Happy Lunar New Year! The Seattle Times, EverOut, and ParentMap all have round-ups of all the ways to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit and all of them include the Lunar New Year Family Celebration at the Seattle Asian Art Museum on February 4! Join us for a live Lion Dance, drop-in art activities, and a storytime inspired by the holiday.
“When [Jackson] started doing workshops for his upcoming play, History of Theatre: About, By, For and Near, which looks at the untold stories of African American thespianism, he kept getting the same reactions over and over again. Comments of ‘I didn’t know about that’ and ‘Why wasn’t I taught this?’ were common refrains at the reading circles.”
“As an expression and reflection of culture, art too is the opposite of innocent, and the idea of beauty attached to it is always complicated for that reason, a generator of questions as much as a giver of answers.”
The new year brings new art… and lots of it! We’re so looking forward to an entire calendar’s worth of must-see exhibitions across all three of our dynamic locations and can’t keep it to ourselves any longer. Read below for a sneak preview of what’s to come at SAM over the next twelve months!
“There will be something for everyone at SAM in 2023,” says José Carlos Diaz, SAM Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art. “The exhibition schedule includes rich displays from the museum’s collection as well as a global array of dynamic art and programming from places such as Indonesia, Ghana, Japan, and right here in the Pacific Northwest region. 2023 welcomes not only a new year but also the 90th anniversary of SAM, which first opened to the public in June 1933.”
Kicking off the year, SAM’s modern and contemporary galleries now play host to Reverberations: Contemporary Art and Modern Classics. This array of art spotlights recent acquisitions and includes many works going on view for the first time. With works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, and Ruth Asawa, contemporary artists Senga Nengudi, Laura Aguilar, and Mickalene Thomas, and emerging artists Dana Claxton, Woody de Othello, Naama Tsabar, and Rashid Johnson, this collection installation explores the idea of ongoing artistic exchange. Many of the works on view are by artists of color and many are by women artists, reflecting the museum’s ongoing commitment to diversifying the collection and the perspectives we present.
On March 9, SAM will open Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth, presenting an immersive exploration of the complex textile created in regions around the globe. The exhibition will feature over 100 textiles made from the 12th century to the present including kimonos, furnishings, robes, and other cloths from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. A large-scale installation by contemporary artists Roland and Chinami Ricketts that offers the experience of walking into an ikat will also be on view.
Summer brings Soul of Black Folks, an exciting touring exhibition and the Seattle debut of Ghanian artist Amoako Boafo (b. 1984). One of the most influential artistic voices of his generation, Boafo is known for vibrant portraits that center on Black subjectivity, Black joy, the Black gaze, and radical care. Co-organized by the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Soul of Black Folks will present over 30 works created between 2016 and 2022.
Later in July, the Seattle Asian Art Museum will debut Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec, exploring the cities’ early 20th century artistic and social transformations. Through nearly 90 prints drawn from SAM’s Japanese prints collection as well as private holdings of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s artwork, this exhibition offers a critical look at the renegade spirit in the graphic arts in both Edo and Paris, highlighting the social impulses—pleasure seeking and theatergoing—behind the burgeoning art production.
Finally, the fall will see SAM celebrate the works of Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) with Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence, from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, opening October 19 at SAM’s downtown location. Thanks to the popularity of the instantly recognizable Great Wave—cited everywhere from book covers and Lego sets to anime and emoji—Hokusai has become one of the most famous and influential artists in the world. This touring exhibition organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), takes a new approach to the work of the versatile master, pairing more than 100 of his woodblock prints, paintings, and illustrated books from the MFA’s collection with more than 200 works by his teachers, students, rivals, and admirers.
Other 2023 highlights at SAM include the solo exhibition of 2022 Betty Bowen Award winner Elizabeth Malaska; the SAM debut of artist, director, and writer Howard L. Mitchell—also known as GATO—whose 2019 film, Forgive Us Our Debts, tells the fictional story of Trey, a terrified 13-year-old Black boy who lives with his family in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood; large-scale sculptural works at the Olympic Sculpture Park 365 days a year; and so much more.
With so much in store for 2023, we can’t wait to welcome you back to SAM soon!
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations & Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator
“Affordable, artsy, and amusing items”: Crosscut has your shopping list covered with this round-up of museum gift shops, including highlights of artist-made selections from SAM Shop! You can find incredible gifts at the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and online.
“SAM Shop is a big, sprawling bonanza of artful gifts, including several cases of handmade jewelry by local makers. Look for thin geometric earrings by Kim Williamson, pearled pieces by Simon Gomez and chunky metal works by Sarah Wilbanks. One wall showcases a large collection of carved and painted wood pieces by Coast Salish artists, including salmon, bear, wolf and eagle plaques by Squamish artists Richard Crawshuk, Neil Baker and John August.”
Supreme doesn’t know how many records he has now—’I stopped counting around 50,000’—but his garage is full of vinyl, and the top floor of his home is overflowing too. Even still, he doesn’t plan to stop any time soon. ‘Only when I have to move.’”
Artnet has published The Burns Halperin Report, a data-based reporting package on equity and representation in museum collections and the art market. SAM participated in this important project by sharing information on its collection.
“They see the cafe as a ‘place of continuity,’ where basket makers and other artists from around the state might gather under its traditional redwood shade structure, or ramada. It is already a new kind of landmark where, as Medina put it, ‘elders can get dressed up to the nines, come out for a Saturday night dinner and be able to sit at the head of the table.’”
“Both poetic accents and metaphorical embodiments of what lies ahead, geographies appear majestically in Yang Yongliang’s two 4K videos, The Return and The Departure. Here, the artist marries images of cities with organic material to create a kind of dystopia. ‘Besides Yang’s reference to Song Dynasty-era ink paintings, the images speak of Seattle, where new skyscrapers mushroom everyday,’ Foong notes.”
And check out SAM’s video interview with another Beyond the Mountain artist, Lam Tung Pang.
“The ‘I Spy’ nature of the paintings gives them a fun, gamelike quality, while the overcrowded canvases cause a sense of mental overwhelm — the work recreates the experience of navigating the full-throttle, consumeristic society we live in today. We hate ourselves for spending hours scrolling Instagram, yet we cannot put our phones down.”
“It’s tricky business—which is why some artworks in Sound Transit’s light rail stations, particularly the more recent ones, are so striking. Unlike many of their earlier, inert cousins, they’re a little strange, unusually absorbing. They want to talk to you, sometimes in a whisper and occasionally like an ancient choir from a distant civilization singing in a long-forgotten key.”
“When artists fold spiritual practices into their artwork, many withhold explanation—those familiar with the context will understand the symbols, while others will still be privileged to enter what has become a blessed space, even if they’re not aware of its implications.”
Hong Kong-born and Vancouver-based artist Lam Tung Pang made his Seattle debut earlier this year in Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artist on the Classical Forms at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. In September, the artist made the trip to the museum to see his artwork The Great Escape (2020) in the galleries for the first time. While in town, we sat down with the remarkable contemporary artist to talk about his pandemic-inspired kinetic installation and what it means to bring classical Chinese practices into the modern era. After you’ve watched the video, read below for even more from our conversation with the artist!
SAM: How does it feel to be showing your artwork to Seattle audiences for the first time?
LAM TUNG PANG: It’s so exciting to debut my artwork here in Seattle and especially at the Seattle Asian Art Museum! This museum features a lot of very interesting antique work, but my artwork is modern. It’s fascinating to see this all together in one museum, and I hope audiences will enjoy seeing all of this in one setting.
SAM: You worked with FOONG Ping, SAM Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art, in bringing your artwork to life. What was it like to collaborate with her from afar?
LTP: I met Ping last year when she [virtually] walked me through the gallery space and we discussed how to best display my work. It was a big challenge because I hadn’t shown my artwork in this setting before and wanted to add in new elements. So, the version of The Great Escape that you’re seeing now at the Seattle Asian Art Museum was made especially for this exhibition and the audiences here. In working with Ping, I was talking to someone that had a good knowledge of traditional Chinese art but at the same time was open to incorporating new and contemporary art. When you work with someone like Ping who is really passionate about art, it’s amazing.
SAM: Tell us about The Great Escape. What inspired this work?
LTP: It came together in 2020 during the pandemic. I couldn’t really go back to my studio at the time, so I began copying drawings I saw in children’s books as an escape from reality. I then took all of these drawings and turned them into an installation. What I suggest audiences look at specifically is the one row of drawings that is taken out of the installation and hung on the wall. When you look at the rotating projection, eventually you’ll see a gap, which the light passes through and illuminates the wall in the gallery space. This isn’t a high-tech synchronized setting, but you do see different images project alongside the drawings on the wall. So, please come spend a bit more time looking at The Great Escape because you’ll have a totally different experience every time you see it.
A version of this interview first appeared in the January 2023 edition of SAM Magazine and has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.
“Paradise Camp imagines Fa’afafine utopia that shatters colonial heteronormativity to make a way for an Indigenous worldview that is more inclusive and sensitive to the change in nature.”
– Yuki Kihara
Eight years in the making, the exhibition Paradise Camp by interdisciplinary artist Yuki Kihara explores colonial histories, intersecting gender issues, and ecological crisis with rigor, humor, and flair. Comprising 12 tableau photographs featuring a cast from Fa’afafine—Sāmoa’s traditional third gender—communities, Kihara’s work summons the late 19th-century French artist Paul Gauguin and his works from “French Polynesia,” which are believed to have been inspired by Sāmoa. Paradise Camp was just presented at the 59th International Venice Biennale, where Kihara became the first Fa’afafine and Pacific artist to represent New Zealand.
Before her artist talk on December 10 as part of the 2022–2023 Saturday University lecture series, Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, interviewed Kihara about the ideas and process behind Paradise Camp, the impacts of climate change in the global south, and the meanings embedded in her grandmother’s kimono.
HALEY HA: You were selected to represent the Aotearoa New Zealand Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale before the pandemic started. What was your vision for Paradise Camp when you started, and how did it change?
