World-Renowned Artist Ai Weiwei Comes to SAM in 2025

Today, SAM made a major announcement: In 2025, the Seattle Art Museum will present the first US retrospective in over a decade of the work of Ai Weiwei. Titled Ai, Rebel: The Art and Activism of Ai Weiwei, it will explore over 100 works from across four decades, offering visitors from all over the world a rare opportunity to engage with the celebrated conceptual artist’s wide-ranging body of work. The exhibition will be on view at the Seattle Art Museum in downtown Seattle and is curated by FOONG Ping, SAM Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art. This also marks the artist’s first solo exhibition in Seattle.

The news arrived via a co-exclusive by ARTnews and The Seattle Times.

ARTnews highlighted the unique curatorial perspective that FOONG will take: “Unlike many curators who’ve worked with Ai, Foong does not specialize in contemporary art. She mainly works with age-old Chinese works presented by the museum, and she said this moved to her to explore the art history that guides Ai. ‘My intention is to find some language that might describe trends and patterns, the things that have stood the test of time, the things that he thought about in his first decade and are still with him decades on,’ she said.”

And in The Seattle Times, José Carlos Diaz, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art, called this a “major moment” for the city: “Seattle is due for a major exhibition of his dynamic, large-scale work,” he said. “Ai is a global icon whose work resonates with so many types of audiences; this exhibition will make SAM a destination for locals and visitors alike who will want to engage with his work.”

Exhibitions of Ai Weiwei’s work have brought sold-out crowds around the world, so the museum anticipates high demand and is making preparations for the best visitor experience. To increase access, SAM planned an extended run of six months, beyond its usual exhibition timeframe. Timed ticketing will increase access to the museum and improve flow in the galleries. Ticket release dates will be announced in advance so that visitors can plan ahead. SAM members will have additional opportunities for access, including early access to reserve timeslots, member-only days, and member-exclusive events.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Gao Yuan / Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: McFlag

In McFlag (1996), Jaune Quick-to-See Smith critiques the commercialization of American nationalism by creating a US flag that directly connects the national symbol with corporate branding and advertising. Composed of oil, paper, and newspaper, Smith affixes speakers to the canvas to mimic the dish-like ears of Disney’s iconic mascot Mickey Mouse, and co-opts the ‘big, bigger, biggest’ language of McDonald’s slogans, to humorously depict the US government as being under the control of multinational corporations.

Many artists whose work influenced Smith’s—including Jasper Johns and David Hammons—have also taken liberties with the representation of the American flag. Here, however, Smith’s use is explicitly anti-capitalist. Artist Marie Watt reflects on McFlag as part of the free smartphone tour of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map at SAM, perceiving the work as a rebuke to powerful empires. All 19 stops of the exhibition’s audio tour are accessible by scanning the QR code next to select artworks on view in SAM’s galleries or by visiting our SoundCloud. Memory Map closes this Sunday, May 12, so don’t miss out—reserve your tickets to see the exhibition before it’s gone.

McFlag, 1996

NARRATOR: Smith titled this work McFlag and gave the canvas “ears” made of speakers that resemble Mickey Mouse’s ears. She layers brand identities like McDonald’s and Disney over the American flag, and suggests that American commercialism and American nationalism have become inseparable. 

MARIE WATT: I am Marie Watt, and I am an artist and member of the Seneca Nation of Indians. 

I think that one of the things that Jaune Quick-to-See Smith does in this painting is she really does call upon us to think about these different constructs of empire, whether it’s nationhood or the entertainment industry. I am very much aware is when you zoom into this image and you start looking at the collage elements that have washes of paint over them, how there’s phrases like “the last frontier,” and “spirits are rich,” and “prices are low” and “big business,” and it’s interesting to reflect on the relationship between consumerism and stereotypes, between consumerism and colonization, and even consumerism and environmental degradation. And so this piece on one hand, I think is playful and funny, and yet, it also sort of looks at this darker side of empires.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: McFlag, 1996, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, oil, paper, and newspaper on canvas with speakers and electrical cord, three parts: 60 × 100 in. overall, Tia Collection. Fabricated by Neal Ambrose-Smith, © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Photograph courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

Muse/News: Complex Stories, Sowing Seeds, and Desk Drawings

SAM News

On Seattle Met’s list of “Things to Do in Seattle”: the “complex cultural storytelling” of artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, now on view for just five more days at the Seattle Art Museum. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map closes after Sunday, May 12—don’t miss it!

Local News

SIFF is fifty! (Say that fifty times fast.) The Seattle Times has expansive coverage on the film festival taking place May 9–19.

Rachel Gallaher for Seattle Magazine features three local designers—Guillermo Bravo, Prima Dona Studios, and Eighth Generation—who are giving “Seattle fashion” a good name.

Via Jas Keimig of South Seattle Emerald: Native-led arts organization yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective announced the acquisition of a property it will turn into a Native arts center.

“‘By creating an inclusive space where young people, Elders, and all our relatives can create and experience art together, we are sowing the seeds for the vibrant Indigenous futures we want to see bloom for generations to come,’ said Asia Tail (Cherokee), yəhaw̓’s executive director, in a press release about the news.”

Inter/National News

“Went From Bauhaus to Fun House”: Deborah Soloman with an appraisal of Frank Stella, who died this Saturday at the age of 87.

Hyperallergic is already thinking about “14 Art Books to Read This Summer.”

Via Adam Schrader for Artnet: “Kosovar Artist Petrit Halilaj’s Whimsical Met Roof Installation Belies a Dark History.”

“‘These desks were from the ‘70s, years I was not yet born. They have seen the fall of Yugoslavia, all the conflicts of the ‘90s, all the segregation, all the war. They still survived. All those generations of kids were all coexisting in a very beautiful mix with each other,’ he said.”

And Finally

The saga of Sugar the Zebra.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: Warrior for the 21st Century

In Warrior for the 21st Century (1999), a figural sculpture periodically dances to the sound of a rattle while an unidentified voice counts to 10 in the Salish language. To create this work, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith collaborated with her son and fellow artist Neal Ambrose-Smith. The sculpture is constructed by objects including an electronic motor, metal chains, steel, deck of cards, fry bread, aspirin, cassette tapes, echinacea, and more. All of these elements, Ambrose-Smith notes, are objects “every warrior needs.”

The artists created this sculpture to reflect serious issues affecting contemporary Native Americans, and armed their warrior with items for facing the challenges of the new millennium. Included are red ochre and sage for ceremonies, as well as the Indian AIDS Hotline telephone number (an important resource given the growing rates of HIV and AIDS in Indigenous communities in the late 1990s, when this work was made). The warrior also carries a copy of the 1855 Treaty of Hellgate, which established the reservation lands of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, where Smith was born and returns to often. The treaty serves as a reminder of past struggles with the federal government and the limitations of working within a colonial legal structure to protect land, water, and resources.

Learn more about Warrior for the 21st Century from Ambrose-Smith by tuning in to the free smartphone tour of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map at SAM. Produced by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the tour can be accessed online via our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR codes positioned next to select works on view in the exhibition. Memory Map closes in less than one month at SAM. Don’t miss out: reserve your tickets to see it at SAM before it’s too late.

Warrior for the 21st Century, 1999

NARRATOR: In 1999, Smith was commissioned to make a work that could be packed into a small box–a time capsule. Working on the project with her son, Neal Ambrose-Smith, she set out to make the work take up as much space as possible when it was removed from its container. 

NEAL AMBROSE-SMITH: And so this, the idea was born of maybe a figure and then it could dance or move. And it could be animatronic. 

NARRATOR: Neal Ambrose-Smith. 

NEAL AMBROSE-SMITH: So we got these guys down the street to make a motor for us to mount this thing on. And then we decided to use chains instead of ropes to hold it together because they make sound and they collapse. 

And it was a lot of fun because Jaune went into this super creative mode of like, oh, we’re going to do some sound. It needs sound. And so we went to this guy’s recording studio and we brought coffee cans full of coffee beans and, you know, to make a rattle sound. And then we got somebody up on the reservation to do a recording from Sophie May, she’s one of our Salish speakers, counting one to ten for “Ten Little Indians.”

