance was weaved into each of his photographs.”

– Sreshta, 17

“Meeting Dawoud Bey was inspiring for me because we had the opportunity to ask about his life and artistic process. I thought it was interesting to hear about what he was doing when he was a teenager and how he got into the art world by getting his first camera when he was a teen. Getting to talk to an artist like Dawoud Bey, who is so amazing and accomplished, is really incredible because it’s really easy to idolize artists, which they should be, but it’s important to remember that they are people and they started as teens just like us.”

– Lila, 15

Hot tip: Want to join TAG? Applications to join the 2023–24 TAG cohort will be available in spring 2023. Follow @samteens on Instagram for the latest updates!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo Credit: Alborz Kamalizad.

#SAMPhotoClub Family & Community Spotlight: Chloe Collyer

The third theme of SAM Photo Club is in full swing! With Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue closing at SAM on Sunday, January 22, we’re now accepting photo submissions to the final of three defining motifs of these legendary photographers’ artistic careers: family & community.

As inspiration to post your own photo and join SAM Photo Club, we’re spotlighting some of the family & community photos taken by SAM’s two staff photographers: Chloe Collyer and Alborz Kamalizad. Outside of photographing all SAM events, exhibitions, installations, programs, and more, they’re also working professionals. Scroll down to browse through a few photos taken by Chloe of their family and community and learn which of Dawoud Bey’s photographs on view in SAM’s exhibition inspires them the most!

Mom and Dogs, 2016

My family is a jumble of genetic relations and adopted relatives. I was raised by my biological mother and her parents, all four of us born and raised in Seattle, WA. My grandparents are Maddog and Robyn Collyer; two animals that probably shouldn’t nest together but somehow find a balance. My grandad is a funny prankster, a songwriter who plays piano, bass, guitar and for some reason collects flashlights. My grandma is a soft spoken Jeopardy genius and angelic in every way.

Maddog at Night, 2019

Cribbage with Grandparents, 2022

Friends in Laughter, 2022

My oldest friend is my godbrother Ardent has been by my side since sixth grade. We are stuck together for life. He is my most reliable comedian, hype man and supporter over the years.

The Birmingham Project: Wallace Simmons and Eric Allums, 2012

Another symmetrically balanced image from Bey, this time balancing two generations of the African American community in a mirrored image. The poses match, the light source reversed in each side of the diptych. It’s a timeless, solemn memorial to the loss of young life in Birmingham 1963. It’s one of my favorite images of all time.

Chloe Collyer (they/them) is a photographer, journalist, and fifth-generation Seattle resident whose work is deeply connected to the history and communities of the Pacific Northwest. A natural born documentarian, their toolkit includes 15+ years behind the camera, an associate’s degree in commercial photography, and seven years of experience working as a photojournalist and photo editor. In addition to working as a staff photographer at the Seattle Art Museum, Chloe also teaches photography at Youth in Focus and Photo Center Northwest, and has had their work featured in The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, NPR, Buzzfeed, Real Change, Crosscut, and more.

Join #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own family & community photography on Instagram and tagging us before January 20. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: The Birmingham Project: Wallace Simmons and Eric Allums, 2012, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, archival pigment prints mounted to dibond, 40 x 64 inches (two separate 40 x 32 inch photographs), © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Hello, 2023! A Sneak Peek at SAM’s Exciting Year Ahead

The new year brings new art… and lots of it! We’re so looking forward to an entire calendar’s worth of must-see exhibitions across all three of our dynamic locations and can’t keep it to ourselves any longer. Read below for a sneak preview of what’s to come at SAM over the next twelve months!

“There will be something for everyone at SAM in 2023,” says José Carlos Diaz, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art. “The exhibition schedule includes rich displays from the museum’s collection as well as a global array of dynamic art and programming from places such as Indonesia, Ghana, Japan, and right here in the Pacific Northwest region. 2023 welcomes not only a new year but also the 90th anniversary of SAM, which first opened to the public in June 1933.”

Kicking off the year, SAM’s modern and contemporary galleries now play host to Reverberations: Contemporary Art and Modern Classics. This array of art spotlights recent acquisitions and includes many works going on view for the first time. With works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, and Ruth Asawa, contemporary artists Senga Nengudi, Laura Aguilar, and Mickalene Thomas, and emerging artists Dana Claxton, Woody de Othello, Naama Tsabar, and Rashid Johnson, this collection installation explores the idea of ongoing artistic exchange. Many of the works on view are by artists of color and many are by women artists, reflecting the museum’s ongoing commitment to diversifying the collection and the perspectives we present.

On March 9, SAM will open Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth, presenting an immersive exploration of the complex textile created in regions around the globe. The exhibition will feature over 100 textiles made from the 12th century to the present including kimonos, furnishings, robes, and other cloths from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. A large-scale installation by contemporary artists Roland and Chinami Ricketts that offers the experience of walking into an ikat will also be on view.

Summer brings Soul of Black Folks, an exciting touring exhibition and the Seattle debut of Ghanian artist Amoako Boafo (b. 1984). One of the most influential artistic voices of his generation, Boafo is known for vibrant portraits that center on Black subjectivity, Black joy, the Black gaze, and radical care. Co-organized by the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Soul of Black Folks will present over 30 works created between 2016 and 2022.

Later in July, the Seattle Asian Art Museum will debut Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec, exploring the cities’ early 20th century artistic and social transformations. Through nearly 90 prints drawn from SAM’s Japanese prints collection as well as private holdings of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s artwork, this exhibition offers a critical look at the renegade spirit in the graphic arts in both Edo and Paris, highlighting the social impulses—pleasure seeking and theatergoing—behind the burgeoning art production.

Finally, the fall will see SAM celebrate the works of Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) with Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence, from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, opening October 19 at SAM’s downtown location. Thanks to the popularity of the instantly recognizable Great Wave—cited everywhere from book covers and Lego sets to anime and emoji—Hokusai has become one of the most famous and influential artists in the world. This touring exhibition organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), takes a new approach to the work of the versatile master, pairing more than 100 of his woodblock prints, paintings, and illustrated books from the MFA’s collection with more than 200 works by his teachers, students, rivals, and admirers.