YUKI KIHARA: I was lucky to shoot the photographs for Paradise Camp in March 2020 in Sāmoa just before the global lockdown. Around mid-2020 there were numerous articles published in the global north that described Sāmoa and neighboring Pacific Islands being a “safe haven” from the COVID-19 pandemic, due to our geographical isolation during the global lockdown. Part of this perception is embedded in the Western legacy that continues to view the Pacific region as an untouched “Paradise” that masks ongoing colonial violence. The idea of the Pacific region as “Paradise” was heightened every time COVID-19 numbers were climbing at apocalyptic levels in the global north.
The global lockdown was in a way a blessing in disguise because it gave me a gift of time to work on post-production and the editing of the exhibition catalogue for Paradise Camp while being isolated.
HH: Can you tell us how the notions of “paradise” and “camp” came together? Covering the white walls of the New Zealand Pavilion with the oceanscape and extravagant tableau photographs, there seems to be a clear visual sensibility that you frame as “camp aesthetic.” Is there a story you want to tell with this exhibition?
YK: The origin of “Paradise” derives from the biblical story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, which forms the foundation of how the West sees itself as being heteronormative where these ideas were imposed upon “others” through the process of colonialism. However, the idea of colonial heteronormativity is questioned by the research conducted by Sāmoan American artist and writer Dan Taulapapa McMullin, who found missionary accounts dating back to 1896 which described Sāmoa’s origin story of the formation of the first humans, who were a male couple; one is transformed by the gods into a woman. This story of gender transformation is something that resonates with how gender is understood in Sāmoan culture, which traditionally recognizes four genders.
HH: For this edition of the Saturday University series, we have delved into the ecological landscape of our time and its challenged built environment. You’ve shared in an interview about your experience of flood in Sāmoa and living through its rapidly changing landscape. How did these experiences shape your artistic practice?
YK: The Pacific region has become synonymous with images of unpolluted and vacant white sandy beaches that are constantly re-created by the tourism industry. They are also commonly featured on screensavers of millions of people around the world, becoming ironic and cliché in popular culture. However, those clichéd images of white sandy beaches are real places in Sāmoa with real people who’ve lived there for generations, faced with real life issues such as climate change, given that almost 80 per cent of Sāmoa’s population lives along the coastal areas. Scientific data shows that the global average for sea level rise is 2.8–3.5 millimeters a year, compared to Sāmoa’s sea level rise measuring up to 4 millimeters a year. In Paradise Camp, I wanted to juxtapose fact and fiction in order to drive home the reality of climate change from a Fa’afafine perspective.
HH: We’ve been navigating the extreme climate of our time and belatedly acknowledging the disproportionate impact of the ecological crisis on Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities. In your view, how does gender play a role in engaging with ecology and the environmental crisis?
YK: Climate change impacts all of us. 80% of the Sāmoa population lives alongside the coastal areas including Fa’afafine community. But it has a particular kind of impact on marginalized communities, particularly on the Fa’afafine community because there are things that impact us more than others. And this is what I wanted to highlight in Paradise Camp, to talk about Fa’afafine experience with climate change.
HH: Your Kimono series tells a tale of speculative fiction and imaginative histories, but also of our present and perhaps our near future. Can you tell us about this work and the サーモアのうた (Sāmoa no uta) A song about Sāmoa? How did you first conceive this idea and developed it?
YK: In 2015, I came across an old kimono owned by my late Japanese grandmother Masako Kihara where the color of the kimono reminded her of Siapo, a hand-made Sāmoan backcloth made from the Lau u’a (paper mulberry tree). This was the initial inspiration to bring together textile traditions from Sāmoa (tapa) & Japan (kimono) into a cross-cultural fusion to create a series of ‘siapo kimono’ where kimono made from Samoan tapa cloth are presented as sculpture. The title of the series is adapted from a popular Japanese song entitled ‘Samoatou no uta’ in Japanese meaning ‘A song from Samoa.’ Music textbooks for elementary school students in Japan feature the song. The work aims to reframe the Vā [relation] between Japan and the Pacific and specifically Sāmoa, taking an Indigenous interpretation of trans-Pacific identity, gender, and history, while referencing my own interracial Sāmoan & Japanese heritage as a point of conceptual departure.
– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum
Images: Two Fa‘afafine (After Gauguin) from Paradise Camp series, 2020, Yuki Kihara. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Artist Yuki Kihara at her Paradise Camp exhibition presented at the 59th Venice Biennale, 2022. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Photo by Lukas Walker, 2022. Two Fa‘afafine (After Gauguin) from Paradise Camp series, 2020, Yuki Kihara. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Genesis 9:16 (After Gauguin) from Paradise Camp series, 2020, Yuki Kihara. Courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand. Installation view of ‘サ–モアのうた (Sāmoa no uta) A song about Sāmoa’ Phase 2: Fanua (Land),2021, Yuki Kihara, presented at the Aichi Triennale, Japan in 2022. Photo by Ayako Takemoto.
Tooba (2002) is a 12-minute video installation by Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat. Projected on two opposing screens, it centers around the image of a woman inside a tree, within a walled garden in the midst of a desert landscape. The woman disappears into the tree as a crowd of men approach, in what appears to be a kind of pilgrimage. As with much of her work, Neshat uses the grammar of traditional narrative filmmaking (her cinematographer Darius Khondji regularly works with Hollywood filmmakers like David Fincher and the Safdie brothers) to tell an allegorical story with poetic open-endedness. The combination gives Tooba the spiritual yet earthly feeling that is present in much of her work.
Originally, Neshat intended to film in Iran. In a making-of documentary she said, “we made many steps toward it… and then it was blocked [for] whatever reason.” The “whatever reason” is most likely the Islamic Republic, the theocratic regime that has governed Iran for the past 43 years. Any film, performance, or otherwise public artwork made in the country has to be vetted by its Ministry of Culture, which must be convinced that the work isn’t critical of the regime or its particular brand of politicized Islam.
It’s not hard to imagine why Shirin Neshat, whose work has repeatedly dealt with the gender apartheid inside Iran, would have a hard time getting a stamp of approval from the Ministry of Culture. The video itself is based on a novel of the same name by Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur, who spent years as a political prisoner inside Iran. Parsipur now lives in exile, as does Neshat.
Brought into SAM’s collection in 2015, Tooba was on view in Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art at the Seattle Asian Art Museum until July 2022, which is about when I started my position as a SAM photographer. One aspect of my job is to walk the galleries and take photos of museum visitors looking at the art. As an Iranian-American, I get a thrill noticing people examining Iranian artifacts in the museum’s collection because there are so few instances in the US where Iranian and Middle Eastern culture are visible.
I wonder what goes through people’s minds when they see “Iran” written on wall labels and how they reconcile that name with the typical images of “Iran” from our media: scowling men in foreign-looking religious or military garb, the leaders of the Islamic Republic. The Iran of today is cloaked behind those men and the opaque politics of nuclear negotiations.
That is until September 2022.
On September 13, Mahsa Jina Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, was detained for allegedly not complying with the regime’s compulsory hijab law—all women in the country must cover their hair and wear loose clothing that hides their bodies. She was reportedly beaten while in custody and died three days later. Amini’s death sparked a wave of country-wide civil disobedience, led by women who marched into the streets and defiantly refused to wear hair coverings. After eleven weeks of demonstrations, the movement shows no signs of slowing down. The number of women with free-flowing hair in public grows every day. To me, every one of them is an Iranian Rosa Parks daring to assert her own worth—often hand-in-hand with women who cover their hair but who fight in solidarity for the choice to do so.
The song ends with the cornerstone chant of the movement: “woman, life, freedom.” Three words which when taken together, indicate that freedom for anyone is impossible without freedom for women. And so, if Iranians are successful, we may be witnessing what Shirin Neshat has called the “first female revolution” to overthrow a government.
This is a government with no room for song (for women, literally).
And so Shirin Neshat ended up filming Tooba in Oaxaca, Mexico and kept the setting of the video nondescript. This gives her work a universality that it probably would have lacked had she filmed in Iran. Neshat’s adaptability as an artist aside, the decision on filming location should have been hers to make and not one she was backed into by a theocracy that has banned her from working in her homeland. As people outside of the country use their freedom to continue raising awareness over the long history of oppression in Iran, how many Shirin Neshats are inside the country right now—rather than making art, desperate to find a missing friend? How many Shahrnush Parsipurs will never make it out of political prison to write a book that would inspire the next Tooba? And how many more Shervin Hajipours will risk their lives to sing?
2022 has been a record-breaking year for floods across the planet, enveloping both urban and rural areas in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the US. This frightening fact leads us to wonder: How do we adapt to accelerating changes of climate and crisis?
In the nineteenth-century, Japanese polymath Minakata Kumagusu combined research in anthropology and local forms of knowledge to learn about the natural world. He campaigned to preserve local forms of knowledge while the Meji government favored European forms of academicism. And he did so as a scientist and a participant in local forms of knowledge.
Today, we find like-minded contemporary researchers and activists pioneering in the same spirit, gallantly moving through our challenged landscapes, cities, and neighborhoods while centering the work of local communities and their embodied knowledge of floods. Dr. Luisa Cortesi, Assistant Professor of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands, experienced one of history’s most disastrous floods while conducting research in North Bihar, India between 2007-2008. During her multi-year stint in the region, she reexamined the ecological systems of the river and the riverine land to better understand floods and the complex interconnections humans share with nature. Her academic contributions to natural disasters, floods, and resource access have won her many awards, including the 2017 Eric Wolf Prize in the field of Political Ecology, the PRAXIS award for outstanding achievement in translating anthropological knowledge into action, and the 2017-2018 Josephine deKarman fellowship.