The figure itself is a combination of all the things that you might need as a warrior for the 21st century. And when I say warrior, it doesn’t necessarily mean male or female.

So the stomach is frybread and then a T-shirt from the reservation. It says Salish Kootenai on it and it’s red, which is good. And then at each of the joints, we put these little clear boxes like jewelry boxes or something to stuff things in. So there’s sage and there’s some tobacco and the feet are cassettes, you know with like powwow songs. And then there’s a snag bag connected to one of the hands, you know which are gloves. And a snag bag, for those who aren’t in the know is—at a powwow, sometimes you go in there for a snag, which is to get a date. And so a snag bag has lubricants, maybe a condom. Things for safe practice of snagging.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Warrior for the 21st Century, 1999, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and Neal Ambrose-Smith, electrical motor, metal box and mechanical timer, metal chains, steel, hardware, acrylic sheets, photograph, Salish Kootenai College T-shirt, deck of cards, copy of Hellgate Treaty, fry bread, beaded cuffs, cotton gloves, aspirin, bottle of echinacea, plastic sewn with sinew (with Salish Kootenai Health Department Reservation Snag Bag, condoms, sage, red ochre), cassette tapes (Black Lodge “The Peoples Dance” and Star Basket Jr.’s “Get Up and Dance! Pow-Wow Songs Recorded Live”), wooden crate, CD player, sound, dimensions variable, Collection of the artist; courtesy Garth Greenan Gallery, New York, © Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: Rain (C.S. 1854)

In Rain (C.S. 1854) (1990), long-handled silver spoons are adhered to a wood canvas. Below the spoons, oozing layers of paint, oil, wax, and ink punctuate the work’s surface like drops of rain.

Contemporary Native artist Jaune Quick-to-See Smith was inspired to create Rain (C.S. 1854) in 1990 while traveling through the northeast United States with Seneca artist G. Peter Jemison. She recalls, “When I went up to Buffalo and Syracuse [New York], the Iroquois up there were saying the maple trees were dying because of acid rain.” The incorporation of silver spoons in the work, says Smith, represents “the mouths” of the steel mill companies most responsible for the acid rain. Taken as a whole, the installation calls out the unequal distribution of both environmental harm and financial benefit as well as the sense of capitalist entitlement that allows factories to burn fossil fuels so recklessly.

Rain (C.S. 1854) is one of many environmentally-focused works Smith has created throughout her five-decade career. Tune in to the free smartphone tour of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map at SAM to hear G. Peter Jemison discuss the significance of this work, its connection to Chief Seattle, and Smith’s passion for environmentalism. The exhibition closes in just over a month on Sunday, May 12—reserve your tickets to see it at SAM before it’s gone!

Rain (C.S. 1854), 1990

NARRATOR: Smith called this work Rain (C.S. 1854). G. Peter Jemison is a member of the Seneca Nation heron clan.

G. PETER JEMISON: As you move around the painting, you would be struck by this light being reflected from the spoons. And I like that idea, because it’s difficult to capture, really, what rain looks like If you try to paint it. 

NARRATOR: The “C.S.” of the painting’s subtitle stands for Chief Seattle, who was a Suquamish and Duwamish chief during the middle of the 19th century.

G. PETER JEMISON: Chief Seattle, of course, is famous for making an early statement about the necessity to live in harmony with the natural world, and not to be in the process of destroying it. Perhaps Jaune’s commentary here is related to what is it, that is, now not only in the soil, but what is coming from the atmosphere. Because of the kind of air pollution that we now live with.

NARRATOR: Smith made this painting after traveling around the northeastern United States with Jemison, and encountering the effects of acid rain on forests in upstate New York.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: Trade (Gifts for Trading Land with White People)

In Trade (Gifts for Trading Land with White People), images related to American colonization appear alongside newspaper headlines describing the dark reality of reservation life. Above, an array of cheap toys, souvenirs, and sports memorabilia—which speak to the commodification of Native American identity—are offered as gifts to white people in exchange for the return of stolen lands. Presented together, the large-scale mixed-media collage is illustrates the historical and contemporary inequities between the United States government and Native American communities.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith created this work in 1992 as a response to the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North America. Part of the series The Quincentenary Non-Celebration, the work is one of the earliest ‘trade canoes’ Smith developed across her career.

Tune in to the free smartphone tour of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map to hear contemporary Native American artist Jeffrey Gibson further explore the themes and significance of Smith’s trade canoe. All 19 stops of the exhibition’s are available via our SoundCloud or by scanning the QR codes next to select artworks on view. Memory Map closes Sunday, May 12—reserve your tickets to see it now at the Seattle Art Museum before it’s gone!

Trade (Gifts for Trading Land with White People), 1992

NARRATOR: This is one of Smith’s earliest “Trade Canoes.” From the beginning, she drew on the importance of canoes to Native peoples in order to make complex statements about their experience of American history. 

JEFFREY GIBSON: I think for Indigenous people, it is mobility. It is the ability to be able to travel. 

My name is Jeffrey Gibson. I’m an artist. I live in the Hudson Valley, and I’m a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and half Cherokee.

What’s interesting about this painting is we don’t know the direction. All the directions are removed. There is no front end of the canoe versus the back end of the canoe. It’s empty and it’s in a chaotic world that that version of the canoe doesn’t really make sense.

All of the kind of text and imagery that she’s put here are the things that have robbed us of knowing the Indigenous definition of a canoe. And I think putting the trash on the string above the painting, those are also just those images and those texts brought into object form, mass-produced all over the world, cheap and plentiful.

This painting of the canoe down below and all of the text and imagery that surrounds it speaks in the same way of this kind of difficult, challenging world for Indigenous people to find and navigate who they are as contemporary people, who they are as traditional people, who they are in relationship to their communities and their families. And then you hang this… I’m going to use the word trash, and I don’t mean that, but I mean it sort of like this very much throwaway culture…this kitsch and camp racist memorabilia hanging above it on the string. I think it’s sort of the audacity of this painting that makes it really successful.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Trade (Gifts for Trading Land with White People), 1992, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, oil, paper, newspaper, and fabric on canvas with thirty-one found objects on a chain, four parts: 86 × 170 in. overall, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia; museum purchase in memory of Trinkett Clark, Curator of American and Contemporary Art, Fabricated by Andy Ambrose, © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Group of Photos

By the 1950s, Alexander Calder had established himself as an internationally renowned artist. Although the public perceived him as a social butterfly, he preferred to work in his Roxbury, Connecticut studio alone and in silence. Few outsiders were granted access to the artist’s workspace. Among them, however, was acclaimed photojournalist and filmmaker Gordon Parks.

Parks visited Calder in his home and studio in 1952 on assignment for Life magazine. That year, Calder represented the United States at the 26th Venice Biennale, an international exposition that highlights global artistic achievements. This photograph, featuring a mobile now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is one of several images that were taken by Parks for the August 25, 1952, issue of the magazine. The accompanying story celebrated Calder’s winning of the biennale’s grand prize for sculpture.

Learn more about this work and two other photographs of Calder in his studio by tuning in to the seventh stop on the free smartphone tour of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection at SAM. The full tour is available to explore on your own time via our SoundCloud or in our galleries by scanning the QR code next to select works in the exhibition.

Group of Photos: Calder Installing Gamma (1947), Alexander Calder, Roxbury Ct. (1957), and Alexander Calder (1952)

NARRATOR: These three photographs offer an intimate glimpse of Calder at work. 

Let’s focus on the image to the far right of the group. It was taken by the important photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks in 1952. That year, Calder had been selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. Curator José Diaz:

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: The Venice Biennale is sort of the Olympics of the art world where artists are chosen to represent their countries, and Calder actually won the Grand Prize that year.

