Muse/News: The Body at SAM, SOIL’s Independence, and Bearden’s Cartoons

SAM News

Now on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum: Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time, the first show from our first-ever curator of South Asian art, Natalia Di Pietrantonio. The show presents art on the human body from ancient to contemporary times. Artdaily, 425 Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle all shared the news.

Seattle Museum Month returns in February, and with that, AFAR puts Seattle on its list of “best places to travel” that month, name-dropping SAM’s collection show, Frisson: The Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Collection, as something to see.

And finally, ArtsFund released its 2022 COVID Cultural Impact Study, tracking the impact of the pandemic on Washington’s cultural sector. Seattle press reported on the study, including KUOW, KING5, and The Seattle Times, who interviewed Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, about SAM’s recovery and future.

“‘The thing that’s interesting is because this uncertainty is still in place, we still don’t know what those changes are going to be,’ Cruz said. ‘We have learned that we have to be nimble, and we’re learning to be nimble.’”

Local News

Some media news! Meet Luna Reyna, Crosscut’s new Indigenous affairs reporter.

The Seattle Times’ Moira Macdonald on the retirement of Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Noelani Pantastico after 25 years. Lots of video links included!

Also in the Seattle Times: Ann Guo on SOIL Gallery, the indie gallery going strong since 1995.

“As a staunchly independent initiative, SOIL has the privilege of being nimble, challenging itself to evolve along with changing times and attitudes.”

Inter/National News

ARTnews reports: the Hirshhorn Museum and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery have jointly acquired Infinity Mirrored Room—My Heart Is Dancing into the Universe (2018) by Yayoi Kusama.

French fashion designer Thierry Mugler died at the age of 73. His sci-fi couture is currently on view at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris; see images from the show at Artnet.

Michael Lobel for Artforum on Romare Bearden’s earliest work from the 1930s, which saw him working as a political cartoonist.

“It’s exceedingly common for artists’ output in popular, ephemeral contexts—cartooning, illustrating, advertising, and the like—to be taken less seriously than their endeavors in more traditional artistic media. In this case, that needs to change, and Bearden’s images should be kept in mind as the conversation about Guston continues to play out.”

And Finally

Revisit Hilton Als on André Leon Talley from 1994.

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations

Photo: Natali Wiseman.

Questioning Reality: Embodied Change Exhibition Overview

Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time opens this Friday, January 14! Our first special exhibition to open in the reimagined and renovated Seattle Asian Art Museum, Embodied Change sees past and contemporary South Asian artists—including Chila Kumari Singh Burman, Chitra Ganesh, Mithu Sen, and Naiza Khan, among others—question social, political, and normative realities tied to humanity and the human body.

Ahead of your visit to the museum, learn about the exhibition from the curator herself. Watch this overview from Natalia Di Pietrantonio, SAM’s Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, to discover the histories and stories behind the works on view in our newest special exhibition.

Want to see the exhibition for free? Attend our community opening of Embodied Change on Friday, January 28 and participate in an artist talk with Humaira Abid or grab a take-away art project designed by artist Deepti Agrawal. As a reminder, every Last Friday is free at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Reserving tickets in advance is recommended. Click here to learn more about discounted admission opportunities at all of SAM’s locations!

– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator

Image: Miss Macho (Self Portrait), from the False Friends series, 2007, Mithu Sen, Indian, born 1971, mixed media photocollage on archival paper, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan, T2021.15.2.

Object of the Week: Kali (I’m a Mess)

Colorful, riotous, and vibrant are but three words that come to mind when thinking about Dr. Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s neon artworks. Burman’s neon lights first appeared on the Tate Britain’s façade in 2020 for her commission Remembering a Brave New World, which disrupted the neoclassical building’s exterior with a roar of color. Her installation was awarded the 2021 Dezeen Award for Design of the Year.1

Photo: © Tate 2020/Joe Humphrys.

The artist traces her love for neon to childhood visits to Blackpool, a seaside resort known for its annual lights festival. While traditional glass neon lights were not conducive to achieving the shapes and structures that Burman wanted, new developments in the medium allowed her to bend and shape silicon neon lights to create complex and multi-colored sculptures. Some of her signature works include pouncing tigers, images of Hindu deities, uplifting quotes, and her father’s ice cream van. Burman’s Tate Britain installation was unveiled in time for Diwali, the South Asian festival of lights, but also in the midst of the global Black Lives Matter movement and raging COVID-19 pandemic.

With all of this in mind, Burman communicated an uplifting message, but, more importantly, highlighted the significant role and contributions of Black and Asian British artists in the United Kingdom. Burman has also noted that the neon works are an extension of her previous practice, stating, “paradoxically, [the installation’s] concerns are the same themes I explored back in the 80s along with my colleagues in the Black British Arts Movement [that] are still so prevalent today…”

“It’s undeniable that the Tate Britain commission I was awarded was finally a step in the right direction, in acknowledging the significance of my work and practice—as well as the significant contributions of my contemporaries—that have, to be frank, been overlooked for so long,” Burman said. “In doing so, Tate have sought to re-address the biases and hypocrisy often prevalent in both our British art establishments and the wider art sector. This shift, inevitably signifies a slow erosion of the inequalities prevalent in the art world.”

“That being said,” she continued, “I saw my selection for this commission not as a final step in this process of erosion but as a beginning. I was adamant, therefore, that my commission serve as an opportunity to critique the role of the Tate—and by extension all of our British establishments—in much the same way as I have done throughout my practice.” 

SAM acquired one of Burman’s neon works, Kali (I’m a Mess) with funds from the Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, and additional support from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Previously perched atop the Tate Britain’s pediment, obscuring the statue of Britannia, the piece will be on view in the upcoming exhibition, Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time, opening January 14 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum.2

Kali (I’m a Mess) brings both a disruptive and inclusive message of liberation and rebellion. Through this artwork, Burman asks: Can Kali fast forward us into a brave new world where we will no longer be in a mess?

Ananya Sikand, PhD Candidate, University of Washington

The author wishes to thank the artist, Dr. Chila Kumari Singh Burman, as well as the artist’s studio team, especially Kemi Sanbe, for kindly providing answers to interview questions. Thanks also to Dr. Natalia Di Pietrantonio, SAM’s Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, for providing the opportunity to write this blog post.


1 https://www.dezeen.com/awards/2021/winners/remembering-a-brave-new-world/#

2 Britannia is the embodiment of Britain in female form as a symbol of British national pride and unity, but also, more troublingly, a long-lasting symbol of colonialism, extraction, and violence.

Image: Kali (I’m a Mess), 2020, Chila Kumari Burman, 6mm 12v silicone LED neon, galvanized weld mesh, 12v switch mode transformers, IP67 plastic box, 137 13/16 x 70 7/8 × 1 3/16 in., Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, 2021.25 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

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