The 2023–2024 school year is officially in full swing! As students and educators return their classrooms, we’re taking this opportunity to share some information about how to book a guided or self-guided school tour at any of our three locations. Plus, we’ve included a few imaginative artworks created by students on a field trip to the Olympic Sculpture Park to give you an idea of the type of artistic activities your students will take part in while visiting any of SAM’s locations.
All school tours at the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Olympic Sculpture Park are image-focused and inquiry-based experiences designed for K–12 students. Guided tours are led by trained guides who encourage students to look closely, share personal perspectives, and build connections to their lives and learning. Following this in-gallery experience, students are invited to get creative through an art workshop supported by SAM educators, teachers, chaperones, and/or volunteers. Meanwhile, self-guided tours allow educators to customize their museum experience by leading their own tours through the galleries.
In the 2022–2023, we’re proud to have served more than 5,500 students across 235 school tours. Of these tours, 154 took place at the Seattle Art Museum, 36 took place at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and 26 took place at the Olympic Sculpture Park. This year, we intend to host more tours and provide even more students across Washington State with an exciting educational and artistic experience.
Ready to book a school tour for your classroom? Click here to check availability and plan your visit to SAM!
As a high school junior in 2017, I volunteered at the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s library and caught a glimpse at the inner workings of an arts institution. I never would have known that five years later I would come back to SAM and partake in the Emerging Arts Leader internship. Before becoming a SAM intern and as a recent college graduate, I struggled to identify a career direction and academic pursuits. While I was deeply drawn to the museum world as an outsider and a visitor, I was yearning to discover suitable career paths and learn about professional museum experience so that I could make well-informed decisions for my future.
Throughout my ten-week internship, I learned how to write object labels. I found myself using research skills that I developed in college to get acquainted with a group of Mithila paintings, despite my lack of familiarity with South Asian art. From speaking with professionals in SAM’s curatorial and education departments, I was able to better understand and keep in mind the intended audience of my descriptions. By the conclusion of my internship, I was pleasantly surprised by my evolving skills as a writer and in expanding my knowledge of Mithila art and Hindu iconography.
Another invaluable part of this internship was the opportunity to connect and conduct informational interviews with members of the museum, including museum professionals, docents, and other interns. While there seems to be an invisible pressure of figuring everything out in one’s 20s, I learned that each person arrived at their point in life and their position at the museum through a unique path. Many of them reminisced that they too did not know what they had wanted to pursue at my age and where they would end up. It is okay to slow down and take time to discover oneself. As I continue to discover my career path and academic directions, I was extremely grateful to everyone who shared their life story with me and offered guidance.
Shadowing both frontline work and behind-the-scenes work gave me different perspectives on viewing a museum’s relationship with the public. Behind the scenes, I witnessed the intricate measurements of displays and objects; I sat in on meetings that discussed exhibit rotations months in advance. On the museum floor, I observed docents translating curatorial visions for the public and was left in awe of their ability to recognize a visitor’s familiarity with SAM with just one look. Getting a glimpse of both sides of the museum allowed me to better understand a visitor’s typical museum experience and create labels that allow them to take new information away from their visit. The docent tours and visitor engagement sessions I took part in demonstrated how public tours are not one-sided lectures, but rather a continuous conversation among visitors, docents, artists, and curators. To put my skills and reflection to use, I crafted my final in-gallery tour on the Inari Worship Spirit Foxes from the museum’s collection while prioritizing audience engagement and participation.
As my SAM internship comes to a close, I have begun to set new goals as I look forward to attending graduate school and finding even more ways to stay involved in the art world.
– Doreen Chen, SAM Emerging Arts Leader in Curation
What do late 18th- to 19th-century Edo (present-day Tokyo) and late 19th-century Paris have in common? This was the question Xiaojin Wu, SAM’s former Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, wanted to explore when she began developing Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec, her final show for SAM that can only be seen at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. She found intriguing parallels between Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings and the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901). The result is this vibrant exhibition about a shared renegade spirit that flourished in both cities’ urban and artistic cultures.