Other 2023 highlights at SAM include the solo exhibition of 2022 Betty Bowen Award winner Elizabeth Malaska; the SAM debut of artist, director, and writer Howard L. Mitchell—also known as GATO—whose 2019 film, Forgive Us Our Debts, tells the fictional story of Trey, a terrified 13-year-old Black boy who lives with his family in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood; large-scale sculptural works at the Olympic Sculpture Park 365 days a year; and so much more.

With so much in store for 2023, we can’t wait to welcome you back to SAM soon!

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations & Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credits: Headdress–Shadae, 2019, Dana Claxton (Hunkpapa Lakota (Sioux), born 1959), LED firebox with transmounted chromogenic transparency. 60 1/2 x 40 1/2 x 7 in. (153.7 x 102.9 x 17.8 cm.), Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, 2022.2, © Dana Claxton. Image courtesy of the artist. Pardah hanging, late 19th century, Silk Road (Uzbekistan), silk, warp ikat, cotton weft, 90 x 65 in., Collection of David and Marita Paly. Black and White, 2018, Amoako Boafo, oil on paper, 39 3/8 x 27 1/2 in., Image and work courtesy private collection and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California, photo: Robert Wedemeyer. Tagasode of the Tamayo House, 1800-02, Kitagawa Utamaro, Japanese, 1754-1806, woodblock print: ink and color on paper, 15 1/2 x 10 1/2 in., Gift of Mary and Allan Kollar, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2017.23.13. Photo: Colleen Kollar Zorn. 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 sanjûrokkei), Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849) about 1830–31 (Tenpô 1–2), woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. We Will Remain Separate, 2019, Elizabeth Malaska, oil, Flashe, pencil on canvas wrapped panel, 72 x 120 x 2 in., Courtesy of the artist, © Elizabeth Malaska.

#SAMPhotoClub Street Photography Spotlight: Alborz Kamalizad

Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue closes in less than one month at SAM! While the exhibition is on view, we’re launching #SAMPhotoClub, an Instagram campaign that asks our followers to share their favorite photographs inspired by three common motifs of these legendary American artists.

We’re now accepting submissions to the second theme of SAM Photo Club: street photography. As a way to inspire continued participation, we’re spotlighting a few street photos taken by SAM’s staff photographers Alborz Kamalizad and Chloe Collyer. Read below to see a selection of Alborz’s favorite street photographs and discover which of Carrie Mae Weems’s street images has stuck with him the most.

Street Photography, 2021–2022

Photographer Jeff Wall has said that he thinks of the snapshot as the most fundamental type of photography, and that every other photograph derives meaning by its relationship to the snapshot. I like to think about this when I’m out in public with a camera. My street photos take about as much deliberation as a snapshot: they’re instinctive and quick. But through the combination of subject matter and composition, I hope to create a gentle feeling around what city life is like.

The things that consistently draw my eye:

1. How a camera can render the many different scales of reality that exist in and around a modern city. A deep valley becomes texture. The base of a lamppost feels monumental. Buildings and signs turn into abstractions.

2. Little signs of fleeting humanity. Walking through a city we’re surrounded by other people, yes. But there is also so much evidence for things that have already happened — signs of people we did not see. I’m drawn to these tiny stories. Likewise, there are people caught at a distance or in the middle of moments that are just slightly difficult to understand because we’ve somehow missed the essence of whatever set them in motion.

In either case, I’m drawn to the infinity of possibility in a city.

Harlem Street, Carrie Mae Weems, 1976–77

This photo perfectly balances spontaneity and almost mathematical precision. The straight-on view of the buildings (probably from the middle of the street?) makes a grid-like background out of doors, windows, bricks, stairs, and the vendor’s signage. Meanwhile, the people are in an utterly casual moment of everyday life.

Alborz Kamalizad (he/him) is a visual artist who moves between photography, animation, documentary filmmaking, and illustration. He was born in Iran, raised in the US, and currently works as a staff photographer for the Seattle Art Museum. As a visual journalist and photographer, his work has been featured by Los Angeles’s NPR affiliate, Mother Jones Magazine, the United Nations, The Nature Conservancy, MasterClass, and the Getty.

Participate in #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own street photo on Instagram and tagging us through Friday, December 20. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions for our final themes—family & community photography—later this week.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: Harlem Street, 1976–77, Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 5 5/16 x 8 15/16 inches, © Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

#SAMPhotoClub Street Photography Spotlight: Chloe Collyer

While Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue (November 17–January 20) is on view at SAM, we’re announcing photography submissions to three of the defining motifs of these legendary photographers’ artistic careers: self-portraits, street photography, and family & community.

With submissions to the second theme of SAM Photo Club—street photography—now open, we’re taking this time to spotlight the artwork of SAM’s two staff photographers: Chloe Collyer and Alborz Kamalizad. Although both photo-based artists are responsible for capturing all events, exhibitions, installations, programs, and more across all three SAM locations, they’re also working professionals too! Scroll down to browse through Chloe’s favorite street photos they’ve taken and learn which of Dawoud Bey’s street photographs on view in SAM’s exhibition inspires them the most!

Louis Mendes, NYC, 2016

A cherished portrait from when I met Louis Mendes, a legend in the photo world, outside of B&H in Manhattan. Famous for his lifetime dedication to polaroid street portraits in NYC, Mendes was nice enough to talk about film cameras with me and posed when I asked for his portrait. He seemed impressed by me and he took my photo free of charge.

Martin Luther King Day, 2020

Seattle is located in King County, the only jurisdiction in the USA named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so it seems fitting that documenting our annual MLK rally is a tradition for me. Documenting Seattle’s annual MLK and May Day marches are part of what shaped my eye and ethics as an emerging photographer. These events can be chaotic. I use my racing thoughts like a superpower and try to keep my eyes darting and my hands turning camera dials as needed. When I walk the streets of Seattle I think about the five generations of my ancestors who walked the same streets and the Native families who lived on this coast before that. When I document protests in Seattle streets, I think of C.H.O.P 2020 and of the 1999 WTO protests.