This photo was taken for the August 25, 1952, issue of Life magazine and features Calder not installing an exhibition at the Venice Biennale but actually in his studio in Roxbury, Connecticut. This was a very private space, and for Life magazine—or really the American public—to see the artist behind the scenes would have been really captivating at the time.

NARRATOR: For artist Kennedy Yanko, the photographs offer a different perspective on the work.

KENNEDY YANKO: When you typically see Calder’s work, you’re looking up and you’re looking around. So your entire physical gesture and exploration of it changes. But you can see here how different it is when he’s so close to it and how he’s experienced it in the making. He’s living within the work, and he’s living within the sculpture, and I think that that’s what allowed all of these monumental sculptures to kind of continue to carry us. That sense of life and that sense of curiosity is how deeply immersed and present he was inside of the pieces.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Installation view of Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection, Seattle Art Museum, 2023, © 2024 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo: Chloe Collyer.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: The Vanishing American

In Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s striking abstract painting The Vanishing American (1994), a series of Native figures dressed in traditional clothing are surrounded by marks and newspaper clippings with headlines including ‘Support the Tribal Dollar,’ ‘Best if Used by 2000,’ and ‘Built-in Upgradability.’ Clustered together, the figures stand in defensive positions.

This work represents the making of a comeback. Not only the comeback of a person or community of people, but also the return of a mentality that has been erased by contemporary society’s monoculture. Learn more about the significance behind The Vanishing American directly from the artist by tuning in to the free smartphone tour of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map at SAM. Originally produced by the Whitney Museum of Art, all nineteen stops of the audio tour are accessible by scanning the QR codes throughout the exhibition’s galleries or on your own time via our SoundCloud.

The Vanishing American, 1994

NARRATOR: Smith called this painting The Vanishing American. It mixes brushy abstraction with headlines clipped from newspapers. In the upper right, one reads “What Americans,” pointing loosely to the painting’s ironic explorations of identity. 

JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH: See there’s always this thing about “the vanishing Native American.” The vanishing American Indian. And we’ve been hit with that all of our lives. That, “oh you guys are so watered down.” “Oh you guys are so mixed blood, you don’t know who you are.” “Oh you’re so bastardized, you have no culture left.”

NARRATOR: Smith said she was inspired to make the painting after a community meal during medicine lodge ceremonies on the lands of the Blackfeet Nation, near her childhood home. 

JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH: And then when everybody would gather to eat, people would start talking about, “And, you know, the white people are just going to do themselves in with all their poisons and all the pesticides and everything that they’re using on our food. And so they’re just going to be the vanishing white men.” And then everybody would laugh.

So, I came back into the studio, and here I found this sign called built-in upgradability out of some New York Times or some ad or something. And I said, yeah, that really fits what the elders are saying, that we’re going to make it through this. Built-in upgradability, that’s what we have. We’ve been here for thousands and thousands of years. They just got here yesterday. They keep pretending like, oh, we just got here before them. Well, that’s not true. We’ve been here since the creation time. So the making of a comeback.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: Untitled (Kalispell)

With strokes of green, pink, yellow, gray, brown, black, blue, and orange, Untiled (Kalispell) is a colorful and abstract interpretation of the natural environment. Deriving its title from the Montana city just north of where Quick-to-See Smith grew up, the pastel and charcoal drawing counters traditional themes of US landscape painting by depicting an environment that is already inhabited. Although void of people, Smith uses symbols such as animal tracks to signify the wildlife that has always considered the natural environment its home.

Take an up-close look at the abstract details of Untitled (Kalispell) in Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map, on view at SAM through Sunday, May 12. Then, learn more about this 1978 artwork by tuning in to the exhibition’s free smartphone tour. Its accessible by scanning the QR code in SAM’s galleries or on your own time via our SoundCloud.

Untitled (Kalispell), 1978

NARRATOR: In the late 1970s, Smith began making landscapes of Montana, where she’d grown up. With their abstract forms, her works stand outside of the US landscape tradition that began in the nineteenth century. Those painters had a white East Coast audience in mind, and painted canvases of the western landscape suggesting that the land there was as empty as it was beautiful—ready to be claimed. In the works on view here, Smith made modest gestures to show that, in fact, the landscape had always been inhabited. Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: 

JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH: You know, when I go home, I would see fields of mustard, fields of fireweed, or plowed fields. And also, because there was so much talk about the wilderness being empty space, I put bird tracks in, and sometimes little animals, horses. And in some cases here, I’ve got pictographs that you would see on the plateau. So they’re kind of made up landscapes, but they’re all based on what I would see at home.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Untitled (Kalispell), 1978, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, pastel on paper, 30 x 22 in., Collection of the artist; courtesy Garth Greenan Gallery, New York, © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

Celebrate Women’s History Month With Five Artworks by Women Artists on View at SAM

Every March, the United States recognizes women’s past and present contributions to society with Women’s History Month. On International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8, we took to social media to highlight the five ongoing and upcoming solo SAM exhibitions by remarkable contemporary women artists. They include:

Now, our celebration of Women’s History Month continues with this round-up of five artworks by women artists you can currently see on view in SAM’s galleries. The five artworks discussed below represent only a few of the many works by women artists in SAM’s collection, but show the range of different techniques, subject matter, and ideas they bring to their art. Women have always been artists and craftspeople, but they have not always been celebrated or acknowledged for their contributions. Plan your next visit to the Seattle Art Museum to appreciate these artworks in person and learn more about the historical and contemporary artists who made them.


Yunarla, 2010
Yukultji Napangati

The precisely painted dots of Yunarla form patterns and undulations that take on a meditative, entrancing quality. Curving lines radiate out from the central knot, suggestive of a topographic map in some ways, but also referring to the vines of the bush banana. Also called the silky pear vine, the bush banana (marsdenia australis) only grows in Australia and serves as food with edible fruit, roots, leaves, seeds and flowers. The name Yunarla also signifies a particular rockhole and soakage site where ancestral women camped to replenish their energy near these places in the desert where water is stored beneath the surface of the sand. 

Yukultji Napangati (born ca. 1970) lived with her family in the Gibson Desert until 1984, when she and several others from her Pintupi tribe made contact with non-Indigenous Australians for the first time. The “Pintupi Nine” became a media sensation as a “lost tribe,” while they insisted they were not lost, as they were living as their ancestors had for millennia. While adjusting to culture shock, Napangati became aware of the Papunya Tula’s community art center, which established a thriving business for Australian Aboriginal people to create and sell their art in 1972. Women began painting in the mid-1990s, and Napangati quickly adopted the ethos of educating outsiders by conveying extensive knowledge about her community and culture through this restrained mark making. Don’t miss your chance to see this work in Honoring 50 Years of Papunya Tula Painting, which closes after April 14.

The First People, 2008
Susan Point

The First People was commissioned for the Seattle Art Museum and stands twelve feet tall, greeting visitors to the museum’s Native American art galleries. Prominent Northwest Coast artist Susan Point (born 1951) brings traditional Salish forms and techniques to contemporary and often public settings to share the history and culture of First Nation people. Point has been credited with single-handedly reviving a unique Salish style that laid dormant for nearly 100 years; she is among only a handful of Native female artists working in the media of woodcarving.

In this work, the eight faces connecting via flowing tendrils refer to the hereditary roots and extended families of the Salish people. These root-like forms also signify the fjords and meandering pathways that punctuate the traditional homelands of her own people, the Musqueam of the Fraser Delta in present-day Vancouver. These pathways are the lifelines that yield salmon and other foods for Salish people. Looking closely at the carving, we can see the perfectly smooth surface of the faces, in contrast to the visible chisel marks of the roots, both showcasing the natural beauty of the cedar wood itself, a material highly valued by First Peoples.

Dug Up from Kitchen Weeds, 2014
Ebony Patterson

In its barrage of color, pattern, and glittering textures, Dug Up from the Kitchen Weeds, on view in Remember the Rain, hides a more somber image. The black-and-white stripes at the center clothe a figure that is lying face down. Though this form is camouflaged within the pink floral background, rhinestones, and tropical birds and plants, it is also hypervisible. Once you notice the stripes, leopard print pants, and red shirt, you can’t overlook them.