Both Edo and Paris were facing a multitude of challenges to the status quo from the rising middle classes. In Edo, townspeople pursued hedonistic lifestyles as a way of defying the state-sanctioned social hierarchy that positioned them at the bottom. That mentality contributed to a booming urban culture, which facilitated the massive production and distribution of ukiyo-e (often translated as “pictures of the floating world”). Many of these pictures arrived in France in the 1860s, a time when the French art world and its society at large were undergoing substantial changes. Fin-de-siècle Paris, like Edo before it, saw the rise of anti-establishment attitudes and a Bohemian subculture. Entertainment venues such as the iconic Moulin Rouge emerged in the Montmartre district. Meanwhile, Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries searched for fresh and more expressive art forms, and they found much needed novelty in Japanese prints.
Toulouse-Lautrec was indebted to Japanese prints, in particular to those by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806); he was often referred to as “Montmartre’s Utamaro.” While many are familiar with the story of Lautrec and his peers drawing inspiration from Japanese prints, this exhibition uncovers the shared subversive hedonism that underlies both Japanese and French prints. Through around ninety choice works drawn from the Seattle Art Museum’s Japanese prints collection as well as loans of Toulouse-Lautrec’s work, this exhibition offers a critical look at the renegade spirit inhabiting the graphic arts in both Edo and Paris, highlighting the social impulses—pleasure-seeking and a rising celebrity culture—behind a burgeoning art production. It is the first time the Seattle Asian Art Museum offers a double take on Japanese and French art in one exhibition—be ready to take it all in!
This article first appeared in the June through September 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!
SAM’s Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas presents the 2023–24 season of the Saturday University Lecture Series, exploring various topics loosely inspired by the exhibition Renegade Edo and Paris: Japanese Prints and Toulouse-Lautrec at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Dr. Gregory Levine, a professor in the history of art at UC Berkeley, California, kicks off the series on Saturday, September 9 with a discussion about a peculiar Buddhist sculpture in the Bay Area forests. SAM spoke with Levine about Buddhist visual cultures,investigating archival discoveries, and the emergent field of arboreal humanities.
SAM: What can we expect to learn about in your upcoming Saturday University lecture?
GREGORY LEVINE: A decade or so ago, I came across a black-and-white photograph of a quite peculiar and large statue of a Buddha preserved in the Bancroft Archive at the University of California, Berkeley. The photograph is startling. It shows this statue——constructed in the late 19th century by a group of American, self-styled “renegades”—in a North American old growth forest but without surrounding architecture. Who would think, right? The photograph was taken not far from Berkeley, across the San Francisco Bay. What’s going on in this photograph, I wondered, what’s the story here? Who made this statue, why, and—since it is not immediately recognizable in the Bay Area today—what’s become of it? How does this statue’s particular story, as we recover it today, inform the sorts of stories (art historical, historical, religious, and social) we tell about Buddhism and Buddhist visual cultures, be they stories told in religious spaces, museums, domestic, online, or retail spaces? What happens when some of these stories are more complicated than they seem—not simply fascinating but troubling? How do we respond in ways that acknowledge the different pasts and presents of art and visual culture, and imagine and work towards just and inclusive futures?
SAM: It sounds like we’ll learn and also leave with many fascinating questions to ponder. My next question: Academic research often involves travel. Is there a travel experience related to your lecture topic that you could share with us?
GL: I came across this photograph not by chance but by casting out my search net widely for images of Buddhist sculpture preserved in the University of California’s digital collections and un-digitized archives (and elsewhere). I didn’t have to travel far to see some of the actual materials firsthand; the Bancroft Archive resides in the building adjacent to where my faculty office is located. The archive included other images of Bay Area Buddhas, but for this particular statue in the forest, I found myself on the road traveling across the Richmond Bridge to Marin County, to Muir Woods National Monument, and into fascinating conversations with rangers, archaeologists, and others at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Additionally, I managed to gain access to the archive and photographs of the San Francisco Bohemian Club, which “thickened the plot” in more ways than one.
I learned a great deal as well from my often naive conversations with forest ecologists and Native American scholars—and doing so, I got a sense of the multiple histories that entangled and continue to entangle this peculiar statue and its forest (a homeland), and of the need to critically engage those different histories together in a practice of art historical ethics and care. As this also suggests, this was a “travel experience” that took me rather far from my previous research and into less/unfamiliar disciplines and knowledge systems—I count this distance covered (and more to go) as a gift, a chance to (re)shape my own learning and to acknowledge others in their expertise, communities, and commitments.
SAM: The Seattle Art Museum is home to nearly 25,000 works of art. What’s one artwork from the museum’s collection that resonates with you (or connects to your topic)? Why?