On Saturday, November 12, Dr. Luisa Cortesi invites visitors to learn about her travels in the North Bihar region while expanding our knowledge of flood frequency, considering the connections between water and its surroundings. In advance of this third lecture in our 2022–2023 Saturday University Lecture Series, Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, spoke with Dr. Cortesi about her background, her thoughts on the equity of knowledge, and what you can expect at her upcoming talk.
HALEY HA: Tell us about your background. What led you to your current field of study?
DR. LUISA CORTESI: I grew up in small-town Northern Italy. To be precise, I grew up in the enclave of the racist party Lega Nord during the years of brutal rhetoric against Southerners, and partially in the South, from where my mother had migrated. In the North, I was considered a Southerner and was discriminated against beginning in kindergarten. In the South, I remained an outsider associated with Northern racists. This was probably why I started questioning the meaning of ‘community’ very early on. Not only did I realize I did not belong anywhere, but, more expansively, the categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ never made any sense to me.
I remember my parents as unconventional, critical, outspoken, and possessing a passion for social justice. Despite living in a hostile setting, they refused to consider themselves victims or superior to anyone but treated their situation as analytically as possible. Now that I think about it, their discussions, stemming from very different cultural contexts, were fertile terrain for an anthropological initiation.
HH: How has your background influenced your research interests?
LC: A factor that certainly influenced my current research was my lifelong reverence toward water. In the south of Italy, where we would visit my mother’s family for a few months each year, running water was available only in the very early hours of the morning, which influenced our day-to-day life greatly. Whenever we would travel north to south or vice versa, we would always stop at the main river in Italy, the Po, just to admire its magnitude and revel in its grandiosity. I also lived through different floods and other water troubles that inspired my future research. For example, I remember walking through a mud flood accompanied by a major blackout during my college years—although these were nowhere near as catastrophic as the major floods I lived through while in India.
HH: What was it like working with diverse communities in the North Bihar region of India?
LC: I have traveled in and out of India in different capacities since I was 21. I feel I came of age in India. While with local NGOs and local communities in the region—not through international organizations or funding agencies—I experienced several major floods, mostly by myself while possessing coarse language skills and important academic responsibilities. Living through those floods, instead of accepting the first opportunity to leave the region, as well as the development of ethnographic skills of connection and understanding, enabled my acceptance in those communities. I feel deeply indebted to the people of North Bihar for what they have taught me. North Biharis, regardless of their formal education level, are not only experts on matters of disastrous water as my talk will explain, but are barefoot philosophers in their own right. This is particularly the case for Dalit and Tribal communities, whose experiences of discrimination are atrocious, and yet whose wisdom in all matters of life and environmental management is unmatched.
HH: What actions or approaches have you found to be successful in helping to break through the silos of social and natural science, as well as western and traditional knowledge?
LC: Every scientist has a specialized interest. It’s not easy to keep up with one field of research, let alone multiple. But in order to succeed, scientists need to develop deep relationships with others and a thorough understanding of those individuals collaboration would be useful. My training was unique in that it combined cultural and environmental anthropology with environmental studies and water sciences. I personally do not believe in a hierarchy of knowledge, nor in the opposition that exists between western versus traditional knowledge. Have you ever tried learning a language later in life? If so, you realize that this new knowledge is neither ‘western’ nor ‘traditional.’ Rather, it is both embodied and theoretical, and explicit and tacit at the same time. As humans, we must all deal with the challenges of the environments in which we live. Dividing knowledge of these environments will not elicit change.
HH: Can you elaborate on your thought on the issue around equity of knowledge?
LC: Poverty is not only about purchasing power and/or access to services. It is about the right to knowledge, and the protection of this knowledge not only from those who want to appropriate it, but also from those who want to cancel it. Without knowing how to go about in this world, we are reduced to pieces in a machine, dependent on the words of those in control, and unable to stand on our own, both as individuals and as place-based communities.
HH: How do you spend your free time?
LC: I have a lot of passions! I love learning new things, even if I’m not always successful. I recently began playing rugby, which I intend to continue as soon as my team members’ patience sticks extend long enough for me to internalize the sport. I also like to experiment in the kitchen, creating new unexpected combinations for seriously eccentric tastebuds. I am smitten by combined colors, but find myself most drawn to knitted textile designers. I spend at least one day per week outdoors, generally hiking, listening, or ocean gazing—it functions as a reset.
But I am also passionate about a side of my work I don’t get to do as often as I’d like: applied anthropology. This looks like joining a community (broadly intended, including an organization) and figuring out how to help it with its challenges. I work pro-bono involved with organizations focused on water and environmental disasters because that is what I am most competent in. More broadly, I enjoy the challenge of combining analytical and organizational skills to support a set of people in reimagining their habitat or work.
HH: At the Water Justice & Adaptation Lab, you use the term “water justice.” Could you define it and explain how it fits into the realm of environmental justice?
LC: In my experience, environmental justice, while useful at a policy level, is too vague in its applicability to water problems. To live with water requires a specific set of expertise: the knowledge of where excess water is stored, where to find more of it, and how to distinguish different waters for different usages. Being formally trained in the water sciences through my Ph.D. helped me to understand the water knowledge of those with whom I lived through water disasters and who deal with water problems on a regular basis. So, the term ‘water justice’ intends to combine and cross-fertilize the knowledge of local communities, scientists, and policymakers on an even epistemological scale.
– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum
Photos: Luisa Cortesi, Water Justice & Adaptation Lab.
Curating an art exhibition isn’t a competition—unless you’re a University of Washington student attending the School of Art + Art History + Design’s upper-level seminar, Exhibiting Chinese Art, taught by FOONG Ping, SAM’s Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art.
Pivoting from in-person to virtual learning, FOONG thought a little friendly competition would engage her students. She split them into teams and assigned three seemingly unrelated artworks by contemporary Chinese artists for them to research. Each team created a cohesive and imaginative exhibition framework to display the three works.
“I wanted to challenge my students, and they really impressed me,” says FOONG. “This exhibition has been in the works for a long time, but a few of their ideas have since been incorporated into the show. Beyond the Mountain wouldn’t be what it is today without their insights.”
Opening this July, Beyond the Mountain: Contemporary Chinese Artists on the Classical Formsis the latest special exhibition to open at the renovated and reimagined Seattle Asian Art Museum. Introducing Chinese artists never before exhibited at SAM as well as drawing from the museum’s collection, the exhibition sees artistic themes of the past revitalized. It explores age-old subjects such as Chinese ink painting, proverbs, and landscapes while reflecting upon current or recent events—from the global language of street protests to escape in a time of contagion. Together, the artists contemplate the societal toll of modernity and globalization as well as the impact of humans on the natural world.
One of the works FOONG is most excited to see back on view is Ai Weiwei’s Colored Vases (2010). An acclaimed contemporary artist and outspoken dissident, Ai dipped nine earthenware vases into buckets of industrial paint and then left them to dry. In covering the surface of these purportedly ancient artifacts with bright new paint, Ai suggests that our perceptions of authenticity are a status quo that might be challenged. Much like history, he says, the vases are “no longer visible, but are still there.”
Another highlight are two videos by Yang Yongliang. From afar, these large-scale projections look like classical ink paintings—until you realize that they are actually digital pastiche of video and photography where construction cranes and other modern interventions disturb the majestical natural scene.
“The exhibition is about this moment in our lives,” says FOONG. “These Chinese artists engage with classical Chinese themes, but they speak to everyone.”
Read below for a short interview with exhibition curator FOONG Ping on visitors can expect to experience in the galleries.
SAM: What artwork are you most excited for audiences to see and interact with in the galleries?
FOONG Ping: With this exhibition, I’m introducing Seattleites to an artist new to us: Lam Tung Pang. He has created a site-specific installation in one of our galleries that I really think is going to blow people’s minds. It’s titled The Great Escape and responds directly to his experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong. To escape the stress of the 2020 lockdown, Pang started reading kids’ books and also became fascinated with the master of escape, Harry Houdini. The artwork reflects this specific time in our lives and his thinking about the ways we might free ourselves from constraints—mental & physical—that bind us. I’m confident that the piece goes beyond expectations when people think about Chinese art.
SAM: You’ve described this exhibition as both traditional and modern Chinese artistic forms. How is this seen throughout the exhibition?
FP: Everyone has certain stereotypes about Chinese art—including Chinese folks! Although there are common Chinese artistic elements of ink-brush painting and images of landscape, Beyond the Mountain is so much more than that. The artists in this exhibition have taken these identifiable ideas from Chinese art and transformed them for a modern audience. This exhibition is intentionally small and precise, so visitors can deeply explore each artwork’s clear and distinct voice.
SAM: What message do you want audiences to take away from this exhibition?
FP: I want audiences to understand the legacies of Chinese art, language, and culture and how these legacies remain incredibly relevant today. No matter a visitor’s background, Beyond the Mountain reveals the existence of a global common language, where everyone can reflect on Chinese history and make a connection to their own experiences.
– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator
Segments of this article first appeared in the July and October 2022 editions of SAM Magazineand has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.
SAM is now in search of passionate and outgoing volunteers to help in all aspects of the museum’s operations. SAM volunteers support the museum and its programming through their love of sharing art experiences with visitors, staff, and each other. Volunteer responsibilities include welcoming visitors at SAM’s downtown location, leading tours at the Olympic Sculpture Park, making art with families at the Seattle Asian art Museum, researching our collections, and more!
But, don’t just take it from us, hear it directly from a SAM volunteer! Kimber Bang, a longtime volunteer with over 1,300 hours of service donated since 2013, about her experiences as a SAMbassador, libraries volunteer, and member of SAM’s Volunteer Association Executive Committee spoke with SAM about why everyone should become a SAM volunteer.
Being a SAM volunteer for the past several years has led me to develop a new appreciation for museums and how they operate. Having no previous or formal arts education, it is a rare and enriching educational experience to receive training by SAM curators and staff on ongoing exhibitions and installations. The staff are always very friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, and I always look forward to coming in and seeing their familiar faces. It’s been a treat to engage with visitors and staff while roaming the galleries and being one of the first to see all of the fabulous art on view.