Ebony Patterson (born 1981) cites bling funerals, an increasingly popular occurrence in Kingston, Jamaica, as a source of reference, as “the glitter and bling shines light on things.” These lavish celebrations held for working class people say, “You may not have noticed me when I was alive, but you will damn well see me before I leave.” Patterson is interested in bringing people on the margins into focus in her work—first by catching the eye with striking color and imagery, and then by asking viewers to look more closely and see what they find embedded within and protruding from the surface of her collages. Her aesthetic of ornamentation and ostentation often takes on qualities of both disguise and hypervisibility to engage with issues one might rather ignore, such as wealth disparity, high murder rates, and police-related deaths in Jamaica.

Codigo Desconhecido #5, 2015 
Marilá Dardot

Marilá Dardot (born 1972) often works with text-based materials—including books, printed cards, and magazines—to explore ideas of language, communication, and memory. In Codigo Desconhecido #5 (which translates to “unknown code”), books are cut down to their spines, rendering them illegible. Instead of reading and accessing the books’ knowledge, the viewer is left to see these books as objects or artifacts. Each book is cut or ripped to reveal its unique paper and binding materials rather than its words, making its structure but not its content visible.

This work, on view in SAM’s modern and contemporary art galleries, is part of a series that Dardot began during an artist’s residency in Vienna, when she was surrounded by books in a language she could not read. Words are powerful, but here she removes them and in doing so, opens up many avenues for interpretation. Dardot’s work plays with books as our main source and conduit of knowledge—questioning which stories get told or repressed, how translation and language can limit our understanding of others, and possibilities for political resistance on the page and outside of it.

The Sink, 1956
Joan Mitchell

The Sink (1956) is nearly ten feet in length; its size engulfs the viewer in a range of colors, textures, and feelings. Joan Mitchell (1925–1992) was an artist who used her memories, experiences, and environment as inspiration for her abstract works, seeking, in her own words, “to define a feeling.” The Sink, also on view in SAM’s modern and contemporary art galleries, is an abstracted landscape of sorts, with its pools of green and blue interrupted by swirls, drips, and jagged lines in yellow and red and interspersed with thick applications of white paint. Rather than capturing a strictly realistic image of nature, this painting seems more like a memory or impression of a place built up with emotive brushstrokes and applications of paint.

Mitchell grew up in Chicago with strong interests in athletics, art, and literature, thanks to her mother, the poet Marion Strobel Mitchell. She studied art at the School of the Art Institute and then in France on a fellowship. She moved to New York in 1949 and joined the artistic scene there, becoming one of the few female Abstract Expressionists celebrated in her own time. About a decade later, she settled in France where she found artistic inspiration in Impressionists like Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet, continuing a long tradition of artists observing nature and finding her own unique visual language.

– Compiled by Nicole Block, SAM Collections Associate

Photos: Jo Cosme, Chloe Collyer, and Alborz Kamalizad.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: Indian Madonna Enthroned

As visitors enter the galleries of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map, they’re greeted by the life-size sculpture of a seated woman with an American flag draped over her lap. She is Indian Madonna Enthroned (1974).

With long braids, a thicket of beaded necklaces, a wool shawl, pheasant feathers, and beaded moccasins, she is a representation of the contemporary Native experience, encompassing all of its tender beliefs and violent histories. Embedded in her chest, where her heart should be, is corn. Just behind her, a hide piece is marked “Property of BIA,” signifying the colonial governmental agency established to control Indigenous people and which is now a part of the Department of the Interior. Meanwhile, in her feathered hands, the Madonna demonstrates a sign of resistance by holding activist Vine Deloria Jr.’s God is Red, a 1972 study of Native spiritual practices.

Indian Madonna Enthroned is the subject of the third stop on the free smartphone tour of Memory Map. Produced by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the recording features Smith’s son and fellow artist Neal Ambrose-Smith—who helped restore the sculpture after many years spent in storage—discussing the significance of this work and the American flag draped along its lap. Tune in now to learn more about this Madonna!

Memory Map is now on view at SAM! Throughout the run of the exhibition, we’ll be sharing insight from the exhibition’s free smartphone tour to provide additional information about many of the works on view that can’t be found in the galleries. To access all 19 stops on the tour, scan the QR code next to select artworks on view or browse our SoundCloud on your own time.

Indian Madonna Enthroned, 1974

NARRATOR: Take a moment to look at the materials Smith used in this early sculpture, which she called Indian Madonna Enthroned. She has corn at her heart, and pheasant wings for hands. She holds a book by the Standing Rock Sioux writer Vine Deloria, which contrasts Christianity to Native religions, with their focus on the interconnectedness of all living things. While these elements suggest the figure’s connection to nature, other aspects of the work point to the ways she’s constrained by colonial forces.

Her face is literally framed. If you walk around to the back of the sculpture, you’ll see that her child also appears in a frame. Look closely at the hide behind the figure’s head on the frame of the chair, and you’ll see that Smith has stenciled on the words “Property of the BIA”—or Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

Smith often collaborates with her son, the artist Neal Ambrose-Smith, who restored parts of this sculpture after many years in storage. He’s talked about the flag on the Madonna’s lap, and its symbolic complexities for Native Americans.

NEAL AMBROSE-SMITH: Many people have different identities regarding flag and flag etiquette and things that are connected to that, like war, for instance, which traditionally is the most documented way of documenting history. When we talk about history, it’s always like every 200 years because there’s a war connected to it or something. In Native identity, we talk about history through the land, and so it goes back 10,000 years, it goes back 40,000 years. We talk about the glaciers, we talk about the winds and the trees and how we’re connected to all that, and so I think for me, that aspect of that flag really brings a lot of those things together.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Memory Map Smartphone Tour: Introduction

“It’s that maybe [my art] will start to crack this whole issue of Native Americans being invisible. Being Indigenous in making art means that you’re looking at the world through lenses that are curved or changed by your upbringing and by your worldview.”

– Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

Welcome to the world of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith! With Memory Map now on view at SAM, we’ll be sharing excerpts from the exhibition’s free smartphone tour throughout its run in Seattle. Produced by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the tour is accessible via our SoundCloud or through your own device by scanning the QR code next to select works on view in the galleries. Verbal descriptions of some of the artworks on view are also available for low/no vision visitors.

The tour’s first stop introduces listeners to Jaune Quick-to-See Smith and the many themes her artwork explores. It also introduces listeners to the guest artists featured throughout the tour, including Neal Ambrose-Smith, Andrea Carlson, Jeffrey Gibson, G. Peter Jemison, Josie Lopez, and Marie Watt. Tune in now!

Memory Map Introduction

NARRATOR: Welcome to Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map. Together we’ll explore five decades of Smith’s career, looking at paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture. 

JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH: Most people will never have heard of me. And that’s not off-putting.

NARRATOR: Jaune Quick-to-See Smith:

JAUNE QUICK-TO-SEE SMITH: It’s that maybe it will start to crack this whole issue of Native Americans being invisible. Being Indigenous in making art means that you’re looking at the world through lenses that are curved or changed by your upbringing and by your worldview. 

NARRATOR: For Smith, who is a citizen of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, that worldview first began to form in the Pacific Northwest and western Montana. Today, Smith lives and works in New Mexico. Throughout her life and work, she has underscored the importance of the land and of Indigenous communities. As we move through the exhibition, we’ll look at the ways in which Smith addresses the traumas of Native American people with rigor, inventiveness, and critical humor. 

You can use this guide to explore the works in any order you wish. As you go, you’ll be hearing not only from Smith but from writers and other artists including Neal Ambrose-Smith, Andrea Carlson, Jeffrey Gibson, G. Peter Jemison, Josie Lopez, and Marie Watt. 

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Calder Smartphone Tour: Introduction to the SAM Exhibition

Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection is now on view at SAM! As part of this SAM-exclusive exhibition, we’ve developed a free smartphone tour featuring additional insight on Calder’s life, legacy, and artistic career.