May Day Aztec Girl, 2018

The youngest member of CeAtl Tonalli, a traditional Aztec dance group, leads the annual May Day labor march in Seattle, Washington, 2018.

“Black Lives Matter” Black Friday,  2015

After the tragically preventable deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, various groups across the nation chose Black Friday as a day of protest for Black lives. Black Friday 2015 was the first time I remember hearing “Black Lives Matter” at a rally. 

Honor and Memory, 2021

At the height of the COVID 19, family members and allies of the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) gather in Seattle’s southend to show the intersectionality of issues effecting Native and Black communities like substance abuse, police violence, domestic abuse and the pandemic.

Day 1, 2020

The Friday after George Floyd’s death I heard the sounds of protest outside my window and joined a crowd facing off police. This turned out to be day one of over 100 days of continuous protest in Seattle. I documented almost every day.

White Coats for Black Lives, 2020

On June 6, 2020 thousands of Seattle’s healthcare workers, medical students, and citizens marched to raise awareness of racism in healthcare.

Southend BLM March, 2020 

A march through Seattle’s Southend on June 7, 2020 brought thousands of people of all ages into the streets to call for justice for George Floyd and others killed by police. 

High School Protests, 2016

Seattle high school students walk out of class to protest the threat to DACA posed by the newly appointed Trump administration in September 2016.

A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, Dawoud Bey, 1988

Is there anything more perfect than a slightly imperfect image? This photo reminds me of portraits by the photographer Steve McCurry including Afghan Girl from an infamous cover of National Geographic in 1984. Empathetic eye contact. This composition is so stable and balanced, it makes me feel extremely comfortable and yet the misalignment of the subjects eyes is impossibly imperfect. 

Chloe Collyer (they/them) is a photographer, journalist, and fifth-generation Seattle resident whose work is deeply connected to the history and communities of the Pacific Northwest. A natural born documentarian, their toolkit includes 15+ years behind the camera, an associate’s degree in commercial photography, and seven years of experience working as a photojournalist and photo editor. In addition to working as a staff photographer at the Seattle Art Museum, Chloe also teaches photography at Youth in Focus and Photo Center Northwest, and has had their work featured in The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, NPR, Buzzfeed, Real Change, Crosscut, and more.

Join #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own street photography on Instagram and tagging us before December 30. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions to our final theme—family & community photography—in the coming weeks.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, 1988, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches, © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Artist Yuki Kihara on Performing Paradise and Finding Sanctuaries

Paradise Camp imagines Fa’afafine utopia that shatters colonial heteronormativity to make a way for an Indigenous worldview that is more inclusive and sensitive to the change in nature.”

Yuki Kihara

Eight years in the making, the exhibition Paradise Camp by interdisciplinary artist Yuki Kihara explores colonial histories, intersecting gender issues, and ecological crisis with rigor, humor, and flair. Comprising 12 tableau photographs featuring a cast from Fa’afafine—Sāmoa’s traditional third gender—communities, Kihara’s work summons the late 19th-century French artist Paul Gauguin and his works from “French Polynesia,” which are believed to have been inspired by Sāmoa. Paradise Camp was just presented at the 59th International Venice Biennale, where Kihara became the first Fa’afafine and Pacific artist to represent New Zealand.

Before her artist talk on December 10 as part of the 2022–2023 Saturday University lecture series, Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, interviewed Kihara about the ideas and process behind Paradise Camp, the impacts of climate change in the global south, and the meanings embedded in her grandmother’s kimono.


HALEY HA: You were selected to represent the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale before the pandemic started. What was your vision for Paradise Camp when you started, and how did it change? 

YUKI KIHARA: I was lucky to shoot the photographs for Paradise Camp in March 2020 in Sāmoa just before the global lockdown. Around mid-2020 there were numerous articles published in the global north that described Sāmoa and neighboring Pacific Islands being a “safe haven” from the COVID-19 pandemic, due to our geographical isolation during the global lockdown. Part of this perception is embedded in the Western legacy that continues to view the Pacific region as an untouched “Paradise” that masks ongoing colonial violence. The idea of the Pacific region as “Paradise” was heightened every time COVID-19 numbers were climbing at apocalyptic levels in the global north. 

The global lockdown was in a way a blessing in disguise because it gave me a gift of time to work on post-production and the editing of the exhibition catalogue for Paradise Camp while being isolated. 

HH: Can you tell us how the notions of “paradise” and “camp” came together? Covering the white walls of the New Zealand Pavilion with the oceanscape and extravagant tableau photographs, there seems to be a clear visual sensibility that you frame as “camp aesthetic.” Is there a story you want to tell with this exhibition?

YK: The origin of “Paradise” derives from the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, which forms the foundation of how the West sees itself as being heteronormative where these ideas were imposed upon “others” through the process of colonialism. However, the idea of colonial heteronormativity is questioned by the research conducted by Sāmoan American artist and writer Dan Taulapapa McMullin, who found missionary accounts dating back to 1896 which described Sāmoa’s origin story of the formation of the first humans, who were a male couple; one is transformed by the gods into a woman. This story of gender transformation is something that resonates with how gender is understood in Sāmoan culture, which traditionally recognizes four genders.

HH: For this edition of the Saturday University series, we have delved into the ecological landscape of our time and its challenged built environment. You’ve shared in an interview about your experience of flood in Sāmoa and living through its rapidly changing landscape. How did these experiences shape your artistic practice?