GL: I am obviously drawn to the museum’s works of Japanese Buddhist wood sculpture, and of particular interest to this talk—in terms of iconography and form, to some extent—is the 18th-century statue of the Buddha Amida and the 12th-century Amida. The trick, however, is to view the museum’s statues in a kind of dialogue with the statue I present in the talk—not to somehow fully reconcile the two but to explore how visual forms proliferate, and may alter, slip (up), as they move across cultures and historical, social, and visual spaces, for various reasons and to various implication (take Sherrie Levine’s Fountain II (Buddha), for example.
SAM: What’s a book you’d recommend to those interested in learning more about your lecture topic?
GL: One book only? Argh…that’s a tough one! Given the modern context of the topic and its convergence of Buddhism, modernity, and North America, I’d suggest (and admittedly the following are academic books): David McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism (2008). If I can sneak in two other titles, they’d be: Joanna Levin, Bohemia in America, 1858-1920 (2010) and Jane Iwamura, Virtual Orientalism: American Religious and American Popular Culture (2010).
SAM: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you want to share with the public in advance of your talk?
GL: It’s more a matter of what I haven’t mentioned. This talk is part of my effort to explore environmental humanities, and in particular to try to shape what I’ve come to think of as arboreal humanities. Doing so with specific attention to visual representation—how the visual arts in particular (historically, culturally, expressively, and politically diverse), are not only materially and ecologically interrelated in a simple sense with the “natural world” but are vitally important to how we understand, feel, and act, and what we value in our human and more-than-human differences and interdependent being.
Of course there is now an immense amount of vitally important (and diverse) writing on ecological interrelation as engaged in the humanities and social sciences, multi-species theory and legal frameworks, environmental justice—writing that is scientific, Indigenous, anti-capitalist, philosophical, literary, in public health, archival as well as activist, etc. etc.…—and situated into what one writer recently termed our planetary ecological derangement (aka the Anthropocene or, for some, the Capitalocene). How do those of us who focus our interests, attention, expertise on the visual arts bring these conversations into our sensory, aesthetic, and cultural experiences and our critical and ethical engagements with the arts and visual worlds and their makers/communities? What are the overlooked as well as emergent and possible visual worlds that we as artists, viewers, critics, historians, curators, educators, and beyond can elevate or envision that will act directly and with care towards each other, human and more-than-human?
– Jason Porter, Kayla Skinner Deputy Director of Education and Public Engagement
“More art, less trash”: Crosscut’s Scarlet Hansen on Seattle ReCreative and other area “creative reuse” centers.
“Seattle ReCreative operates like a thrift store for art supplies. The nonprofit receives donations from fine-art supplies to plastic straws, cutlery and beaded necklaces, all of which would otherwise end up in landfills.”
Via Artnet’s Sarah Cascone: Check out the National Mall’s first outdoor public art show of sculptures. We want to see Wendy Red Star’s! (Hot tip: Her work is now on view in American Art: The Stories We Carry at SAM.
“‘The mall remains a symbol of our Democratic ideals as a nation. Beyond Granite: Pulling Together does not shy away from those aspects in our history that can be very hurtful to Americans. We must tell those untold stories fiercely,’ Charles Sams, director of National Park Service, said at the exhibition’s unveiling. ‘We are only stronger by our diversity. Without it, ecosystems collapse.’”
This spring, Tanya Uyeda joined SAM as the museum’s inaugural Senior East Asian Paintings Conservator. A leader in conservation practice, education, and research, Tanya assumes responsibility for the care of SAM’s East Asian painting collection, focusing on conservation treatments and sourcing the necessary specialized materials and tools.
Her appointment also marked the start of regular activity in the landmark Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Conservation Center, which opened as part of the renovated and expanded Seattle Asian Art Museum in February 2020. The center is one of only a handful of museum studios nationwide dedicated to the comprehensive treatment of East Asian paintings, and the only studio of this type in the western US.
Tanya comes to SAM with over 28 years of experience in art conservation, including over 20 years as a conservator of Japanese paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Born in Eugene, Oregon, Tanya received a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies: Japanese Language and History from Oberlin College and earned a Master’s Degree in Preservation of Cultural Properties from Tokyo University of the Arts. She also trained at an elite painting conservation studio in Tokyo. She is one of only four American conservators of a similar background working in a US institution, as there are no conservation training programs for East Asian paintings outside of Asia.