Composed of 15 stops, the tour includes interviews with collector Jon Shirley, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art José Carlos Diaz, sculptor Kennedy Yanko, and Calder Foundation President Alexander S. C. Rower, as they share their educational and personal thoughts on artworks including Fish (1942), Toile d’araignée (1965), Bougainvillier (1947), Red Curly Tail (1970), and many more of the artist’s most iconic works.

Tune in to the tour’s introductory stop now to get acquainted with the artists, scholars, curators, and admirers who contributed to this auditory experience. Then, explore all 15 stops in the audio tour of Calder: In Motion by scanning the QR code next to select artworks in the exhibition or on your own time via our SoundCloud

Introducing Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection

JON SHIRLEY: My name is Jon Shirley, and I am pleased to share with you Calder: In Motion, The Shirley Family Collection. The works of Alexander Calder that you will see in these galleries have been collected over the past 35 years first with my late wife Mary and now with my wife Kim. Over those years we have found that living with Calder’s work has been a beautiful and uplifting experience. 

Alexander Calder was a great artist whose father and grandfather were both sculptors. In Paris in the late 1920s Calder invented a new world of sculpture—first by using just wire and then by creating abstract works of sheet metal, wood, and wire that moved. As you will see, this collection spans Calder’s art career from the 1920s until his death in 1976. The audio guide will discuss many different works that I love so please take the time to listen and learn about Calder the man and his art.

My family and I sincerely hope that you will find this visit a dynamic experience and that you return to the Seattle Art Museum for many years as we present ongoing exhibitions related to Calder and the artists inspired by Calder.

NARRATOR: The exhibition attempts to capture something of how the works were displayed in the Shirleys’ home – setting up a unique dialogue across the decades. Joining us for this encounter will be exhibition curator José Diaz… 

JOSÉ CARLOS DIAZ: My name is José Diaz.

NARRATOR: …painter and sculptor Kennedy Yanko…

KENNEDY YANKO: Hi! My name is Kennedy Yanko.

NARRATOR: …and Calder Foundation President—and grandson of the artist—Alexander S. C. Rower. 

ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER: Hi, I’m Alexander Rower. Everyone calls me Sandy.

NARRATOR: I hope you’ll enjoy your tour.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Hokusai Smartphone Tour: White Cyclamen I

As a founding member of the 1970s Pattern and Decoration movement, American artist Robert Kushner favors geometric and floral patterns within his work. Like many of the artists in this movement, Kushner resisted conforming to the minimal compositions that dominated American artistic conventions at the time, opting instead to look beyond the nation’s borders for artistic inspiration. 

His 1999 painting, White Cyclamen I, on view as part of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at SAM, features aesthetic resonances from Islamic tile work, Iranian carpets, and Japanese ceramics and woodblock prints. As part of the free smartphone tour of the ongoing SAM exhibition, Kendall DeBoer, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, spoke directly with the artist about how the work of historic Japanese artists, including Katsushika Hokusai, influenced the creation of this work and many others across Kushner’s oeuvre.

Tune in to this recording blick clicking the link above or by scanning the QR code adjacent to this artwork in the exhibition’s galleries. Listen to all seven stops of the audio tour of Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence via our SoundCloud. The exhibition closes later this month on Sunday, January 21. Don’t miss out—reserve your tickets to see it at SAM before it’s too late!

White Cyclamen I, 1999

KENDALL DEBOER: In the mid-1970s and 1980s, the Pattern and Decoration movement in the United States declared independence from the reigning Western aesthetics of masculinist Minimalism and defied Modernism’s rejection of ornamentation. Reveling in beauty and looking to global influences, Robert Kushner is considered one of the founders of this significant movement in American art. His colorful, blossoming, exuberant, sparkling canvases incorporate transhistorical points of aesthetic reference, including but not limited to Japanese woodblock prints. The magnified florals, like White Cyclamen I, pay homage in particular to Hokusai’s large flower prints.

While working on this exhibition, we were in touch with the artist directly. Thinking about Hokusai and his relevance to contemporary artists, Robert shared the following thoughts, which I will read on his behalf:

“When I look at the flower compositions of Hokusai, and indeed other Japanese masters, I am always drawn to the precision of line, the exactness of observation of the plant forms, and the grace with which they inhabit an open indeterminate flat space. Even more inspiring to me is the intentional and skillful flattening of the drawn lines. A single thin line can enclose the form of a flower’s petal or leaves, allowing the flat, unshaded white paper behind to create a three-dimensional volume. In my own paintings, such as White Cyclamen I, I try to paint with my own version of this manner of engaged, enlivened, observed, accurate, delicate, bold lines. Looking one way, the curving whiplash lines of my cyclamen and its leaves are scattered shapes on the colored surface behind them. But then, there is a magical moment when those lines coalesce into the volumetric form of the living flower that is before me. This is a wonderful lesson to be offered by Hokusai, a Japanese painter and printmaker from two hundred years ago.”

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: White Cyclamen I (detail), 1999, Robert Kushner, American born 1949, oil, acrylic, and gold leaf on panel, Courtesy of the artist and D.C. Moore Gallery, New York, NY.

Hokusai Smartphone Tour: Chemical Falls

Katsushika Hokusai’s influence knows no bounds. Nearly four centuries after his death, the Japanese master and his woodblock prints continue to inspire the work and practice of contemporary artists. One such artist is Merion Estes.

With strong ties to early Los Angeles feminist art spaces and a pioneering role in the Pattern and Decoration movement, Merion Estes typically depicts landscapes and seascapes. She combines found imagery from printed fabrics with collaged materials and spray paint to build up lively texture and vivid color, often with a political tone. In Chemical Falls, on view in Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at SAM, Estes blends visual pleasure with the horror of environmental crises, specifically citing Hokusai as an influence on her ongoing treatment of natural scenes.

Learn more about this 2016 work from Kendall DeBoer, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, by tuning in to the fifth stop of the exhibition’s free smartphone tour. Explore all seven stops on the tour by scanning the QR code adjacent to select artworks in SAM’s galleries or on your own time via SoundCloud. Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence closes on Sunday, January 21. Reserve your tickets to see Estes’s work, alongside more than 300 artworks by Hokusai and his contemporaries, now!

Chemical Falls, 2016

KENDALL DEBOER: Chemical Falls by Merion Estes is a more recent example of a theme the artist has frequently visited throughout her over fifty years of art making: beautiful landscapes and environmental degradation. As is her process for many of her artworks, Estes created Chemical Falls by combining collage elements with a section of found, printed, mass-produced fabric, which she then spray painted in high-keyed and striking colors. Building up layers of pigment and texture, Estes presents us with a breathtaking waterfall that is as alluring as it is otherworldly—and laced with the sinister specter of polluted waters.

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1938, Estes received her BFA in 1970 at the University of New Mexico. She then quickly earned her MFA in 1972 at the University of Boulder Colorado before moving to Los Angeles, California. In LA, Estes would become a key figure in early feminist arts organizations like Womanspace and Double X. She was also part of the Pattern and Decoration movement in the United States, which often intersected with feminist art concerns. Pattern and Decoration artists rejected the austerity of Minimalism and Conceptualism, which they felt relied on sexist and racist assumptions, in favor of championing ornament, aesthetic beauty, and artistic production traditionally categorized as “women’s work,” like fiber arts. These interests persist in Chemical Falls, with its fabric basis, layers of patterned land masses, and geometric striations of water.

Many pattern and decoration artists felt the European canon of Western art history was too narrow in scope and therefore looked elsewhere for artistic precedents. Quite a few of these artists found inspiration in Japanese prints, including Estes, who has looked to Hokusai as an ongoing influence throughout her career. The intense verticality and perspectival view of Chemical Falls feels in direct conversation with Hokusai’s series A Tour of Waterfalls in Various Provinces. Comparing Chemical Falls to Hokusai’s work The Amida Falls in the Far Reaches of the Kisokaidō Road from 1832 reveals similar treatment of linear falls pouring between curving, earthy cliffs dotted with sprigs of green vegetation. Each work features a circular form near the top of its composition, perhaps a source for the waterfalls. These parallels show the continued relevance of Hokusai in Estes’s work.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Chemical Falls, 2016, Merion Estes, American, born 1938, printed fabric and spray paint on canvas, courtesy of the artist.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Joe Max Emminger

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

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

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

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

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

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Chloe Collyer.