YK: The Pacific region has become synonymous with images of unpolluted and vacant white sandy beaches that are constantly re-created by the tourism industry. They are also commonly featured on screensavers of millions of people around the world, becoming ironic and cliché in popular culture. However, those clichéd images of white sandy beaches are real places in Sāmoa with real people who’ve lived there for generations, faced with real life issues such as climate change, given that almost 80 per cent of Sāmoa’s population lives along the coastal areas. Scientific data shows that the global average for sea level rise is 2.8–3.5 millimeters a year, compared to Sāmoa’s sea level rise measuring up to 4 millimeters a year. In Paradise Camp, I wanted to juxtapose fact and fiction in order to drive home the reality of climate change from a Fa’afafine perspective. 

HH: We’ve been navigating the extreme climate of our time and belatedly acknowledging the disproportionate impact of the ecological crisis on Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities. In your view, how does gender play a role in engaging with ecology and the environmental crisis? 

YK: Climate change impacts all of us. 80% of the Sāmoa population lives alongside the coastal areas including Fa’afafine community. But it has a particular kind of impact on marginalized communities, particularly on the Fa’afafine community because there are things that impact us more than others. And this is what I wanted to highlight in Paradise Camp, to talk about Fa’afafine experience with climate change.

HH: Your Kimono series tells a tale of speculative fiction and imaginative histories, but also of our present and perhaps our near future. Can you tell us about this work and the サーモアのうた (Sāmoa no uta) A song about Sāmoa? How did you first conceive this idea and developed it?

YK: In 2015, I came across an old kimono owned by my late Japanese grandmother Masako Kihara where the color of the kimono reminded her of Siapo, a hand-made Sāmoan backcloth made from the Lau u’a (paper mulberry tree). This was the initial inspiration to bring together textile traditions from Sāmoa (tapa) & Japan (kimono) into a cross-cultural fusion to create a series of ‘siapo kimono’ where kimono made from Samoan tapa cloth are presented as sculpture. The title of the series is adapted from a popular Japanese song entitled ‘Samoatou no uta’ in Japanese meaning ‘A song from Samoa.’ Music textbooks for elementary school students in Japan feature the song. The work aims to reframe the Vā [relation] between Japan and the Pacific and specifically Sāmoa, taking an Indigenous interpretation of trans-Pacific identity, gender, and history, while referencing my own interracial Sāmoan & Japanese heritage as a point of conceptual departure.

– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Images: Two Fa‘afafine (After Gauguin) from Paradise Camp series, 2020, Yuki Kihara. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Artist Yuki Kihara at her Paradise Camp exhibition presented at the 59th Venice Biennale, 2022. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Photo by Lukas Walker, 2022. Two Fa‘afafine (After Gauguin) from Paradise Camp series, 2020, Yuki Kihara. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Genesis 9:16 (After Gauguin) from Paradise Camp series, 2020, Yuki Kihara. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Installation view of ‘サモアのうた (Sāmoa no uta) A song about Sāmoa’ Phase 2: Fanua (Land),2021, Yuki Kihara, presented at the Aichi Triennale, Japan in 2022. Photo by Ayako Takemoto. 

#SAMPhotoClub Self-Portrait Spotlight: SAM Photographer Alborz Kamalizad

SAM’s photographers are getting in on the fun of SAM Photo Club too! While Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue (November 17, 2022–January 20, 2023) is on view at SAM, we’re announcing photography submissions to three of the defining motifs of these legendary photographers’ artistic careers: self-portraits, street photography, and family & community.

Submissions to our first theme, self-portraits, are now open and will close this Friday, December 9. As we continue to round up submissions received from SAM’s Instagram community, we’re taking this time to highlight a few self-portraits by SAM staff photographer Alborz Kamalizad and asking him to share his favorite portrait by either Dawoud Bey or Carrie Mae Weems.

Self-Portrait, 2022

For me, self-portraiture is a strange photographic endeavor — in order to make a self-portrait a painter or sculptor doesn’t (and can’t) physically get out in front of their own art-making process like a photographer can (and has to). I’ve never tried to make self-portraits before so the #SAMPhotoClub presented a good reason to try. It was a daunting task at first, so I decided to think of a theme to bounce off of to help me get started.

I’ve recently relocated to the Seattle area from Los Angeles so where I am physically and the idea of “home” is top of mind. I’ve also been working on a separate photo project that has to do with our relationship with, and distance from, the natural world. With those two broad ideas in mind, an off-camera flash, and a self-timer on the camera shutter, I created these.

Self and Shadow, New York, NY, 1980, Dawoud Bey, 1980

It’s reassuring that probably everyone who’s ever had a camera in their hands has at some point taken a picture of their own shadow. These photographs aren’t only self-portraits, they also capture the presence of the camera, where the person is, and the sun. All are in perfect physical alignment.

Alborz Kamalizad (he/him) is a visual artist who moves between photography, animation, documentary filmmaking, and illustration. He was born in Iran, raised in the US, and currently works as a staff photographer for the Seattle Art Museum. As a visual journalist and photographer, his work has been featured by Los Angeles’s NPR affiliate, Mother Jones Magazine, the United Nations, The Nature Conservancy, MasterClass, and the Getty.

Join #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own self-portrait on Instagram and tagging us through December 9. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions for our next two themes—street photography and family & community photography—in the coming weeks.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: Self and Shadow, New York, NY, 1980, Dawoud Bey, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 20 x 24 inches, © Dawoud Bey, courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

“Woman, Life, Freedom”: Shirin Neshat’s Tooba

Tooba (2002) is a 12-minute video installation by Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat. Projected on two opposing screens, it centers around the image of a woman inside a tree, within a walled garden in the midst of a desert landscape. The woman disappears into the tree as a crowd of men approach, in what appears to be a kind of pilgrimage. As with much of her work, Neshat uses the grammar of traditional narrative filmmaking (her cinematographer Darius Khondji regularly works with Hollywood filmmakers like David Fincher and the Safdie brothers) to tell an allegorical story with poetic open-endedness. The combination gives Tooba the spiritual yet earthly feeling that is present in much of her work.