Just a few months into her tenure at SAM, Marketing Content Creator Lily Hansen spoke with Tanya about her short- and long-term goals, what members can expect in her upcoming Up Close With Conservators talk this fall, how she’s adjusting to Seattle, and more.
LILY HANSEN: Welcome to SAM! After spending more than 20 years in Boston, how are you adjusting to Seattle?
TANYA UYEDA: It seems I arrived in Seattle at the best time of year—I’ve really been enjoying this spectacular summer weather! I’ve settled into a home in the Ballard neighborhood and have been getting it ready in anticipation of my family relocating from Boston later this fall. It’s been so nice to explore the Ballard Farmers Market every Sunday and recently took a weekend jaunt over to Bainbridge Island. I also have extended family in the area, and it has been lovely to be able to reconnect with many of them.
LH: How does it feel to be named SAM’s inaugural Senior East Asian Paintings Conservator?
TU: I feel very honored to be chosen for this important new position. Before arriving at SAM, I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which houses one of the most important and comprehensive collections of Japanese art in the US. Most of my work on the Japanese painting collection supported large-scale touring exhibitions that were shown primarily in Japan.
I am looking forward to continuing this work at the Seattle Asian Art Museum and contributing to the preservation of, and scholarship on, the museum’s East Asian painting collection. I can’t wait to share my insights with members and visitors alike, and to support the care and appreciation of these important artworks throughout the entire Western Pacific region.
LH: What are a few of the goals you set for yourself in taking on this position?
TU: Since assuming my role, my immediate focus has been setting up the Tateuchi Conservation Center as a fully functioning conservation studio. The renovation of the Seattle Asian Art Museum included the creation of this beautiful new workspace, necessary infrastructure such as work tables, sinks, light tables, and fume hoods. The tatami mat flooring and low work tables are what you would see in a traditional Japanese scroll mounting studio, and is what I am accustomed to from my training.
In addition to the basic conservation equipment, East Asian paintings require highly specialized (and expensive!) materials and tools, such as handmade paper, woven textiles, decorative fittings, and various types of brushes, adhesives, pigments, and dyestuffs. Many of these necessary items are imported directly from Japan and China, and are becoming increasingly difficult to source due to the aging out of the artisans that produce them and a lack of younger craftsmen to replace them.
For example, there is a type of paper called “misu-gami” that is produced in the Yoshino region of Japan and provides the flexible inner structure of Japanese hanging scrolls. However, there is now only one papermaker producing it. I will be relying on the generous cooperation of conservation colleagues in Japan and the US, as well as suppliers and craftspeople, to support me as I work to outfit the Tateuchi Conservation Center and carry out the treatments we intend to complete.
LH: The Emerging Arts Leader Internship Program is an integral part of SAM’s mission to connect art to life. This summer, you welcomed Alexa Machnik as your first Emerging Arts Leader Intern in Conservation. What has it been like working with Alexa? Do you intend to take on more interns in the future?
TU: I was very fortunate to meet Alexa and convince her to spend the summer with me in Seattle before she begins a fellowship with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this fall. As a Mellon Foundation Fellow at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and a fourth-year student in the university’s MA/MS program in art history and conservation, she also has extensive working experience at institutions such as the Yale University library and Metropolitan Museum in New York.
The primary focus of Alexa’s internship has been to work alongside me in building eight new karibari, or drying boards, for the studio. These boards are an essential component of every East Asian painting conservation and mounting studio. They consist of a wooden lattice undercore and feature up to 11 layers of handmade paper pasted in specific configurations on either side to provide a sturdy and breathable, yet lightweight surface for stretch drying and flattening artworks during treatment. It is a time consuming and physically demanding task, and I am grateful to have Alexa’s assistance! Building the boards is also excellent training in the use of brushes and knives, different thicknesses of paste, and the preparation of various types of handmade paper. She is also helping me process an important series of artworks gifted to SAM at the bequest of longtime benefactor, the late Frank Bayley III, as well as designing new display apparatus for upcoming gallery rotations at the museum.
My hope is that the Tateuchi Conservation Center will serve as a training resource for future conservators of Asian art, as coursework in East Asian painting conservation is not an area of study offered in North American or European graduate conservation programs. Training in this field is still largely apprenticeship-based, taking place in private studios across Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. As a result of their unusual formats, Asian paintings require dexterity, specialized tools, refined aesthetic sensibilities, and linguistic, cultural, and historical knowledge. In the US, the field tends to attract students with a background or interest in paper conservation. These include so-called pre-program students (those seeking admittance to North American conservation programs) or recent graduates from these same programs. Occasionally, students with academic or practical training from Asia are considered as well.