As a volunteer, I also hear about upcoming programming before anyone else and get to attend for free. It is easy to plan ahead and join in in all of the great activities the museum has to offer. I have attended several events including SAM Remix, Party in the Park, curator lectures, and opening night celebrations. I encourage everyone to consider becoming a SAM volunteer and immerse themselves in Seattle’s arts community.
– Kimber Bang, 2013–2022 SAM Volunteer
– Danie Allinice, SAM Manager of Volunteer Programs
Welcome to Noticed, in which we spot connections among, within, and without the walls of the museum.
The last few years in Seattle, it’s been the talk of gardeners, naturalists, parkgoers, and urban dog walkers alike: What’s up with all these rabbits everywhere?
That question was also the headline of a recent feature in the Seattle Times’ Pacific NW Magazine, in which reporter Brendan Kiley investigated the seeming population boom across Western Washington of the Sylvilagus floridanus, or Eastern cottontail rabbit. His journey brought him to the domain of one very special rabbit: King Bunny.
That’s the name given by SAM staff to a particularly large, healthy, and seemingly prolific rabbit who resides in the Olympic Sculpture Park with his many friends and offspring. Kiley spoke with SAM’s Facilities and Landscapes Manager, Bobby McCullough, about King Bunny and Co.’s frolics around the nine-acre sculpture park, where they chomp on grass and clover, attempt to avoid predators and excited leashed dogs, and, we hope, enjoy the monumental sculptures that fill their home. King Bunny can be tough to spot, so don’t miss SAM’s latest installment of “Botany with Bobby,” our TikTok series exploring the sculpture park, in which Bobby tracks his friend down for all of us to see. McCullough also shared his perspective on what to do—if anything—about their increased presence.
“The park’s S. floridanus population has spiked in the past three or so years, McCullough says, and bunny-noticers have divergent attitudes. Some feel protective, calling for a gardener to ‘Do something!’ if they find a rabbit half-chewed by a raptor. Others regard the critters as a problem, suggesting McCullough set out traps and poison bait. ‘As long as I’m working here, that won’t happen,’ he says. ‘I get more joy from seeing them sunning themselves on the grass than frustration at chewed-down fern fronds.’”
McCullough’s live-and-let-live approach to the rabbits must have had an effect, because once we started seeing bunnies around the sculpture park, we noticed that they were simply…everywhere. Back indoors at the Seattle Art Museum, local artist Anthony White celebrates his Betty Bowen Award win with his solo exhibition, Limited Liability. The artist is known for his densely packed compositions that he painstakingly “paints” with PLA (a melted biodegradable plastic, primarily used for 3D printing). Crammed with recognizable products, name-brand logos, and digital logos, they pull you down the rabbit hole of our increasingly intertwined analog and digital lives. They’re also a few literal rabbits dotting these Y2K-nostalgia landscapes: a self-portrait of the artist in the all-too-familiar pose of gazing at a smartphone screen in bed includes a number of bunnies hopping around his aura like phantoms; up above is a ransom-note scrawl saying, “SILLY RABBIT, YOUR IPHONE STORAGE IS FULL.” And the smallest painting in the exhibition hangs above them all at the entrance like an idol: An Energizer Bunny seen behind a cracked cell phone screen, questioning the relentless pursuits of capitalism.
Of course, bunnies aren’t always harbingers of doom. Kiley’s story also notes the diverse cultural meanings of rabbits: “Old stories characterize the rabbit as arrogant (Greece), cowardly (Tibet), a great warrior (China), tricky (lots of places) and prototypical prey (lots of other places).” He notes their association with fertility in early Christian Europe and their appearance as a resilient “catch-me-if-you-can” figure in Puget Sound stories of Snoqualmie, Puyallup, Muckleshoot and other traditions. SAM’s global collection is a veritable rabbit hunt; one work on view right now at the Seattle Asian Art Museum is a beloved late 19th-century Japanese netsuke of an ivory hare (we know, it’s technically a different species, just go with it) with real amber eyes. Barely an inch all around, it’s a noticeably smaller presence than King Bunny, and it’s not as difficult to spot as it’s protected in a glass case, but in its tiny form and glittering eyes it makes a charming and surprisingly powerful impact. We think it’s wise to keep a close eye… just in case.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
Images: Installation view of HYPNOSIS (detail) as part of Anthony White: Limited Liability at the Seattle Art Museum, 2022, Photo: Alborz Kamalizad. Netsuke modeled as a hare with amber eyes, Japanese, late 19th century, ivory, amber, 1 1/16 x 7/8 x 1 1/8 in., Duncan MacTavish Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.438, Photo: Elizabeth Mann.
SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2022–23 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, with nine talks by leading scholars exploring the social power of architecture. Renée Cheng, Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington and a catalyst for advocating diversity and inclusion in the field, kicks off the series on Saturday, September 10 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum with a discussion of cultural identities and their expression in the built environment. Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum, spoke with Cheng about her background, why equity matters in architecture, and how architecture can respond to ecological concerns.
“Space and culture are interconnected—they shape and reflect one another. When we understand the cultural messages conveyed via sacred architecture, we become aware of how those messages are heard differently depending on cultural identity.”
– Dr. Renée Cheng
Haley Ha: Tell us about your background. How did you first become interested in architecture?
Dr. Renée Cheng: I grew up in the Midwest—the daughter of a painter and an engineer—and in so many ways architecture is something of a combination of the two. I always enjoyed making things when I was a child. I did a lot of painting and sculpture, but it was messy stuff. It wasn’t like a kit of Lincoln Logs or Legos; it was clay and paint and messy things that were much more open-ended in what they would lead to. So I wouldn’t say that it was a straight line to architecture by any means. I actually considered medicine at one point, but I grew into really understanding my passion for making things and making beautiful things.
Later, I started realizing that it had to do with spaces, not objects, and my focus shifted over time to be increasingly oriented towards people and the collaborative ways that you have to work to build buildings. I became more interested in the interaction between people aligning around shared goals for occupied spaces and the use of space and places.
Ha: How would you describe your work and research to someone who has never heard of the ideas you explore?
Dr. Cheng: I am an architect and I maintain my license, but I don’t build buildings. I don’t design buildings. I teach those that will be building buildings. I also study the field itself and look at ways that it could be more innovative and beneficial to more people. There’s a lot of the stereotype of an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright in a cape, working for wealthy clients, or even, you know, primarily working for a limited number of people. I am really trying to promote an idea of architecture that positively affects more people, the idea that a well-placed window to a view or a sequence of spaces that allow you to be part of a group ceremony can elevate the spirit. It’s something that an individual might be able to do, but working together with others, really understanding the different points of view that go into making a space that works for more than one person, creating a space that’s large, larger than what one person can build is really what I what I look at in in my work.
It was not a practice in the same way that an architect would practice in an office, where there are buildings that you can show and point to and say we did that; but it’s more of a development of programs and looking at ways that the entire discipline and profession can change. My work has been primarily US-based, but I look at a lot of international examples, often in terms of the way they incorporate new technologies or legal structures of financing that allow for different ways of working. So it encompasses more than just the practice of architecture itself.
Ha: You’re an advocate for diversity and equitable practices in the field of architecture and built environments. Can you briefly describe built environments in both research and practice? And what role does diversity, equity, and inclusion play in it?
Dr. Cheng: Built environments really include all of the areas that are not natural, that are actively built by shaping of land and the infrastructure. It includes smaller-scale spaces, rooms like where you woke up this morning, with a particular light condition and orientation, or the transit you use for shopping or working. The room that you were in, the living structure, the transit, the infrastructure were all planned. It’s part of a city that was planned.
Volunteer Park was planned and laid out in certain ways to emphasize or enhance certain aspects through the choice of what to plant. Some of it might have been growing here and preserved, and others might have been added. So there’s all those aspects of what makes up our built environment. They were all planned, designed, and executed. Someone had to figure out how to pay for it, had to logistically make it happen, and get all of the permissions to make sure that it would work and function in the way that it was intended.
So, what role does diversity, equity, and inclusion play, when you think of that broad definition of built environments? Historically those designers were hired by a small group of people, often very wealthy, and the input was usually fairly limited. And so in the end you ended up with some really beautiful spaces and places for sure, but also certain decisions that really negatively impact communities—often communities of color—whether it was in the placement of highways or the general economic investment in affordable housing. You had a lot of communities that were left out and negatively impacted by architecture. And so what I have worked for is to find ways to include more voices, to include more factors. When we consider what is good design and to find ways that we can accomplish them effectively, not only economically but with sustainable and good practices.
Ha: In the past, architecture has been viewed as a male-dominated field. As an Asian American architect and a woman of color, what challenges have you faced in the field?
Dr. Cheng: There is a definite stereotype of architecture as a male-dominated field and definitely the dominant culture is white males; if you look across the leaders and award winners, they tend to be white men, especially in America. In my experience as a Asian American architect, I’m the first woman dean of the college. I’m the first person of color. But I’ve also been the first or often the only designer or practicing architect in a group of academics, academic architects, or woman in a very dominant technology-related field. So, quite often these are even more white male dominated than the general population of architects. I’ve definitely experienced being the only woman in the room. This can have some positives in that you get noticed, and some negatives in that you get scrutinized, or you sometimes feel like you’re speaking for an entire group and can be tokenized.
I’ve been committed to increasing the number of women in architecture in particular since I was in school. I had an experience when I was in graduate school, where our class was composed of about 30% women who went on to do amazing things like become firm leaders, these women were just really incredible. And there was a time in our graduate studies where there were no women faculty on a fairly large faculty group. And we talked to the dean about this, and his response was: there were no qualified women to hire for teaching, and that statement was so shocking to me, and made me renew a commitment that I think I hadn’t articulated before then to change that by setting up systems and programs that mentor and initiate faster pathways through the education and the professions for women and other identities that were underrepresented in the field.