In Boafo’s Words: Happy Siblings

“I wanted to make my paintings the way I want people to see me, you know, I just wanted to show Blackness in a different way. Why can I not be Black and be happy?”

– Amoako Boafo

After witnessing a rare moment of playfulness between his siblings in 2019, Amoako Boafo decided to commemorate the moment in a portrait. Happy Siblings marks the first of Boafo’s paintings to include members of his immediate family.

Despite the portrait’s use of muted colors, Boafo still finds the painting to be joyful. Brightness, he says, does not equate beauty. Tune in to the eighth stop of the SAM-exclusive smartphone tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks on our SoundCloud to learn more about this work and how the artist incorporates his family into his art. Or, if you’re in the galleries, scan the QR code next to this work to access this and nine other recordings related to the exhibition. Soul of Black Folks closes this Sunday, September 10—get your tickets to see it at SAM’s downtown location before it’s too late!

Happy Siblings, 2019

NARRATOR: Boafo painted this portrait of his siblings in 2019.

AMOAKO BOAFO: It’s not often that I see them playful like that. So, when I saw it, I’m like, let me capture this moment and let me just put it down.

NARRATOR: The portrait was a way of including the artist’s family in his practice.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I wanted to find a way to get my family into my painting because they have an idea of what painting is, and they like what I’m doing, but they don’t really know much about it.

I mean, the thing is that they don’t come to the studio, you know, because they have other things to do, and they feel like when they come, they will disturb me, which I don’t think it is true; but instead of waiting for them to come around I want to go to them.

NARRATOR: Interestingly, for this joyful image, Boafo has chosen a muted paint color, buff titanium, for his brother’s shirt.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I don’t think it has to be bright to be beautiful. Because this color palette has a lot of white in the background, which is plain. So it gives it a lot of shine.

NARRATOR: It also makes a strong contrast with his siblings’ skin color.

AMOAKO BOAFO: You know, dark… dark helps with light.

NARRATOR: This image of light and joy is important for Boafo.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I have done a lot of paintings on my struggle. But then I had to change that for myself. I wanted to make my paintings the way I want people to see me, you know, I just wanted to show Blackness in a different way. Why can I not be Black and be happy?

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Happy Siblings, 2019, Amoako Boafo, oil on canvas, 63 x 63 in., Jesse Williams Collection.

In Boafo’s Words: Steven Onoja

This 2018 portrait is of Steven Onoja, a well-known contemporary photographer and close friend to Amoako Boafo. Although Onoja typically finds himself behind the camera, Boafo asked the Nigerian photographer to take a chance in front of his canvas and allow him to paint his portrait. The result is an intimate painting that highlights Boafo’s early foray into sculpting the skin of his subjects through finger painting.

From his choice in clothing and facial expression, it’s clear Onoja is well-respected in his industry. This was a deliberate choice by Boafo. In discussing this painting on the seventh stop of the SAM-exclusive smartphone tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks, the artist explains how choices such as these inform the spirit and character of his subjects. Although viewers likely do not know Onoja personally, the way Boafo artistically depicts him gives you insight into the man he is.

Learn more about Boafo’s intentional artistic choices by exploring all nine stops of the exhibition’s audio tour on our SoundCloud. If you’re in SAM’s galleries, use your phone to scan the QR code accompanying select works to be routed to the adjoining recording. Soul of Black Folks closes in just a few weeks at SAM—get your tickets to see the exhibition before it closes on Sunday, September 10!

Steven Onoja, 2018

AMOAKO BOAFO: Steven is a photographer that I know. I like the kind of pictures that he takes; the way he poses; and just the way he carries himself; and I wanted to just capture that.

NARRATOR: As so often in Boafo’s work, fashion plays an important role.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Now you don’t know Steven, but in just the way he’s dressed, you can already sense who he is; and for me, fashion… it gives you a bit of the person and their character and their image and their spirit without you… or without them saying anything.

NARRATOR: The painting dates from 2018 and it gives an insight into Boafo’s evolving practice.

AMOAKO BOAFO: You can see clearly like this is an old painting, or early stages of me developing my language with my finger painting and my color palette, and you can tell this is all flat tones with just the face as the busy space.

NARRATOR: The flatness of the painted surface, together with the simplified forms, allow Boafo to incorporate abstraction into his art.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Figuration can also be abstraction in a way. You can see this is clearly a figure. But then you cannot really tell how the jacket is worn. You cannot tell from where the trousers and the arm of the jacket meets. I mean, I like the idea of painting figures and portrait because it tells a certain story that I like and I want to explore in that area, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have or add a bit of abstraction to my work as well.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Steven Onoja, 2018, Amoako Boafo, oil on canvas, 63 x 55 in., Courtesy of Derek Forjour Collection, New York City.

In Boafo’s Words: Red Collar

When first looking at Amoako Boafo’s 2021 portrait, Red Collar, viewers can’t help be drawn to the striking multicolored dress that dominates the center of the painting. It comes as a surprise to many when they eventually realize that the artwork draws its title not from the striped dress, but rather from the dog’s small red collar.

On this sixth stop of the SAM-exclusive audio tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks, the artist explains how the painting’s striped dress came to be. Although he originally planned to adorn the subject’s dress in an intricate pattern using his paper transfer technique, his decision to use of gesso—a thin, white paint often applied to surfaces such as wood panels or canvas to allow for a smoother surface—to prep the canvas, made a paper transfer impossible. Finger painting a design on the dress was also not an option, the artist explains in the recording, because he reserves this technique for the exposed body. In the end, he decided to use a paintbrush to create the dress’s stripes.

Hear more from Boafo by exploring all nine stops of the free smartphone tour of Soul of Black Folks at SAM on our SoundCloud. Or, if you’re in the galleries, scan the QR code accompanying each work to be routed to the adjoining recording.

Red Collar, 2021

NARRATOR: The two women, with their dog, are friends of the artist in Ghana. But he painted the portrait in California. A striking feature of the painting is the boldly striped dress. In fact, this design was not Boafo’s original intention. In Los Angeles, he was working with a different canvas surface, which he had prepared using gesso.

AMOAKO BOAFO: So gesso is another layer that’s used to prepare canvas, and I like to do that because when I gesso the canvas and it dry, I sandpaper it, and it gives me a smooth surface for me to be able to move my fingers when I’m painting because when it’s rough, my fingertips hurts a little bit.

NARRATOR: Initially, Boafo had planned to create a pattern using the paper transfer technique he describes in Stop 3, The Menu.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I wanted to do a transfer print, but then with the gesso on that canvas, the print could not hold, and so I had to find different ways to resolve, and that’s how I got to the pattern that she was wearing.

NARRATOR: Boafo created the stripes using a brush. As usual, finger painting is reserved for the skin and body of his characters.

AMOAKO BOAFO: The exposed body—like face, arm, and hair—those are the only spaces that I use my finger. Anything outside that, the painting of the dog, the clothes, the background, everything else is done with a brush.

NARRATOR: For Boafo, this distinction creates a particular intimacy with the characters.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Not that when I paint with a brush it’s not good or I don’t like it, but there’s a different kind of joy and happiness in being able to, like, touch a mood and move things around to form something. There’s a different feeling with that.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Red Collar, 2021, Amoako Boafo, oil on canvas, 84 x 108 in., The Hornik Collection.

In Boafo’s Words: Self Portrait – Masked

“I always want people to know that I’m looking. Even when I’m not there, I’m still looking. If you’re looking at my painting, my painting is looking at you, and I’m looking at you.”

– Amoako Boafo

The image of a face mask is now synonymous with the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes as no surprise then to learn that Amoako Boako painted Self Portrait – Masked in 2020.