LH: This fall, SAM will launch Up Close with Conservators, a members-only lecture series offering an in-depth look at the conservation work taking place at the museum. For the inaugural lecture, you’ll be in conversation with SAM’s Jane Lang Davis Chief Conservator Nick Dorman. What can SAM members expect to hear in your discussion with Nick?
TU: Up Close with Conservators is an exciting opportunity to highlight the individuals who make up SAM’s conservation team and to share the details of our work with the public. We chose to title the series “Up Close” because much of our work begins with a close examination of the objects. We look forward to educating members on the works of art in our care, sharing our discoveries, explaining how we assist the museum’s curators in interpreting the artistic intent of each artwork’s creator, and articulating how best to handle, store, and preserve art for future generations.
In our lecture, Nick and I will discuss the museum’s long journey to establish the Tateuchi Conservation Center at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and what the role of this new resource will be for the understanding and preservation of the important East Asian collections in the West Coast region. I will also be giving a brief overview of the kind of work that will take place in the studio, and what conservation of East Asian paintings looks like. It will be my first opportunity to speak to SAM’s members and is sure to be a engaging conversation.
Via 425 Magazine: “Local Creative Pros on the Northwest Places That Make Them Swoon.” Architect Jim Graham admires how the Olympic Sculpture Park’s PACCAR Pavilion “mixes seamlessly and beautifully with the landscape.” And interior designer Kirsten Conner appreciates the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s original Art Deco design and 21st-century update (she even had her wedding reception there!).
“Butler moved here from Southern California in 1999. She bought a simple but cozy-looking house at the top of a hill and near three things she could not live without: a nearby bus stop, a nearby bookstore, and a nearby supermarket.”
“‘We discovered women artists using boxing as a shorthand for victimization or an idea of empowerment. The fact that the boxer was like a Schroedinger’s Cat… both a winner and a loser,’ is a through line of the show, said [curator Sara] Cochran.”
Two weeks ago, we shared the news that Amada Cruz is stepping down after serving as SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO for the past four years. Today, we are pleased to announce that former director Kimerly Rorschach has agreed to serve as SAM’s interim director and CEO. Rorschach retired in September 2019 after seven years of leadership at SAM as the Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. Rorschach will begin in early September, allowing overlap time with Cruz prior to her departure in early October, to ensure a seamless transition.
“We are delighted to welcome Kim back to SAM, a place she loves and led with great vision and care,” says Constance Rice, Chair of the Board. “The museum flourished under her leadership, and we are grateful that she will bring her deep knowledge of SAM and her many relationships with trustees, donors, staff, and larger arts community to bear in this moment.”
Kim is a highly regarded leader with 25 years of experience as a museum director. During her tenure at SAM, Rorschach planned and oversaw an extensive renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, a project that brought SAM’s 1933 historic Volunteer Park building up to 21st-century structural and environmental standards and reimagined the presentation of its celebrated Asian art collection. She led a successful $150 million fundraising campaign for SAM, which included $50 million for the Seattle Asian Art Museum project. She also launched DEI initiatives at the museum and diversified the exhibition and acquisition programs. Exhibitions devoted to Kehinde Wiley and Yayoi Kusama, among others, attracted broad new audiences to the museum.
“It’s very personal, I think, to paint someone’s skin using your fingers. And it also leaves a trace of the artist on the painting itself. And I think that’s something he wants you to feel; he wants you to feel like he’s there in the gallery with you.”
“This was not the stuff of the warrior class. This was the floating world of fleeting and popular pleasures: music, theater, whore houses. Also fleeting was the nightlife of Belle Époque Paris brilliantly and famously captured by the prints of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.”
“‘We’re digging up these histories, but this history is all around us,’ [archaeologist Alicia] Valentino said. “These people didn’t just disappear. They’re in the community today.’”
In another archaeology story, Hadami Ditmars reports for the Art Newspaper on the discovery of a “1,000-year-old fish trap and the remains of the ancestral village of ȾEL¸IȽĆE (pronounced Tel-eech).”