A lot of the work that I do is centered on the experience I had in graduate school, of feeling like there’s got to be another way. It’s not that there were no qualified women. It’s that they were not easy to find, or that they weren’t retained, promoted, and made visible. Because I knew that my female classmates had a lot to offer. We were probably losing a lot of amazing input as well by not having the role models to help us succeed in our field.
Ha: What are some of the biggest challenges for ecological issues of our time, and how can architecture play a role in solutions?
Dr. Cheng: Worldwide, buildings are forty percent of the energy consumption and they can make up eighty percent of what goes to our landfills through construction and demolition processes. You can say that you know buildings and cities bear a disproportionate share of energy consumption, and also they have a disproportionate responsibility of being a solution to the problem.
Let’s use embodied carbon, for example: the carbon that is used while you produce a building, maintain a building, and disassemble a building. It’s actually a more sophisticated way of thinking, not just of the cost of your electric bill for your air conditioning. Or consider a materials decision, and how much transportation it takes to transport this piece of wood from a place that maybe doesn’t have natural forests. Would concrete be a more economic, ecologically, and carbon-reducing choice? So, it gets pretty complicated, pretty fast, but the overall impact of the development on sustainability and climate is really pretty clear. Architects, building contractors, real estate developers, and landscape architects, we all bear a disproportionate responsibility for climate solutions, because the product of our work bears a disproportionate share of the energy consumption.
Ha: This Saturday University lecture series is focused on sacred spaces in urban settings; I’m interested in the collaborative work between UW’s College of Built Environments and the Nehemiah Initiative for faith-based congregations and the communities they serve in the Central District. It seems to have been vital for these places to survive the socioeconomic challenges in the historically black neighborhood. Can you tell us more about this collaborative effort and how this initiative played a role?
Dr. Cheng: This project is a multi-year commitment to the Nehemiah Initiative, which is a group of Black churches in the Central District of Seattle who are working together to promote their beloved community. Our college hosts a series of studio classes where students work with church leaders and community members to study the potential for church property to be developed in ways that provide housing and community spaces that can support the Black community.
We have an interdisciplinary team of faculty and I teach about the intercultural aspects of working across differences. The differences that I focus on for the class include disciplinary differences in how an urban planning student and a real estate student might think about the best use of the land. It also includes how our students can work with a Black faith-based community while bringing in their own experiences and expertise in respectful and effective ways.
– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum
Photo: Renée Cheng, dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington. Image courtesy of Sean Airhart, NBBJ.
In short, Seattle is back, but not all the way…But the city’s defining cultural institutions remain healthy, new restaurants and coffee places are popping up all over town, and the communities ringing the center are more vibrant than ever.”
“It’s a knockout show, with bold, tech-enhanced, multimedia works playing off traditional images and themes. And it’s also a fitting symbol of Seattle in the aftermath of the pandemic.”
Lonely Planet writes up “the 8 best museums in Seattle for a rainy day”; all three SAM locations get a mention, even the outdoor space of the Olympic Sculpture Park. You know what they say: no such things as bad weather, only bad clothing!
Qina Liu for the Seattle Times on the opening of Loving Books, a Black-owned bookstore in the Central District, which curator Kristina Clark long envisioned as a “safe place where Black children could be Black children — where Black children could fully belong.”
“Oppenheim’s inventive, shape-shifting works are difficult to classify. Unexpected combinations of materials, like fungus, buttons, and dried pasta with wood, stone, and clay, speak to her sense of imagination and experimentation. Nature and transformation are at the core of many pieces, but her message to viewers is ultimately open ended.”
“The immersive, multimedia exhibition is small—a casual viewer could survey the handful of pieces in minutes—but it’s one that rewards a more thoughtful approach, revealing new layers and details the longer you look. Each artist relates classical forms with timely themes, addressing topics from street protest to quarantine.”
Lonely Planet’s “8 best beaches in Washington State” includes the pocket beach at the Olympic Sculpture Park, noting that “at low tide, you (and the kids) can explore tidepools brimming with marine life, from sea stars to chitons, all within view of the Space Needle.”
SAM Remix: The clouds didn’t keep you beautiful people away! We were thrilled to bring back the late-night art experience to the Olympic Sculpture Park last Friday–and thrilled for the shoutouts from The Stranger, The Ticket (new site alert!), Seattle Met, and Seattle Times.
“What’s delightful about the piece is that even though the garden of PNW plants is virtual, it still grounds me in reality. Vichayapai’s personal rendition of Seattle’s summer made me think about the foliage and smells and textures I associate with the season.”
“Mr. Kulzer, an art teacher at Eden Valley-Watkins High School who specializes in sculpture, spent two years shadowing Ms. Christensen in order to learn the intricacies of working with cold butter, which is harder to manipulate than the soft-water-based clay he’s accustomed to…Teaching is the second-best job in the world, he said. ‘The first is carving butter heads.’”
“There’s no such thing as spending too much time in a museum. But as much time as you spend walking between artworks, pausing to absorb the work or read the accompanying text, you’ll never see a museum’s art quite the way those who regularly work around it do.”
This week’s SAM Object of the Week was written by University of Washington student Ji In following a presentation given by SAM Assistant Curator of South Asian Art Natalia Di Pietrantonio to the class “Gender and the Hindu Goddess” in the spring of 2022. This essay has been edited from its original form by SAM staff for brevity but the overall content remains the same.
Painted in 1986 by Baua Devi, Kali, as the title explains, is a portrait of the Hindu goddess Kālī. Most recently on view in Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Timeat the Seattle Asian Art Museum, this artifact is a medium sized painting made on paper with ink and color. This essay will explore the format and iconography of the painting that illustrates the goddess’s benevolent yet captivating assertion of power by focusing on the gaze depicted in the portrait. Stylistically, the painting belongs to Maithili art. Historical background on the art style, including a brief biography of Baua Devi, will help explain the significance of Maithili art which has given female artists renewed identities and empowerment adding special elements of power to this painting.
The format of the painting—ink and color on paper—and its technical features, bring out the intensity of Kālī’s gaze focused straight at the viewer, lending an aspect of assertiveness. The painting depicts the face of the goddess colored in vibrant and saturated colors. The range of colors Devi uses is limited to a palette of white, black, and dark blue, filling most of the painting to depict the goddess’s skin. Meanwhile, the colors pink, red, and yellow are used as accent colors to bring out certain features like the outline of the goddess’s eyes and lips. Kālī’s features are made up of mostly thick and bold lines, except for the bindi/tikkā on her forehead, suggesting her third eye, elaborated with fine lines of black ink. The overall simplicity of this painting with bold strokes and a limited range of color, allows the viewer to easily focus on the essential aspect of strength in Kālī’s glare that Baua Devi portrays.
The iconography depicts the goddess lacking the typical visual features of Kālī and mainly focuses on the eyes and her benevolent assertion of power. Some elements of Kālī’s typical characteristics are portrayed in this painting, such as her deep black and blue skin, as well as her three eyes. However, the painting lacks a lot of other features associated with the goddess. Kālī is recognizable as a fearsome and destructive female deity, often visualized holding a sword and a severed head, wearing a garland of skulls and a skirt of arms, and with her tongue protruding and dripping blood.1 Baua Devi’s painting lacks these features and focuses only on the goddess’s face with no hint of ferocity. Her typical menacing appearance is replaced with a smile aimed toward the viewer. Normally, a scary portrayal of Kālī’s distinguishable characteristics is important as Kālī’s is known to lead people to liberation, moksa, allowing people to face their fear and the uncertainties of life, while enabling them to be conscious overcome realities.1 At the same time, Kālī still had benevolent elements with iconography of her right hand in a mudra hand gesture that grants boons and assures her people to not fear.1 Such shows how it is only the physical appearance of Kālī that might be unsettling, because Kālī is compassionate to those who worship her and grants them something beyond what this physical world can offer. And possibly, Baua Devi wanted to focus more on such a benign, yet still powerful aspect of the goddess.
Stylistic Composition of Mithila Art
As mentioned previously, the main stylistic composition of this painting is that this artwork is done in Maithili/Madhubani style. Not only the fact that this painting is done by Baua Devi, who is a renowned Maithili artist, there are detectable elements of the Maithili style painting such as bordering of the painting, and usage of bright natural pigmented colors. The artwork has a painted frame that borders around Kālī’s depicted face in a pink and yellow zigzag pattern. Such framing pattern is typical in a lot of Baua Devi’s work and that of many other Maithili artist. The bright colors of the painting can also be a clue to distinguish the work to be Maithili art, which appears to be done intentionally to maintain the original style of this art. In an interview with The Better India, a digital media platform covering popular news, Baua Devi emphasizes the importance of maintaining authenticity by keeping the traditional style of using twigs, fingers, and natural pigments of colors like black from charcoal, yellow from turmeric, white from rice, blue from indigo, and saffron from marigold.