Originally, Neshat intended to film in Iran. In a making-of documentary she said, “we made many steps toward it… and then it was blocked [for] whatever reason.” The “whatever reason” is most likely the Islamic Republic, the theocratic regime that has governed Iran for the past 43 years. Any film, performance, or otherwise public artwork made in the country has to be vetted by its Ministry of Culture, which must be convinced that the work isn’t critical of the regime or its particular brand of politicized Islam.

It’s not hard to imagine why Shirin Neshat, whose work has repeatedly dealt with the gender apartheid inside Iran, would have a hard time getting a stamp of approval from the Ministry of Culture. The video itself is based on a novel of the same name by Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur, who spent years as a political prisoner inside Iran. Parsipur now lives in exile, as does Neshat.

Brought into SAM’s collection in 2015, Tooba was on view in Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art at the Seattle Asian Art Museum until July 2022, which is about when I started my position as a SAM photographer. One aspect of my job is to walk the galleries and take photos of museum visitors looking at the art. As an Iranian-American, I get a thrill noticing people examining Iranian artifacts in the museum’s collection because there are so few instances in the US where Iranian and Middle Eastern culture are visible. 

I wonder what goes through people’s minds when they see “Iran” written on wall labels and how they reconcile that name with the typical images of “Iran” from our media: scowling men in foreign-looking religious or military garb, the leaders of the Islamic Republic. The Iran of today is cloaked behind those men and the opaque politics of nuclear negotiations.

That is until September 2022.

On September 13, Mahsa Jina Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, was detained for allegedly not complying with the regime’s compulsory hijab law—all women in the country must cover their hair and wear loose clothing that hides their bodies. She was reportedly beaten while in custody and died three days later. Amini’s death sparked a wave of country-wide civil disobedience, led by women who marched into the streets and defiantly refused to wear hair coverings. After eleven weeks of demonstrations, the movement shows no signs of slowing down. The number of women with free-flowing hair in public grows every day. To me, every one of them is an Iranian Rosa Parks daring to assert her own worth—often hand-in-hand with women who cover their hair but who fight in solidarity for the choice to do so.

This feminist revolution has also added a new wave of protest art to Iran’s history of guerilla art under the regime of the Islamic Republic. But the defining artistic work of this moment in Iran is probably the song Baraye, by Shervin Hajipour. A crowdsourced song whose title means “for the sake of,” Baraye has become the de facto anthem of hopeful revolutionaries in Iran. It is simply a list of what people are fighting for, taken verbatim from Iranian Twitter. The breadth of grievances—from the most basic (“for the shame of being penniless”), to the painfully specific (“for a girl who wished she was a boy”), to sweeping hopes (“for the future”)—demonstrate the intersectional alliance of Iranians fighting for change.

The song ends with the cornerstone chant of the movement: “woman, life, freedom.” Three words which when taken together, indicate that freedom for anyone is impossible without freedom for women. And so, if Iranians are successful, we may be witnessing what Shirin Neshat has called the “first female revolution” to overthrow a government. 

Predictably 25-year-old Hajipour was arrested, forced to publicly renounce the obvious intentions of his song, and delete it from his Instagram page. But that’s hardly a drop in the bucket of the regime’s violent crackdown on the protests. To date 450 people have been reported killed (including 63 children); over 18,000 people have been arrested and threatened with execution; at least 21 have been formally charged with the death penalty (up to 1,000 face further charges); and a propaganda machine makes paranoia and fatigue a feature of daily life in Iran

This is a government with no room for song (for women, literally).

And so Shirin Neshat ended up filming Tooba in Oaxaca, Mexico and kept the setting of the video nondescript. This gives her work a universality that it probably would have lacked had she filmed in Iran. Neshat’s adaptability as an artist aside, the decision on filming location should have been hers to make and not one she was backed into by a theocracy that has banned her from working in her homeland. As people outside of the country use their freedom to continue raising awareness over the long history of oppression in Iran, how many Shirin Neshats are inside the country right now—rather than making art, desperate to find a missing friend? How many Shahrnush Parsipurs will never make it out of political prison to write a book that would inspire the next Tooba? And how many more Shervin Hajipours will risk their lives to sing?

– Alborz Kamalizad, SAM Staff Photographer

Photos: Tooba (detail), 2002, Shirin Neshat (American, b. Iran, 1957), color 35mm film transferred to DVD, 12 min., Gift of Jeffery and Susan Brotman, Jane and David Davis, Barney A. Ebsworth, Jeff and Judy Greenstein, Lyn and Jerry Grinstein, Richard and Betty Hedreen, Janet Ketcham, Kerry and Linda Killinger Foundation, James and Christina Lockwood, Michael McCafferty, Christine and Assen Nicolov, Faye and Herman Sarkowsky, Jon and Marry Shirley, Rebecca and Alexander Stewart, Virgnia and Bagley Wright, Charles and Barbara Wright, and Ann P. Wyckoff in honor of Lisa Corrin, 2005.141 ©️ Shirin Neshat, photo: Larry Barns, courtesy of Gladstone Gallery. Installation image of the Islamic galleries at SAM, photo: Alborz Kamalizad. Iranian-Americans marched through Downtown Seattle on November 19, 2022 in solidarity with Iranians back home, photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

#SAMPhotoClub Self-Portrait Spotlight: SAM Photographer Chloe Collyer

Amateur photographers, professional photographers, with a camera, or with an iPhone—#SAMPhotoClub is for everyone! While Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue (November 17, 2022–January 20, 2023) is on view at SAM, we’re announcing photography submissions to three of the defining motifs of both of these legendary photographers’ careers: self-portraits, street photography, and family & community.

Submissions to our first theme, self-portraits, are now open, and we’re taking the opportunity to highlight a few self-portraits by SAM’s staff photographers and also asking them to offer some insight into their favorite portraits by Dawoud Bey or Carrie Mae Weems. First up: Chloe Collyer!

Camera Techs, 2015

This is a moment of reflection at my old workplace called CameraTechs. Shortly after graduating from photo school I was working at the camera repair shop and had bought a new Sony mirrorless camera. Both my career and my camera were brand new.