Melena Ryzik for the New York Times on the new Louis Armstrong Center, which joins the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens for even more ways to celebrate the famed jazz trumpeter, singer, and bandleader.
“It Was Like Pastel Bauhaus”: Artnet speaks with artists Gary Panter and Wayne White about working with the late Pee-wee Herman to bring “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” to life.
“Paul [Reubens], Ric, and Wayne, we’re all painters,’ Panter said. ‘We really brought the sensibility of art and art history to the set. Paul was more of a conceptual artist. He had a lot of input, and we had endless ideas.’”
Earlier this year, volunteers across all the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and Olympic Sculpture Park came together to celebrate another incredible year of service at SAM. Hosted by the Seattle Art Museum Volunteers Association Advisory Committee (SAMVA-AC), the 2023 Volunteer Soirée honored the landmark accomplishments of some of SAM’s longest-serving volunteers.
Of the many awards handed out that evening, none were as significant and surprise-filled as the Dorothy C. Malone Award. Established by the SAM Board of Trustees in 1989, the award is given to an exceptional volunteer who exemplifies the highest standard of dedication and service to the museum.
Dorothy “Dottie” C. Malone is a significant part of SAM’s history, having invested 63 years in the museum as a staff member and volunteer. She treated the museum as her family, taking a warm and personal interest in the staff, volunteers, and operations of the museum. She cared deeply and held the museum to a high standard of excellence. Her concern for volunteers, which she called “the backbone of the museum,” combined with her own dedication and commitment, inspired the Board of Trustees to establish this award in her name.
This year’s recipient of the Dorothy C. Malone Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Award is Shawna Bliss. A volunteer for over 24 years, Shawna currently volunteers in our docent program and has consistently contributed to the development of gallery learning across all three SAM locations. Born and raised in West Seattle, Shawna is the oldest of five siblings and discovered a passion for education at a young age. She received her bachelor’s degree in education and psychology from the University of Washington and completed her master’s in education at the University of Utah.
The following years saw Shawna traveling with her husband, Don, throughout the United States and Australia before settling into a long term home in Bremerton to raise their family. For many years, Shawna commuted from Bremerton to Seattle to volunteer at SAM, becoming one of the museum’s most prominent supporters. Family gifts often included museum memberships, invitations to view exhibitions and programs, and one-of-a-kind items from SAM Shop. She encouraged her siblings and children to visit SAM and often brought her parents downtown to explore the museum’s galleries.
Following our celebration of Shawna and her continued contributions to SAM, we asked her about her time at SAM and any advice she’d offer prospective volunteers. Read below to see what she had to say!
SAM: How did you learn about the opportunity of becoming a SAM volunteer? What was the process like for you to join?
Shawna Bliss (SB): I learned about the opportunity of becoming a SAM volunteer at an education job fair held in Seattle before the start of the 1999 school year. A SAM representative was promoting SAM’s education programs and volunteer opportunities. I completed a volunteer application, had an interview with SAM’s Manager of Volunteer Programs, and was hired to assist a SAM educator in the Art Studio.
SAM: What is your favorite memory of being a SAM volunteer?
SB: I have so many favorite memories of being a SAM volunteer! What keeps me at SAM year after year are the opportunities to work with, and learn from, other volunteers, SAM staff, and museum visitors.
SAM: Were you surprised to receive the Dorothy C. Malone Award? What was your reaction?
SB: I was totally surprised! 2019 was the last year SAM held its Volunteer Soirée, so I came to this year’s soirée expecting to celebrate “our” return to SAM. I was not expecting any of us to be personally recognized!
SAM: Why should people consider becoming a SAM volunteer?
SB: Do you like making new friends? There are many volunteer opportunities at SAM, all of which give volunteers occasions to meet and engage with like-minded people, including other volunteers, SAM staff, and visitors.
Do you like learning about art, artists, and connecting art to the lives of visitors? If so, there is always much to see, read, and think about at SAM.
Do you like SAM and support its mission, vision, and values? SAM volunteers do! Young or old, just getting started or having volunteered for decades, all of us take pride in representing SAM as we serve in our volunteer roles.
Despite achieving a legacy as one of the 20th century’s preeminent figures in architecture, many remain unaware of Louis Kahn’s substantial achievements across South Asia and their embodiment of his deeply held modernist artistic ideals.