History of Mithila Art
The history of Mithila art and its various associated artists—like Baua Devi—comes from an ancient cultural region of India, located in the Northeastern part of Bihar, made up of small rural villages.2 This art form originated from their wall art depicting images of various Indian epics of many deities in people’s personal homes. Such paintings were done by a particular practice known as Bhitti chitra where Maithili women painted on the walls and floors of their mud homes.3 It also served a common social purpose which is to summon gods to bless newly married couples with love and fertility.4 In the same interview with The Better India, Baua Devi also said, “According to the custom, all the women in the village gather during a wedding or a special occasion to draw complex geometric and linear patterns on the walls of the house. The art would usually be scenes from mythology and nature as symbols of love and prosperity.”2 This art was originally very personal, kept only as a regional cultural practice, and wasn’t known to a much greater public. Carolyn Brown Heinz, a professor of Anthropology at California State University Chico, noted on such seclusion of the art until a fateful event of earthquake in 1934 that hit the area and exposed many of the wall paintings to be seen by several people, including William Archer who was a young British official visiting the area to assess the damage.4 Archer was amazed at images of the vibrant colors of goddesses with various features of the deities like water lilies, snakes, and the sun in natural pigments painted in the interior of the houses. Sometime after, a drought in 1966 prompted an urgent need to improve the economy in the area. Chair of All-India Handicraft Board, Pupul Jayakar who was aware of beautiful images of Mithila’s wall art, sent an artist, Bhaskar Kulkarni to Madhubani (city in the Mithila region) to look for female artists of the Mithila to produce paintings on a paper, that could easily be sold. Baua Devi was one of many female artists who were recruited. Heinz highlights how such movement of the art from wall to paper as medium brought many changes to the region and its people. First, it fulfilled its main goal by bringing significant economic relief, especially in the impoverished area of Bihar. Mithila art also became known to a much wider public like tourists and foreigners, bringing a cultural awareness of Madhubani, a region previously rarely visited, which brought a significant change to the artists. Most of the well-known Maithili artists were women. These female artists, who used to make no profits from their art works, now became the main source of income to support their families. Being in a fairly patriarchal society, such an art movement empowered these women by allowing them to gain greater respect and support, and to contribute greatly to not just their families, but to the greater region of the location with its economic and cultural growth.
History of Baua Devi
Baua Devi was also one of the female artists who became successful after contributing to the transfer of Maithili art on paper. She was born in Jitwapur village in Bihar and was taught Maithili art as the usual tradition by her mother when she was 13.2 Her talent was discovered by Kulkarni, the artist sent to recruit Maithili artists, when she was 19 after her infant’s death and was suffering from a physically abusive husband. Kulkarni influenced her art to change from typical Maithili art form to a place where she can be expressive of her thoughts. He advised her to freely paint out of her imagination.3 Such teaching might explain the unconventional portrayal of this painting of Kali. However, his advice to the Mathila artists might have also influenced the deterrence of traditional aspects of Maithili art. Heinz also noted how one negative impact from the movement to paper was that the art might have lost its religious meanings in order to better cater towards foreigners who have no interest in knowing its significance.4 This raises concern about the authenticity of Maithili style art and that it only focuses on the elaborated and visually appealing aspect of the artwork to attract the public’s interest. However, Baua Devi’s artworks testify to how the artist still appreciates and maintains the traditional aspects of the art by continuing to portray Hindu deities and conserving traditional art technique methods like using natural dyes in her art work, while not being limited to add her personal identity through abstract elements as well. She is now an incredibly successful Maithili artist who is recognized all across the world. Devi has won many awards such as the National Award in 1984 and Padma Shri in 2017, and her work is sold in various countries across the globe like the United States, Spain, France, and Japan.5 With such success, this new form of Maithili art has given Devi a new identity and freedom in various aspects. She found the freedom to express her thoughts through her paintings, and to no longer be subjected to patriarchal bondage. Devi often discusses how she can’t choose her favorite painting because she views Madhubani painting as her identity and says, “All my paintings are amalgamations of customs, history, and love.”2 Her statement shows how she believes the Maithili paintings have given her a new identity that has connected her with history.
The artwork Kali made in ink and color on paper depicting the frontal profile of goddess Kālī lacks typical iconographic features to instead focus on the goddess’s intense gaze and benevolent yet dominant assertion of power. The Maithili style of painting, and Baua Devi’s own personal story together embodies the theme of female assertion of power. Kālī being the goddess with power of time, lives as the goddess to many from the ancient times of Vedic era to contemporary period among Maithili artists including Baua Devi.
– Ji In, University of Washington Student
1 Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott. Hindu goddesses: beliefs and practices. Sussex Academic, 2009. “Behind Painted Walls: The Story of Baua Devi & Mithila Painting.” Sarmaya, March 26, 2019.
2 “Painting Is My Everything: Art from India’s Mithila Region – Exhibitions – Asian Art Museum.” Asian Art Museum, May 4, 2020. https://exhibitions.asianart.org/exhibitions/painting-is-my-everything-art-from-indias-mit hila-region/.
3 Rinder, Lawrence. Baua Devi and the Art of Mithila. University of California Berkeley Art Museum, 1997. https://bampfa.org/program/baua-devi-and-art-mithila-matrix-175.
The Seattle Times arts team helpfully gathered all the “ways to stretch your entertainment dollars in the Seattle area” with free or discounted tickets and events. They mention the free days at SAM’s three locations—Seattle Art Museum (First Thursday!), Seattle Asian Art Museum (Last Fridays!), and the Olympic Sculpture Park (365 days a year!)—as well as other hot tips for free or discounted admission. Now, go ART!
Though the exhibition was no longer on view when Savita Krishnamoorthy’s International Examiner review of Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time was published, it’s still very much worth a read. And you can still see Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s neon installation Kali (I’m a Mess) in the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s park lobby.
“We are witnessing an aspirational South Asianfuturism, dreaming of a world without war and human suffering.”
“‘You felt a sense of community in the fields because it was people talking your language, people hearing the kind of music you hear at home, people eating the foods you eat,’ [Exhibition subject Luz] Iniguez said. ‘It really felt like a community of people that were just working hard trying to make the most of a situation that was hard.’”
“‘I’m calling this the poetics of restitution, which is something I’m trying to explore in the work,’ Julien said in a telephone interview from London. ‘The debates that we’re having today that seem contemporaneous were happening 50 years ago, if not before. I think that’s really interesting.’”
“The beauty of the museum is that it allows for interesting juxtapositions of artworks against architecture from the 1930s, and the ability to move works already on view into different configurations to satisfy new goals.”
Crosscut’s Brangien Davis also featured the “compact but compelling” new exhibition, which is just one show on view now in Seattle about people’s relationship to nature. (Margo Vansynghel also blurbed the show for their August things to do list.)
“Sit for a spell as the black-and-white images emerge slowly from the mist. Squint and you’ll start to see jagged mountains appear—but look even closer, and you’ll notice that these monoliths are made from so many skyscrapers. A rushing waterfall proves to be a highway packed with cars. Those trees? Construction cranes. The artist created these astonishing works by combining thousands of photographs and videos from megacities, thereby painting a natural landscape from man-made ambition.”
You don’t want to miss the triumphant return of SAM Remix, the 21+ after-hours art experience, held at the Olympic Sculpture Park on Friday, August 26. Curiocity fills you in on the details.
“I like to go head back up the incline and into the SAM park that zig-zags over the train tracks and street to that big orange structure with the orange chairs – another great place to rest in the shade, adjust your playlist or take out a sketch pad for a while before heading back into Belltown and home again.”
“Bruce Lee could blast a man backwards with one punch, but his identity as an intellectual and voracious reader was far less known. ‘You think of Bruce Lee as a martial artist and as an actor, but you don’t necessarily think of him as a philosopher,’ says Jessica Rubenacker, exhibit director of Wing Luke Museum.”
“Guston makes the imagery more visually striking by sticking strictly to variations on red and blue; the bluntness and obtuseness of its iconography is compellingly mysterious, as disembodied fingers, pointing hands, and crude painter’s canvas float monumentally but awkwardly around each other in space. Its painterly surface is tinged with naiveté. What a rare pleasure to see his painting up close.”
“What’s up with all these rabbits everywhere?” asks Brendan Kiley for the Seattle Times’ Pacific NW Magazine. For the story, he met up with Bobby McCullough, Facilities and Landscape Manager at the Olympic Sculpture Park, to go in search of King Bunny, a resident bunny who may be responsible for a good number of the 500+ rabbits who make the sculpture park their home. P.S. Check out our video series Botany with Bobby for more stories from the park.
Crosscut’s Black Arts Legacies project, which launched in June, is still delivering. Here, project editor Jasmine Mahmoud writes about singer Ernestine Anderson, who had a voice like “honey at dusk.”
“Ernestine was jazz and blues personified — she musically participated in both worlds,” daughter [Shelley] Young says of her mother’s musical impact. “Singing the blues involves storytelling,” she continues, “and she loved telling a story.”
“[Former Seattle SuperSonic Spencer] Haywood said in an interview on Sunday that he and Russell would often dine at a Seattle restaurant called 13 Coins after road trips, and Russell would regale him with stories about the civil rights movement.”
“I’m a total optimist. I believe museums are places where people can find inspiration. I want SAM to inspire the next generation of curators and artists and patrons. This is something that museum curators are discussing — we’ve been discussing this for years, but it’s more urgent now.”
– José Carlos Diaz
Following a months-long international search, SAM is proud to announce José Carlos Diaz as its new Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art. Diaz comes to SAM from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to oversee SAM’s eight brilliant curators in developing thoughtful exhibitions and maintaining the museum’s collections, publications, and libraries across SAM’s downtown location, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Olympic Sculpture Park. He succeeds Chiyo Ishikawa who retired in 2020 after 30 years at SAM.
In celebration of his new role, we spoke with Diaz about his background, hopes for SAM, and becoming a part of Seattle’s artistic community. Read below for the full interview and check out his interview in The Seattle Times to learn even more about what Diaz will bring to SAM when he starts on July 1.
SAM: Tell us about your new role. Why is it important at a museum?
José Carlos Diaz: In this role, I will be part of the senior leadership team and responsible for ensuring we develop a relevant and ambitious curatorial program across all three of our sites. I bring management, administrative, and fundraising experience and possess a track record of creating dynamic exhibitions and projects. This role also has a direct impact on what SAM audiences will see in SAM’s galleries. The exhibitions we’ll be designing going forward will be the result of the needs and wants of our visitors and will uphold SAM’s mission of connecting art to life.
SAM: What drew you to this position, and this position with SAM, in particular?
JCD: I actually have a background working in multi-site institutions! I previously worked at Tate Liverpool, which is part of the Tate Museums in the UK. I’m also coming directly from The Andy Warhol Museum, which is part of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. So, managing the curatorial team of a multi-site institution isn’t too foreign for me.