Trans People are Divine, 2022

A self-portrait one month after receiving gender-affirming top surgery. I hold the words “Trans people are divine” to honor the ‘Black Trans Prayer Book,’ a publication of stories, poems, prayers, meditation, spells, and incantations used by Black trans and non-binary people.

First Self-Portrait, Carrie Mae Weems, 1975

In this photograph, Weems leans against a white pillar—the symbol of strength, a spinal cord, and long-lasting Greek architecture—but her pose is gentle and protective. This photograph has such strong tonal blacks and whites that, when I unfocus my eyes, I see a white square with a small black hole in the middle. Holes can mean something is missing; they can be windows to look through. In this case I see both, I see every woman here.

Chloe Collyer (they/them) is a photographer, journalist, and fifth-generation Seattle resident whose work is deeply connected to the history and communities of the Pacific Northwest. A natural born documentarian, their toolkit includes 15+ years behind the camera, an associate’s degree in commercial photography, and seven years of experience working as a photojournalist and photo editor. In addition to working as a staff photographer at the Seattle Art Museum, Chloe also teaches photography at Youth in Focus and Photo Center Northwest, and has had their work featured in The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, NPR, Buzzfeed, Real Change, Crosscut, and more.

Join #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own self-portrait on Instagram and tagging us before December 9. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions for our next two themes—street photography and family & community photography—in the coming weeks.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo Credit: First Self Portrait, 1975, Carrie Mae Weems, American, born 1953, gelatin silver print, 8 5/8 x 8 5/8 inches, © Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Rosa Sittig-Bell: An Emerging Arts Leader’s Look at SAM

Growing up in Seattle, I spent many years skipping school on the first Thursday of every month to wander the ever-changing exhibitions at SAM, picking out my favorite paintings and developing a personal relationship with them. I always knew that I wanted to be a part of creating the magic that happens when you enter a museum and experience the way one artwork can transform your perspective on the world and yourself. Through my internship at the museum, I was able to get closer to recognizable and historic artworks—many of which I have been enamored with for years—than I had ever imagined I would, as well as getting to intimately investigate, work with, and develop new relationships to new pieces in SAM’s collection. 

Like a child being pulled away from a candy shop, as my Emerging Arts Leader Internship at SAM concludes, I want to look back on how transformative and fascinating working with the conservation team has been as I focused on conservation projects at the Olympic Sculpture Park and on objects in the museum’s reinstallation of its American art galleries, which debuted this October.

In the ever-increasing heat of Seattle’s newfound summer, I spent days running around the Olympic Sculpture Park with Senior Objects Conservator Elizabeth Brown as we treated the various sculptures that inhabit SAM’s outdoor location. This work ranged from re-waxing Louise Bourgeois’ Father and Son, to painting Alexander Calder’s The Eagle, to treating George Rickey’s kinetic sculpture Two Plane Vertical Horizontal Variation III. I was struck by the public’s fascination with our process, stopping on their strolls with their Australian Shepherds to inquire about what we were doing. I would stop—blow torch and wax in hand—and explain these routine art treatments. These interactions made clear to me that the public is invested in the art around them, and that this work contributes to dialogues on accessible art. 

The conversation around what it means to work in conservation tends to be slim outside of the museum sphere, and I believe it’s a majorly overlooked aspect of the processes artworks go through before they are sent across the world to various museums, acquired from collectors, or have been sitting on display for months. How do we interact with artworks in a way that will allow them to be experienced in the future? Conservation is a field that combines investigation in so many different directions: the hand-skills needed to replicate the movements of practicing artists, the chemistry knowledge that informs how to interact with various materials, and the knowledge of art history that is needed to investigate the unique mechanisms of every artwork. My understanding of how multifaceted conservation is has grown immensely during my time here at SAM. 

Working at SAM has also revealed to me how museums and other art institutions can work toward greater equity. As part of my internship, I attended a few sessions of the American art project’s advisory circle, a group of 11 members of the community who advised on the reinstallation. These sessions were eye-opening. I was able to see and be a part of how SAM is working to eliminate an echo chamber of only museum staff in reflecting how communities would like to be represented themselves in the galleries. 

I will look back longingly on my experience, wishing I could use the XRF machine (essentially a handheld X-ray) one more time or attempt to clean a 19th-century elevator screen using a CO2 gun with Objects Conservator Geneva Griswold and fellow conservation intern Caitlyn Fong again. I will forever cherish being able to work so closely with objects from around the world. Becoming so personal with the art that I grew up visiting in the museum and investigating it on a whole new, and sometimes molecular level, has been one of the greatest learning experiences I could have imagined.

In concluding my internship, I look forward to seeking out more opportunities in the conservation field and to make sure that the art that touches us can be seen for years to come.

– Rosa Sittig-Bell, SAM Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Conservation

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

Dr. Luisa Cortesi: The Art of Living with Floods

2022 has been a record-breaking year for floods across the planet, enveloping both urban and rural areas in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the US. This frightening fact leads us to wonder: How do we adapt to accelerating changes of climate and crisis?

In the nineteenth-century, Japanese polymath Minakata Kumagusu combined research in anthropology and local forms of knowledge to learn about the natural world. He campaigned to preserve local forms of knowledge while the Meji government favored European forms of academicism. And he did so as a scientist and a participant in local forms of knowledge.

Today, we find like-minded contemporary researchers and activists pioneering in the same spirit, gallantly moving through our challenged landscapes, cities, and neighborhoods while centering the work of local communities and their embodied knowledge of floods. Dr. Luisa Cortesi, Assistant Professor of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands, experienced one of history’s most disastrous floods while conducting research in North Bihar, India between 2007-2008. During her multi-year stint in the region, she reexamined the ecological systems of the river and the riverine land to better understand floods and the complex interconnections humans share with nature. Her academic contributions to natural disasters, floods, and resource access have won her many awards, including the 2017 Eric Wolf Prize in the field of Political Ecology, the PRAXIS award for outstanding achievement in translating anthropological knowledge into action, and the 2017-2018 Josephine deKarman fellowship.