In the fifth stop of the free smartphone tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks at SAM, the artist discusses the evolution of his artistic process while in lockdown in Ghana. Although the mask covers the majority of his face, the artist still finds beauty in his intricately patterned mask and direct gaze. Taken as a whole, this image demonstrates how communication continues despite lacking most facial features.

Explore all nine stops in the exhibition’s audio tour now on our SoundCloud or scan the QR code accompanying any work to tune in while exploring SAM’s galleries. The exhibition closes in less than one month—reserve your tickets to see it before it closes on Sunday, September 10!

Self Portrait – Masked, 2020

NARRATOR: Self-Portrait – Masked, dates from 2020. Boafo was in Ghana when COVID struck. This shaped his experience of the lockdown: for most people he knew, staying home was just not an option.

AMOAKO BOAFO: I mean, it was a different case there because almost everybody, I mean the larger population, the work they do is hand to mouth, which means if you don’t go to work in the next day or two days, you might not have anything to eat.

So, I did not have the sense of just staying home and just staying in and not doing anything. You know, I was out there trying to support as much as I could.

NARRATOR: Wearing a mask is linked in our minds with the horrors of COVID. But Boafo’s mask is not just about protection from disease: it is covered with his distinctive patterning.

AMOAKO BOAFO: We all know—when COVID happened—we all know what it did and the impact it had. There wasn’t anything beautiful about it. But I needed to make the painting in a way that it still would be beautiful for you to look at.

NARRATOR: Above the mask, Boafo’s eyes meet ours directly.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Well, I always want people to know that I’m looking. Even when I’m not there, I’m still looking. If you’re looking at my painting, my painting is looking at you, and I’m looking at you.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Installation view of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 2022, photo: Sean Fleming.

In Boafo’s Words: Umber Brown Belt

“I want my characters to pose with this kind of self-confidence, and in this painting, the character’s pose is exactly what I want to achieve. She’s present in the space.”

– Amoako Boafo

Self-confidence is an essential characteristic in all of Amoako Boafo’s portraits. Not only is this accomplished through his subjects’ poses, but also by the artist’s use of vibrant colors, an unflinching gaze, and distinct fashion. In Umber Brown Belt, the subject exudes self-confidence in her decision to directly face the viewer. This confidence is further emphasized by the artist’s choice to give her bright red lips, an intimate stare, and an intricate floral blouse.

On the fourth stop of the free smartphone tour of Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks at SAM, the artist explains the reasons behind his creative hallmarks. Listen to the audio recording now on our SoundCloud to learn more about the artistic choices in Umber Brown Belt or scan the QR code accompanying the work to tune in while exploring SAM’s galleries. The exhibition closes Sunday, September 10—reserve your tickets before it’s too late!

Umber Brown Belt, 2020

NARRATOR: Umber Brown Belt is a portrait of a woman from the artist’s neighborhood. The belt of the title cinches her lavishly patterned floral blouse. For Boafo, his use of pattern is connected to the patterned fabrics common in his home city of Accra, the capital of Ghana.

AMOAKO BOAFO: You cannot go a day without seeing anything with a pattern in Accra, anything colorful in Accra. So, I think, whenever I’m painting and I’m making those outfits with the print, I think of the patterns that I see daily, and the colors that I do come across. That’s what I think of and how I interpret them.

NARRATOR: Dress is important for Boafo in presenting his characters.

AMOAKO BOAFO: The way you appear in certain spaces, people think of you the way you are dressed. I want my characters to pose with this kind of self-confidence, and in this painting, the character’s pose is exactly what I want to achieve. She’s present in the space.

NARRATOR: This idea of presence is significant for Boafo.

AMOAKO BOAFO: Everything is connected to my experience in certain spaces and locations where I find myself and how people look at you and how you feel. I think, you know, most of the spaces that I’ve been before have not been that inviting. Sometimes you are there but not really there. And the thing is that I want to change that kind of ideas with my paintings. I want to be present. I want people to feel my presence.

NARRATOR: There’s one final detail you may have noticed: the woman’s hands are left unpainted.

AMOAKO BOAFO: The energy that I want from the painting, if I’m already getting it, it doesn’t make sense to add more because sometimes adding more: it’s not necessarily good.

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Umber Brown Belt, 2020, Amoako Boafo, paper transfer and oil on canvas, 82 5/8 x 66 7/8 in., Courtesy the Collection of Marilyn & Larry Fields.

Curating the Soul of Black Folks: Larry Ossei-Mensah on Amoako Boafo’s Powerful Portraits

“We’re not just [that which] we’ve been visually assigned, there’s a lot more layers. And I think this exhibition offers that on a multitude of levels.”

– Larry Ossei-Mensah, Curator of “Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks”

Larry Ossei-Mensah first introduced himself to Amoako Boafo in 2018 via a DM on Instagram. A friend of Ossei-Mensah’s, artist Kehinde Wiley, had sent him Boafo’s profile and thought they might hit it off considering their shared Ghanaian heritage. In 2023, Boafo’s debut solo museum exhibition, Soul of Black Folks, is touring throughout the US, with Ossei-Mensah serving as the exhibition curator.

A few days before the exhibition opened its doors at the Seattle Art Museum in July, we sat down with Ossei-Mensah to discuss what drew him to Boafo’s artwork, the collaborative process they shared in developing Soul of Black Folks, and what he hopes viewers take away from encountering Boafo’s powerful finger painted portraits in SAM’s galleries.

Watch our interview with Ossei-Mensah above, then get your tickets to see the exhibition at SAM before it closes on Sunday, September 10!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: L. Fried.

In the Studio with SAM Gallery Artist Elizabeth Gahan

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

In the heart of Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood sits artist Elizabeth Gahan’s intimate art studio. There, hyper-saturated paintings of layered natural and built environments line the white walls. With translucent and fluid colors, crisp architectural lines, and dense textures of organic forms, Gahan’s paintings display the delicate relationship between cities and neighborhoods as ecosystems and the balance they need to thrive.

Gahan’s works are a puzzle as she develops the foreground and background separately before mashing them together. In the background, each work begins with recognizable urban imagery. To Gahan, these images serve as “a jumping off point for a creative conversation.” The images are then edited and manipulated through layers of artistic elements that effortlessly illustrate the intricacies of our natural environments. At this stage, the works look fluid and ephemeral, composed of bubbles that she said, “act as the first domino, impacting the rest of the painting.”

From these beautifully imagined atmospheric forms, Gahan adds the foreground: architectural elements drawn from existing environments. In her most recent series, the structural forms are inspired by buildings found in the Bay Area and Seattle. These added elements are familiar with their simplistic building block forms and clear lines that emphasize the geometry found in both nature and human-designed architecture. Plants, trees, and organic forms are layered atop these structures in a variety of media and textures, including acrylic gel and enamel.

When we stopped by her Georgetown studio for a visit in June, Gahan was in the process of experimenting with spray paint, an artistic medium new to the artist. This additional layer, she explained, serves to further blur the distinction between the natural and built environments emphasized across all of her paintings. No matter how many layers Gahan chooses to incorporate in a work, the final result always makes clear the interconnected nature of our urban ecosystems.

View a few of Elizabeth Gahan’s available artworks now on SAM Gallery’s featured sliding wall or online. Stay up to date on the artist’s upcoming projects at SAM Gallery—including an October 2023 exhibition featuring all new works—by following gallery manager Erik Bennion on Instagram at @atSAMGallery.

– Pamela Jaynes, SAM Gallery Specialist

Photos: Alborz Kamalizad.

Muse/News: Vivid Joy, Upcycled Fashion, and Expanding Indigeneity

SAM News

Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks, the Ghanaian artist’s debut museum solo exhibition, is now on view at SAM! Marcus Harrison Green says the show “urges reflection on Black identity and the self” for the cover story of last week’s Real Change (also reshared in South Seattle Emerald). 