I think what drew me most to SAM was its vast collection which spans across period and place. In college, I studied art history and cultural history. So, to have access to a collection which combines historical and contemporary art is very exciting to me. When you visit any SAM location, you’re bound to encounter a combination of painting, sculpture, drawing, architecture, costume, and more. From a curation standpoint, the versatility SAM has to offer is thrilling.
Not only that, but the museum is in the artistic center of a great American city known for having a robust cultural landscape. I think it has the potential to be one of the top art cities in the country—almost even rivaling New York or London. Plus, Seattle is home to a strong Latinx population and LGBTQ community which I am looking forward to joining and representing. I’m really excited to bring more representation to these communities at SAM and highlight the work of artists from these communities.
SAM: You’re stepping into a leadership role from a curatorial one: what lessons and skills from curation will you bring? Also, will you still be curating?
JCD: As a curator, I form ideas and craft narratives using art. This process requires creative thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, research, and a direct connection to the mission of the institution—and these are all really important skills to me. These are skills that I will bring to this new role while building a unified and creative team of curators and exhibitions. Occasionally I would love to curate if there’s the opportunity or if a certain curator needed support because of the robust exhibition and programming schedule, but I’m mostly focused on looking ahead and rebuilding a strong museum as we continue to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SAM: Even though this will take some time to develop, what are some of your goals or ideas for this role, and overseeing a global collection and large team of curators across disciplines?
JCD: One of the top goals is understanding the internal climate at SAM and how to best contribute to its existing environment. At the same time, I want to consider what the city and its artistic community want from SAM, and how we can do better and be better. With a vast collection of artworks across three locations and the varied curatorial expertise of our team, I’d love to unify our offerings and collaborate to build awareness across the city that would allow SAM to explore a broad range of ideas and themes in its exhibitions. Perhaps some of our artworks could also travel to other cities for public art commissions, publications, and/or exhibitions.
SAM: An easy one: Why is art important?
JCD: Art, in my opinion, is a form of expression, but also a form of self-care, especially in these times. It’s as simple as that.
SAM: What role do museums serve in a city and for the communities they serve?
JCD: Museums are places to inspire and seek inspiration. They’re also social spaces which continuously evolve and improve. SAM shows historic works, but also global and local creativity through its incredible collections. It features limited-run exhibitions as well as ongoing installations, while continuously rotating its collection and introducing new narratives, often around current affairs and through multiple voices. So, using SAM as an example, I think museums in general seek civic excellence through varied representation.
SAM: Tell us more about you! Outside of art curation, what do you like to do with your time?
JCD: I’m originally from Miami, but my family is from Mexico so I’m Latin American. My husband is an oceanographer and we share a dog named Elvira, Mistress of Bark. I have a fraternal twin who’s a Latin Grammy Award-winning and Grammy-nominated children’s music artist named Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band. I love to travel and go to the beach. On my time off, you can often find me on a boat or somewhere by the water. It’s just my happy place.
– Interview conducted by Lily Hansen, Marketing Content Creator
“Even as pandemic restrictions ease and theaters and clubs start to re-open, choreographers like Graney, Gosti and many others are struggling to stay in Seattle. Graney charges that nobody at City Hall, or anywhere outside the dance community itself, seems concerned that artists are being priced out of the city. ‘There’s no one at the helm who has an interest in dance,’ Graney maintains. ‘People don’t care, they just don’t care.’”
“At a time when many Black artists are being recognized for figurative art, Halsey has been making large-scale sculptures and reliefs. And while her installations may allude to economic hardship, gentrification, or gang violence, they convey an explosive sense of joy.”
You’ll walk away from these collected works sobered, perhaps, but buoyed by a spark of hope. If humans are capable of all this beauty and devastation, you might muse, what else could we accomplish? What visions for our planet, and our future as a species, could we realize?
This not to-be-missed exhibition immerses, enchants, warns, and finally, hopes to inspire us to action. A video at the end, ‘Water Protectors,’ asks artists, activists, leaders, and scientists, to answer the question ‘What can people do to honor and protect water?’ We must all ask ourselves that question.”
Crosscut’s Brangien Davis devotes the bulk of her recent ArtSEA column to profiling Seattle author Angela Garbes, whose new book on motherhood and labor, “a blend of memoir, research and social commentary,” has just landed on bookshelves.
“For more than a century, Richter said, South Park residents have been unable to influence what happens in their own neighborhood, and El Barrio is a step to change that. ‘My hope for South Park is whatever South Park hopes for itself,’ he said. ‘The mission phrase that Coté brought to all of this is that the neighborhood should own the neighborhood. And implied in that ownership is control and agency.’”
“I find myself equally inspired by artists putting their money where their mouth is, and moved by how they address immediate needs while carving space for long-term dreaming at the same time, balancing the practical and the ideal rather than choosing between the two. Each of these artists exemplifies a compelling degree of integrity; each refuses to plead powerlessness or sweep the contradictions under the rug. Can the institutions they work with keep up?”
“The exhibition…brings together different cultural expressions to demonstrate that water is our shared concern and necessary to our shared survival. In that way, the Indigenous voices are the most resonant in their respectful and deep understanding. But seeing their work and their voices placed among so many other cultures demonstrates the interconnectedness of everyone on the planet.”
“This idea of dynamic identity and reclamation are echoed throughout Embodied Change and are told through the lens of the human body, specifically the female form. One thing that I believe unites these works is the burden of inheritance. There are certain things that we inherit through our heritage without us making the choice to do so. What we do choose, however, is how we carry this inheritance.”
“We want to show the more soulful and heartful way of Ukraine. That it’s not destruction, that it’s not a ruin, that it’s actually a very rich and deep history that gets passed on and carried on through generations.”
“Extraordinary Monuments to the Mundane”: The New York Times’ T Magazine profiles sculptor Woody De Othello as he looks forward to his inclusion in the Whitney Biennial. As we’ve shared in the past, a sculpture by this rising art world star was recently acquired by SAM for its collection and will go on view later this year.
“As if the result of a solo game of exquisite corpse, these composite creatures are oddly proportioned and at turns alluring and unsettling. Thus, Othello highlights the thrum of spirituality he finds in everyday environments.”
In celebration of the opening of Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, SAM’s Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, Natalia Di Pietrantonio, sat down with contemporary artists Mithu Sen and Bani Abidi to discuss their artistic processes and involvement in the exhibition. Both Sen and Abidi explore themes of gender stereotypes, structures of power, and self-representation while reflecting on their South Asian heritage.
With their artworks in Embodied Change, each of these international artists seek to capture ephemeral gestures of the body. This virtual panel begins with an overview and introduction by Di Pietrantonio followed by a presentation from each of the artists on their artistic practices. The video concludes with a Q & A moderated by Di Pietrantonio.
Visit the Asian Art Museum between 10 am and 5 pm on Friday, March 25 for a day of free art activities and artist interactions including an artist talk with Humaira Abid, a Bharatnatyam and Kathak dance performance by South Asian art collective Pratidhwani, and a take-away Madhubani painting activity designed by artist Deepti Agrawal.
The Stranger’s Jas Keimig has an exit interview with Emily Zimmerman, as the director of the University of Washington’s Jacob Lawrence Gallery heads to the University of Pennsylvania’s Arthur Ross Gallery.
A long read from Noema Magazine: “Over a hundred miles southeast of Los Angeles, alongside the Salton Sea, Bombay Beach is a stretch of mud and sand wracked by hazardous dust storms, trash-filled lots and the smell of fetid algae. Its shores are also home to a burgeoning, surrealist art hub.”
“Working in the decades between Hiroshima and the American buildup in the Vietnam War, Giacometti portrayed an emaciated, uprooted, and pock-marked humanity living in a world on the brink — a precarious state of existence at least partially reprised by the biggest land war in Europe since Hitler.”
“It focuses particularly on modern contemporary artists that are activist artists that are emboldened and trying to change norms within society,” Di Pietrantonio explained. “I decided upon the theme based on current events, and what I thought Seattle audiences would be drawn to during this particular time.”
Grace Gorenflo of the Seattle Times on 10 years of “creative aging” programs at the Frye Art Museum “that allow individuals living with dementia to foster friendships and community through art.”
“Randy Rowland participated in multiple Creative Aging classes with his wife, Kay Grant Powers, before her death in 2019…‘My wife declined for a long time, and I hadn’t seen her operate at that level for a while. And then all of a sudden, there she was, kind of waxing poetic and talking about the painting that we’re looking at,’ he said.”
“Chief Curator Asma Naeem, one of the people who came up with the idea of security/curators, says they pick up lots of insights, and pass them along to visitors. Naeem remembers her early days of museum-going. ‘For me, walking into a museum for the first time was something very intimidating.’ Guards helped. ‘I felt like I could go up to one of the guards and hear their observations and comments, and just ease into being a visitor.’”
“On a recent Sunday afternoon, three art critics sniffed, prowled, jumped and climbed their way through a new exhibit. Khione gravitated to a colorful installation featuring cloth orbs and plastic linked chains. Oliver climbed on top of an austere, spiraling sculpture made out of 4x4s, plywood, masonite and carpet. And Luna sat in a small separate room, processing her impressions.”
Via Artnet: Another Super Bowl “friendly wager” of art sees a Robert Henri painting from the Cincinnati Art Museum heading to LA’s Huntington Library. SAM’s adventures in Super Bowl-ing in 2014 and 2015 are mentioned.
Tatler names “4 Power Couples of Design” from history, including the architects of the 1991 Seattle Art Museum building, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi.
“Halsey said it was one of her dreams in life to design a stage for Clinton to perform on that would match the scale of the maximalist P-Funk concerts of the 1970s. And why not? If nothing else, Clinton’s career has been an ongoing argument that anything is possible. He has a handful of live performances on the horizon, and when asked if he was planning to ever go back on tour, Clinton responded, ‘Oh, hell, yeah.’”
Welcome back to #SAMSnippets! In this live series on our Instagram you get an up-close look at works in SAM’s permanent and semi-permanent installations. Each month, we choose a new gallery to walk through, offering you art appreciation wherever you may be!