On Saturday, November 12, Dr. Luisa Cortesi invites visitors to learn about her travels in the North Bihar region while expanding our knowledge of flood frequency, considering the connections between water and its surroundings. In advance of this third lecture in our 2022–2023 Saturday University Lecture Series, Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, spoke with Dr. Cortesi about her background, her thoughts on the equity of knowledge, and what you can expect at her upcoming talk.


HALEY HA: Tell us about your background. What led you to your current field of study?

DR. LUISA CORTESI: I grew up in small-town Northern Italy. To be precise, I grew up in the enclave of the racist party Lega Nord during the years of brutal rhetoric against Southerners, and partially in the South, from where my mother had migrated. In the North, I was considered a Southerner and was discriminated against beginning in kindergarten. In the South, I remained an outsider associated with Northern racists. This was probably why I started questioning the meaning of ‘community’ very early on. Not only did I realize I did not belong anywhere, but, more expansively, the categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ never made any sense to me.

I remember my parents as unconventional, critical, outspoken, and possessing a passion for social justice. Despite living in a hostile setting, they refused to consider themselves victims or superior to anyone but treated their situation as analytically as possible. Now that I think about it, their discussions, stemming from very different cultural contexts, were fertile terrain for an anthropological initiation.

HH: How has your background influenced your research interests? 

LC: A factor that certainly influenced my current research was my lifelong reverence toward water. In the south of Italy, where we would visit my mother’s family for a few months each year, running water was available only in the very early hours of the morning, which influenced our day-to-day life greatly. Whenever we would travel north to south or vice versa, we would always stop at the main river in Italy, the Po, just to admire its magnitude and revel in its grandiosity. I also lived through different floods and other water troubles that inspired my future research. For example, I remember walking through a mud flood accompanied by a major blackout during my college years—although these were nowhere near as catastrophic as the major floods I lived through while in India.

Luisa Cortesi with the Megh Pyne Abhiyan teams who worked on the Dug-Well project.

HH: What was it like working with diverse communities in the North Bihar region of India?

LC: I have traveled in and out of India in different capacities since I was 21. I feel I came of age in India. While with local NGOs and local communities in the region—not through international organizations or funding agencies—I experienced several major floods, mostly by myself while possessing coarse language skills and important academic responsibilities. Living through those floods, instead of accepting the first opportunity to leave the region, as well as the development of ethnographic skills of connection and understanding, enabled my acceptance in those communities. I feel deeply indebted to the people of North Bihar for what they have taught me. North Biharis, regardless of their formal education level, are not only experts on matters of disastrous water as my talk will explain, but are barefoot philosophers in their own right. This is particularly the case for Dalit and Tribal communities, whose experiences of discrimination are atrocious, and yet whose wisdom in all matters of life and environmental management is unmatched.

HH: What actions or approaches have you found to be successful in helping to break through the silos of social and natural science, as well as western and traditional knowledge? 

LC: Every scientist has a specialized interest. It’s not easy to keep up with one field of research, let alone multiple. But in order to succeed, scientists need to develop deep relationships with others and a thorough understanding of those individuals collaboration would be useful. My training was unique in that it combined cultural and environmental anthropology with environmental studies and water sciences. I personally do not believe in a hierarchy of knowledge, nor in the opposition that exists between western versus traditional knowledge. Have you ever tried learning a language later in life? If so, you realize that this new knowledge is neither ‘western’ nor ‘traditional.’ Rather, it is both embodied and theoretical, and explicit and tacit at the same time. As humans, we must all deal with the challenges of the environments in which we live. Dividing knowledge of these environments will not elicit change.

HH: Can you elaborate on your thought on the issue around equity of knowledge?

LC: Poverty is not only about purchasing power and/or access to services. It is about the right to knowledge, and the protection of this knowledge not only from those who want to appropriate it, but also from those who want to cancel it. Without knowing how to go about in this world, we are reduced to pieces in a machine, dependent on the words of those in control, and unable to stand on our own, both as individuals and as place-based communities. 

HH: How do you spend your free time?

LC: I  have a lot of passions! I love learning new things, even if I’m not always successful. I recently began playing rugby, which I intend to continue as soon as my team members’ patience sticks extend long enough for me to internalize the sport. I also like to experiment in the kitchen, creating new unexpected combinations for seriously eccentric tastebuds. I am smitten by combined colors, but find myself most drawn to knitted textile designers. I spend at least one day per week outdoors, generally hiking, listening, or ocean gazing—it functions as a reset. 

But I am also passionate about a side of my work I don’t get to do as often as I’d like: applied anthropology. This looks like joining a community (broadly intended, including an organization) and figuring out how to help it with its challenges. I work pro-bono involved with organizations focused on water and environmental disasters because that is what I am most competent in. More broadly, I enjoy the challenge of combining analytical and organizational skills to support a set of people in reimagining their habitat or work.

HH: At the Water Justice & Adaptation Lab, you use the term “water justice.” Could you define it and explain how it fits into the realm of environmental justice?

LC: In my experience, environmental justice, while useful at a policy level, is too vague in its applicability to water problems. To live with water requires a specific set of expertise: the knowledge of where excess water is stored, where to find more of it, and how to distinguish different waters for different usages. Being formally trained in the water sciences through my Ph.D. helped me to understand the water knowledge of those with whom I lived through water disasters and who deal with water problems on a regular basis. So, the term ‘water justice’ intends to combine and cross-fertilize the knowledge of local communities, scientists, and policymakers on an even epistemological scale.

– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum

Photos: Luisa Cortesi, Water Justice & Adaptation Lab.

Curating Chinese Art for the Here and Now

Curating an art exhibition isn’t a competition—unless you’re a University of Washington student attending the School of Art + Art History + Design’s upper-level seminar, Exhibiting Chinese Art, taught by FOONG Ping, SAM’s Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art.