“Bringing these paintings alive are the vivid colors he uses: marigold yellows, starch whites, olive oil greens and cherry reds that are all catnip to the eye. No matter the direness of what Boafo’s subjects may have been through, brightness (i.e., joy) never abandons them. It all has the effect of making one muse over the origins of these not-so-make-believe characters.”

The Stranger’s Charles Mudede includes the exhibition in a recent “Stranger Suggests”; he has his own take on the exhibition’s connection to W.E.B. Du Bois’s idea of double-consciousness. 

As Soul of Black Folks tours the US, ARTnews’ Gameli Hamelo reports on how the artist is “using his star power to support Ghana’s art scene.”

“Boafo’s quest to show his work in Ghana attests to his dedication to his home country, which tends to get lost in discussions of his art, the prices for it, and his celebrity. Rather than coasting by on fame, Boafo is using his star power to support Ghana’s art scene.”

Also: The Seattle Times was among the outlets that announced major news from the museum last week. Amada Cruz will depart SAM for a director role at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, a place where she has a personal and professional connection. Stay tuned for more on the institution’s leadership transition plan.

Local News

“Free Seattle waterfront shuttle bus returns,” reports the Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom. It offers a fun way to experience the downtown waterfront, including the Olympic Sculpture Park.

Junko Yamamoto and her “vibrating substances” are featured as the Stranger’s “artist of the week.”

Jas Keimig for Crosscut on the “slow-fashion” Seattle designer dan mcLean.

“‘When it’s a dan mcLean show, it’s Fashion Week,’ said one partygoer wearing a giant hat and shades.”

Inter/National News

Via ARTnews’ Francesca Aton: “Ancient Glass Workshop Discovered in Czech Republic May Have Hosted Sacred Rituals, Archaeologists Say.”

Naomi Polonsky for Hyperallergic on Carrie Mae Weems’s new show, now on view at London’s Barbican Art Gallery.

Exciting headline via Zachary Small for the New York Times: “Jeffrey Gibson, Indigenous U.S. Artist, Is Selected for Venice Biennale.” SAM is a big fan: Gibson’s solo exhibition Like a Hammer was on view at SAM back in 2019; a work by the artist in SAM’s collection is now on view in Reverberations

“‘The last 15 years of my career have been about turning inward and trying to make something I really wanted to see in the world,’ said Gibson, 51. ‘Now I want to expand the way people think about Indigeneity.’”

And Finally

RIP, Sinead O’Connor

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Chloe Collyer.

In Boafo’s Words: Introducing Soul of Black Folks

“I like people to be with me through the journey of making [a] painting, even though they’re not in the studio space. I want people to come to the show and feel like they made the paintings with me…”

– Amoako Boafo

Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks is now on view at SAM! As part of the contemporary Ghanaian artist’s Pacific Northwest solo debut, we developed an audio tour of additional artistic insight. Featuring interviews with Boafo and exhibition curator Larry Ossei-Mensah, the tour highlights eight of the artist’s portraits created between 2016 and 2022 and is exclusive to Seattle audiences.

The tour kicks off with a brief introduction to the exhibition and Boafo’s artistic process. This stop includes a discussion of the exhibition’s title—drawing its inspiration from W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal 1903 ethnographic study The Souls of Black Folk—and the artist’s distinct finger painting technique used to sculpt the skin of his subjects. The recording concludes with Boafo explaining what he hopes Seattle visitors will take away from experiencing his artwork.

Explore all nine stops of our smartphone tour in SAM’s galleries by scanning the QR code accompanying each of the featured works on view or listen to it on your own time on our SoundCloud. Get your tickets to see the exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum through Sunday, September 10!

Soul of Black Folks: Introduction

NARRATOR: Welcome to the Seattle Art Museum and to Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks. This is the first solo museum exhibition in the United States for Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo. The show brings together over 30 works created between 2016 and 2022. It has been guest curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah.

The title of the exhibition is inspired by the seminal ethnographic study, The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois, dating from 1903. The book was an assessment of Black life at the turn of the 20th century. Boafo’s work offers a visual equivalent for our times: it can be seen as an exploration of Black life in all its breadth of experience and emotion. The exhibition is a celebration of the humanity of Black people in 2023.

Boafo’s paintings combine skillful brushwork with finger-painting: specifically, he uses his fingers to mold and sculpt the bodies of his subjects—subjects that he refers to as ‘characters.’ We’re delighted that Boafo will be joining us throughout the tour, offering insights into his artistic process and inspiration. 

AMOAKO BOAFO: I like people to be with me through the journey of making the painting, even though they’re not in the studio space. I want people to come to the show and feel like they made the paintings with me because there is all the choices of colors and movement that you see, and you feel like you are part of the painting, or you are there when the painting was made.  I want people to have that feeling when they come.  

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Photo: Alborz Kamalizad.

Muse/News: Love Labors, Major League Art, and Take a Seat

SAM News

Victoria Valentine of Culture Type shares “15 Solo Exhibitions Featuring Black Artists” in museums this summer, including Amoako Boafo: Soul of Black Folks, which opens at the Seattle Art Museum this week. She shares a quote from curator Larry Ossei-Mensah.

“This exhibition is a labor of love and a holistic snapshot of how Amoako Boafo sees the world through his artistic practice. All who visit this exhibition—which is anchored by radical care and the celebration of Black life—will be moved and hopefully, see a little bit of their humanity embedded within the paintings in this show.” 

The exhibition also tops the list at Cultured in their weekly round-up of happenings.

Curiocity and Seattle Met both recommend Summer at SAM, and we have to agree! The annual free series of performances, art making, and more kicks off at the Olympic Sculpture Park this Thursday night.

Local News

The only thing better than a road trip is an artsy road trip! Seattle Times writers weigh in on some Pacific Northwest journeys for exploring art and music

“It’s up to us to save Black arts spaces in Seattle”: South Seattle Emerald’s Patheresa Wells reflects on the barriers facing Black art and artists, citing the stories of Sankofa Theater and Wolf Delux.

All-Star Week fever takes over Seattle: Here’s Gayle Clemans for the Seattle Times on a “Pioneer Square event [that] aims to bring baseball fans and art lovers together.”

“Seven local and national artists were chosen as the muralists, including Seattle-based artist Alexander Codd, who creates under the name A.CODD. ‘To be a part of All-Star Week is a win for me,’ Codd stated in an email interview, citing the ups and downs of being an artist…‘Similar to the Mariners, I am living an underdog story,’ he says.”

Inter/National News

Artnet’s Brian Boucher shares the “surprising side hustles” of six artists. 

“With freedom came fashion flair”: Seph Rodney for the New York Times on Africa Fashion, now on view at the Brooklyn Museum. 

Via Alex Greenberger for ARTnews: “Artist Carolyn Lazard Has a Radical Proposition for Museum Visitors: Have a Seat, and Be Comfortable.”

“When it comes to video art, seating tends to be an afterthought, if it is even present at all. But to pair with Leans, Reverses, Lazard crafted several ‘Institutional Seats,’ objects that viewers can sit on to watch the video. These seats are composed of benches sourced from the ICA itself; to these ready-made objects, Lazard added upholstery that renders them a lot more welcoming.”

And Finally

Big same: National Gallery of Art on the lighting-speed emergence of Threads.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Image: Libby and D-Lee, 2019, Amoako Boafo, oil on canvas, 62 1/2 x 72 1/4 in., Courtesy of Holly Jane Butler and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles.

Shining a Light on Possibilities: Nicholas Galanin on Inviting Viewers into His Work

Museums are places of reflection and respite as well as places to learn and work through challenging ideas and painful experiences that are not shared equally in an unjust society. In this video interview, multidisciplinary artist Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Unangaẋ) speaks about the historical divisions between “contemporary” or “American” art and “Native” art that the reinstallation deconstructs, his goals for audience engagement with his participatory installation, and the layered meanings of the words and symbols he uses in the work.

Explore his latest interactive installation Neon American Anthem (2023) in American Art: The Stories We Carry on view now at the Seattle Art Museum.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: L. Fried.

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.

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

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