In January, we featured a diverse collection of artworks from Embodied Change: South Asian Art Across Time. The first special exhibition to open in the remodeled and renovated Seattle Asian Art Museum, the featured works explore social, political, and religious perceptions of humanity and the human body through the lens of past and contemporary South Asian artists. Many of them utilize female and feminized forms in a myriad of ways, including as a devotional object, as a mode of self-representation, and to question the safety of public spaces. Watch the video now to get a peek at what’s on view at the Asian Art Museum now and learn more about the works shown below. Get your tickets now to see the entire exhibition before it closes on July 10!
The tour begins with a look at Chila Kumari Singh Burman’s Kali (I’m a Mess). For more than 30 years, Burman has used a variety of mixed media to advocate for female empowerment, racial equity, and her Punjabi heritage. Kali (I’m a Mess) was a part of Burman’s recent installation titled Remembering A Brave New World, superimposed over the Tate Britain’s entrance. Perched atop the building’s pediment, the Hindu goddess of destruction and protection obfuscated the statue of Britannia. The text above Kali reads, “I’m a Mess,” a message usually not associated with Kali. Burman takes Kali seriously as a potent symbol of liberation and rebellion and uses this text to speak to political and social concerns that occurred in 2020. Kali (I’m a Mess) is one of a few works in Embodied Change which was acquired into SAM’s permanent collection as a result of being included in this exhibition.
As we enter the exhibition, the camera pans across five earthenware and clay terracotta figures. Originating from the Indus Valley civilization in modern day India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, these works date back to 2600–1900 BCE. Archaeological digs in the area have revealed numerous small, female figures, usually sculpted with wide hips, small breasts, stocky appendages, and abundant jewelry. Early scholars deified these figures as “mother goddesses” (a manifestation of Devi), creating a tie between past religious beliefs and present-day Hindu practitioners. This interpretation has been reevaluated, questioning whether these items were truly representative of religiosity. Their meaning remains a mystery but the near absence of male figures suggest the body held significant importance.
Next, we see two photographs by Brendan Fernandes: As One III and As One IX. Fernandes is Canadian of Kenyan and Goan (South Asian) descent, and his last name evokes the complex circuits of exchanges between the Portuguese colonial apparatus and western India. In his work, Fernandes is invested in bodies that move, showing that the human body has a range of permutations, meanings, and identities. The artist and his practices does not hold a fixed identity or a singular idea of Europe, Africa, or India. Overall, he envisions “a different process of communication,” one that is body-driven.
These two photographs were created locally. Fernandes used dancers from the Pacific Northwest Ballet in the auditorium of the Seattle Art Museum alongside African masks from SAM’s permanent collection. Using gestures derived from classical French ballet, the two dancers address the African masks with formality and etiquette. Compositionally, the dancers’ heads are hidden, which allows for the masks to stand in for the dancers’ missing faces. Through such juxtapositions, Fernandes forges a bridge between the inanimate and the animate.
Adeela Suleman’s Helmet is part of a series repurposing kitchen objects. Made from utensils including a colander and tiffin (lunch box), the form is gendered as it uses objects typically located in the interior space of the kitchen, often associated with female domesticity. In performance photographs, Suleman dons these helmets, suggesting that women need special armor in their day-to-day movement in the public arena. The rigid and hard helmets provide little real protection. One wonders how much protection Suleman wants her pieces to afford; she seems to gesture to the futility of such an attempt.
In a glass pedestal adjacent to Suleman’s Helmet, we see Humaira Abid’s Sacred Games-I. Made entirely out of wood, the open suitcase contains clothes, a holy book, a cap, and prayer beads, all the possessions of a religious practitioner who is undertaking a spiritual journey. The gun that is placed alongside the belongings symbolizes both religious extremism and violence toward religion, including attacks on mosques, churches, and other religious buildings. In the artists’s own words, “all societies have extremists who twist religion as well as other social institutions and use it to their own benefit, to oppress women and vulnerable and defenseless people.”
The final section of the video is focused on portraits. Here, the featured artists use the theme of portraiture to challenge bodily ideals and the role of the female body in the arts.
The first portrait we see is B. Prabha’s Untitled. Active in the 1960s when there were few professional female artists, her trademark was elongated figures of rural women with a subdued color palette. Hailing from the small Indian village of Bela, near Nagpur, India, Prabha gravitated to rural village scenes. She painted lower caste women at work and at leisure. In this portrait, the unknown woman rests her back against a tree as she enjoys the company of a bird. Although Prabha typically depicted the silent labor of rural women to show their plight and suffering, she also endeavored to give them grace and personhood by depicting them enjoying moments of rest.
The camera next pans two works by Chila Kumari Singh Burman: Auto-Portrait, from Fly Girl series and Punjabi Rockers. In this first large collage work, Burman distorts her portrait through a range of different guises and manipulations. Her face is stretched, magnified, compressed, and painted with bright colors. Through the act of repetition and the reproduction of the print form, Burman crafts new personas, enacting fantasies of the self as the goddess Kali and as pop icons. As Burman explains, “These self portraits position the construction of racial and sexual identity as a process that is crafted and fluid within the process of representation. My manipulation of the photographic image questions the idea of the photograph as a document of the empirical reality to reveal ‘an image of myself.'” In other words, Burman resists a singular identity. Through the act of printmaking, she can reconstruct multivalent identities for herself.
In Punjabi Rockers, Burman, a member of the British Black Arts Movement, mines both South Asian histories and pop culture to overwhelm and challenge Euro-American perceptions of South Asian women. She has declared, “My work is about reclaiming the image of Asian women, moving away from the object of the defining gaze, toward a position where I, [an] Asian woman, become the subject of display. My self-portraits construct a femininity that resists the racist stereotype of the passive, exotic Asian woman, imprisoned by male patriarchal culture.” Together, these two prints burst forth with levity and joy to convey Burman’s political message of empowerment.
We then see Rekha Rodwittiya’s Untitled. Consistently, Rodwittiya paints female figures with vibrant, bold colors. The scale of her portraits tends to be quite monumental to celebrate the female form. Even in such large compositions, a sense of intimacy is present. In this canvas, a local schoolgirl shows off her spinning top. With her content smile, she is both anonymous and knowable. Regarding her practice, Rodwittiya states, “I live and breathe as a feminist so therefore that is the prism through which I perceive everything around me, and so therefore it would patina my art as well.”
The final work in the video is Mithu Sen’s Miss Macho (Self Portrait), from the False Friends series. Sen paints a mustache on her self-portrait along with overgrown floral vines in her hair and a phallic building on the bridge of her nose. Consistently throughout her practice, Sen applies a confrontational approach to topics related to the body, including sex. This work is part of the series called False Friends, in which Sen asked strangers to take photographs of her. According to Sen, during her childhood, she was considered the “literal black sheep” of her family since she was visibly darker-skinned than her light-skinned female family members. Here, Sen’s face occupies the entire canvas, making space for herself in her social and professional world. Her gaze is both otherworldly and visceral.
– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator
Video Artworks: Kali (I’m a Mess), Chila Kumari Singh Burman, 2020, 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. (180 × 35 × 3 cm), Richard E. Lang and Jane Lang Davis Acquisition Fund for Global and Contemporary Art, 2021.25. Goddess Figurine, India, Earthenware, 2300–1750 BCE, Earthenware, 4 3/8 x 1 3/4 x 11/16 in. (11.11 x 4.45 x 1.75 cm), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 41.23. Half Figure of a Goddess, India, Earthenware, 2300–1750 BCE, Earthenware, 2 3/4 x 3 x 1 in. (6.99 x 7.62 x 2.54 cm), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 41.24. Fragmentary Figure, India, Terracotta, ca. 3rd millennium BCE–2nd century CE, Terracotta, 7 1/2 x 2 5/8 x 2 in. (19.05 x 6.67 x 5.08 cm), Gift in honor of Millard B. Rogers, 93.31. Fragmentary Figure, India, Terracotta, ca. 2nd–1st century BCE, Terracotta, 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (9.84 x 6.35 x 3.81 cm) Overall h.: 4 3/4 in. Overall w.: 2 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 39.36. Fragmentary Figure, India, Terracotta, ca. 3rd millennium BCE–2nd century CE, Terracotta, 4 1/8 x 1 3/4 x 3/4 in. (10.48 x 4.45 x 1.91 cm), Gift in honor of Millard B. Rogers, 93.32. As One III, Brendan Fernandes, 2017, Digital print, 34 x 48 in., Gift of Christopher and Alida Latham, 2019.27.1. As One IX, Brendan Fernandes, 2017, Digital print, 34 x 48 in., Gift of Christopher and Alida Latham, 2019.27.2. Helmet, Adeela Suleman, 2008, Metal with foam and cloth, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Sacred Games-1, Humaira Abid, 2020, Carved pine and wenge woods, Collection of Christopher and Alida Lantham. Untitled, B. Prabha, ca. 1960s, Oil on canvas, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Auto-Portrait, from Fly Girl series, Chila Kumari Singh Burman, 1993, Mixed media and laser printer, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Punjabi Rockers, Chila Kumari Singh Burman, 1993, Mixed media and laser printer, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Untitled, Rekha Rodwittiya, ca. 1990s, Acrylic and oil on canvas, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. Miss Macho (Self Portrait), from the False Friends series, Mithu Sen, 2007, Mixed media photocollage on archival paper, Collection of Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan.
The Stranger’s Chase Burns catches up on Sundance flicks; Matt McCormick’s short 2002 film the subconscious art of graffiti removal, narrated by Miranda July, is the one that sticks with him.
“The relationship between tagger and remover is an ongoing one. Often, a remover will cover an original tag, only for the tagger to return and tag on top of the remover’s masking. This back-and-forth can continue for years, with the remover coming back and using different shades of paint, creating a layered, more colorful image. This can be accidentally beautiful.”