Pivoting from in-person to virtual learning, FOONG thought a little friendly competition would engage her students. She split them into teams and assigned three seemingly unrelated artworks by contemporary Chinese artists for them to research. Each team created a cohesive and imaginative exhibition framework to display the three works.

“I wanted to challenge my students, and they really impressed me,” says FOONG. “This exhibition has been in the works for a long time, but a few of their ideas have since been incorporated into the show. Beyond the Mountain wouldn’t be what it is today without their insights.”

Opening this July, Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Forms is the latest special exhibition to open at the renovated and reimagined Seattle Asian Art Museum. Introducing Chinese artists never before exhibited at SAM as well as drawing from the museum’s collection, the exhibition sees artistic themes of the past revitalized. It explores age-old subjects such as Chinese ink painting, proverbs, and landscapes while reflecting upon current or recent events—from the global language of street protests to escape in a time of contagion. Together, the artists contemplate the societal toll of modernity and globalization as well as the impact of humans on the natural world.

One of the works FOONG is most excited to see back on view is Ai Weiwei’s Colored Vases (2010). An acclaimed contemporary artist and outspoken dissident, Ai dipped nine earthenware vases into buckets of industrial paint and then left them to dry. In covering the surface of these purportedly ancient artifacts with bright new paint, Ai suggests that our perceptions of authenticity are a status quo that might be challenged. Much like history, he says, the vases are “no longer visible, but are still there.”

Another highlight are two videos by Yang Yongliang. From afar, these large-scale projections look like classical ink paintings—until you realize that they are actually digital pastiche of video and photography where construction cranes and other modern interventions disturb the majestical natural scene.

“The exhibition is about this moment in our lives,” says FOONG. “These Chinese artists engage with classical Chinese themes, but they speak to everyone.”


Read below for a short interview with exhibition curator FOONG Ping on visitors can expect to experience in the galleries.

SAM: What artwork are you most excited for audiences to see and interact with in the galleries?

FOONG Ping: With this exhibition, I’m introducing Seattleites to an artist new to us: Lam Tung Pang. He has created a site-specific installation in one of our galleries that I really think is going to blow people’s minds. It’s titled The Great Escape and responds directly to his experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong. To escape the stress of the 2020 lockdown, Pang started reading kids’ books and also became fascinated with the master of escape, Harry Houdini. The artwork reflects this specific time in our lives and his thinking about the ways we might free ourselves from constraints—mental & physical—that bind us. I’m confident that the piece goes beyond expectations when people think about Chinese art.

SAM: You’ve described this exhibition as both traditional and modern Chinese artistic forms. How is this seen throughout the exhibition?

FP: Everyone has certain stereotypes about Chinese art—including Chinese folks! Although there are common Chinese artistic elements of ink-brush painting and images of landscape, Beyond the Mountain is so much more than that. The artists in this exhibition have taken these identifiable ideas from Chinese art and transformed them for a modern audience. This exhibition is intentionally small and precise, so visitors can deeply explore each artwork’s clear and distinct voice.

SAM: What message do you want audiences to take away from this exhibition?

FP: I want audiences to understand the legacies of Chinese art, language, and culture and how these legacies remain incredibly relevant today. No matter a visitor’s background, Beyond the Mountain reveals the existence of a global common language, where everyone can reflect on Chinese history and make a connection to their own experiences.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Segments of this article first appeared in the July and October 2022 editions 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.

Images: Alborz Kamalizad & Natali Wiseman.

Meet the 2022 Betty Bowen Award Winner: Elizabeth Malaska

The Seattle Art Museum and the Betty Bowen Committee are proud to announce Portland artist Elizabeth Malaska as the winner of the 2022 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 chair Gary Glant, Mike Hess, Mark Levine, Catharina Manchanda, Llewelyn Pritchard, Greg Robinson, and Norie Sato.

Malaska’s grand tableaux respond to a history of Western painting and power dynamics that often assigns women the roles of submissive accessories. In search of more potent and less pleasing feminine subjects, her tour de force paintings unpack historical genres, such as the reclining nude, and offer up challenging and introspective visions. Malaska is a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow, as well as the recipient of fellowships from The Joan Mitchell and Hallie Ford Foundations. Recent group exhibitions include Time Being at Oregon Contemporary and Making a Better Painting: Thinking Through Practice at Lewis and Clark College. Her work is in the collections of The Portland Art Museum, The Hallie Ford Museum, and The Schneider Museum of Art. Her work will be featured at the Seattle Art Museum in a solo exhibition in 2023, with dates to be announced. 

Klara Glosova won the Kayla Skinner Special Recognition Award and Rafael Soldi won the Gary Glant Special Recognition Award, in the amount of $2,500 each. Finalists Sam Hamilton, Tim Hutchings, and Ric’kisha Taylor 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 532 applicants from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho to compete for the $23,750 in awards.

“Selecting the Betty Bowen Award winner is always a formidable task, and this year was no exception with an extraordinary pool of applicants,” says Gary Glant. “We are thrilled to see Betty’s legacy live on with this year’s winners, who all represent the incredible artistic talent and vision to be found in the Northwest.”

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.

“I am profoundly honored to have been chosen by the committee as the recipient of this year’s Betty Bowen Award,” says Malaska. “This is an exceptional opportunity, and I am already exhilarated thinking about the paintings I’m going to make. I wholeheartedly believe that art has the capacity to transform our world for the better. It is extraordinary to me that Bowen’s passion and legacy continues to support Northwest artists. Such a sustained reach of vision is deeply inspiring to me and something that I aspire to through my own work.”

The 2021 winner was Seattle artist Anthony White. His solo exhibition, Limited Liability, is currently on view at the Seattle Art Museum through January 29, 2023. Learn more about Malaska and all of the 2022 Betty Bowen finalists here.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Images: Photo of Elizabeth Malaska by Mario Gallucci. Photo of Klara Glosova by Jonathan Nesteruk. Photo of Rafael Soldi by Jess T. Dugan.

SAMBlog