On Saturday, June 10, SAM’s Saturday University Lecture Series will host curator and archivist William Whitaker for a discussion on Kahn’s many travels to South Asia accompanied by rare images and documents from the Kahn Archive at the University of Pennsylvania. In advance of his talk, SAM Manager of Public Engagement Haley Ha spoke with Whitaker to understand what made Kahn’s architectural vision in South Asia so noteworthy.
Haley Ha: You were trained as an architect and currently serve as a curator of the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. Can you tell us about your role and explain a day in your life as an archivist?
William Whitaker: I see myself, in part, as a teacher who uses collections to educate young architects and landscape architects about thinking and developing their ideas through design. Looking at the drawings of an architect like Louis Kahn can reveal much about their individual talent and way of working, but also about their collaborations with others in the drafting room, on the job site, or in conversation with their clients. The big idea is that thinking through drawings helps you to understand what is good, what is really good, and most importantly, the difference between the two. I meet with high school and college students to talk about and think through topics such as “taking notes on site.” We do this over a large table packed with archival collections: artist sketchbooks are always a favorite, but photography and other techniques also inform and reshape the understanding of place—and these techniques are not always visual! Archives provide an essential tool for understanding why things are the way they are, so incorporating the archive into public exhibitions and tours to a broader public is important to me and the work that I do.
HH: How did you first encounter Kahn’s work? What about it caught your interest?
WW: You can learn a lot from Louis Kahn. His way of working was a struggle that remains visible in his writings and lectures, as well as in the histories of the clients and staff who worked closely with him. His work was also consequential in reinvigorating architecture and its connection to history, place, and the craft of building. He brings a wonderful sense of the human element into his architecture with the expectation that places have the potential to profoundly impact the people who use them.
As an architecture student in the late 1980s, Kahn’s work was often discussed so I knew there was something to learn by looking at his work and understanding his collaborations with engineers, landscape architects, and clients. The first building I ever saw that he designed was the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California (1959–67). A friend and I drove through the night from Albuquerque, New Mexico to see the building and it was a life changing experience. Working toward my Master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania opened up the possibility of working in the Architectural Archives where Kahn’s papers and drawings are kept. I’ve been there 30 years now and continue to learn from his work on a daily basis.
HH: This month’s Saturday University lecture presents a rare opportunity to engage deeply with Kahn’s work in South Asia. Can you tell us about his time in Asia and the lasting impact it left on him and his legacy?
WW: Between 1947 and his death in 1974, Kahn traveled extensively across the continent where he worked as an architect across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Nepal, and Israel. Meanwhile, back at the University of Pennsylvania, his “master’s studio” was comprised of 68 students from Thailand, India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. In Japan, at the Katsura Imperial Villa, Kahn experienced the deep interrelationship between a building and its landscape, including the magnificent ways the elements of nature—from light to wind and sound—are modulated to inform or shape the human experience.
HH: Kahn, unlike many of the Western architects working in Asia at the time, engaged deeply with the social and political fabric of the cities he worked in and considered their existing architecture, histories, and cultures when drafting his designs. How will these concepts be explored in your Saturday University lecture?
WW: There are distinctions to be made between buildings that serve and support a civic purpose and those conceived of as drivers of economic development. Kahn saw his work as supporting “institutions” important to the development of individuals and their ability to realize their own worth—places to learn, places to assemble, or places that honored human endeavor. It was Kahn’s search for a deeper purpose in architecture that continues to be relevant to this day and serves as the foundation of my lecture.
HH: While Kahn belonged to no particular faith, he was drawn to religious sites and left behind many sketches of ancient temples, churches, and mosques. How do you see the notion of spirituality or the “sacred” manifest in Kahn’s work?
WW: I think you can see it in his appreciation of the everyday. Kahn has an amazing eye for such moments and this is made clear in his notion that, “A city should be a place where a little boy walking through its streets can sense what he someday would like to be.” I would point to the study carrels in his library at Phillips Exeter Academy, the candle niches of the Hurva Synagogue, or the monumental steps at the Four Freedoms Park as expressions of how an individual becomes aware that they are part of something much larger than themselves.
HH: Visitors to Kahn’s works have been quoted as having something close to a ‘spiritual experience’ while occupying his spaces. Can you explain what Kahn meant when he said that the “building is a living thing” and how this may explain visitors’ experiences at his sites?
WW: Kahn based the conception of a building on human desire and providing a platform to support the impulse to express. As such, his buildings are an expression of human experiences and feelings. Here, Kahn is thinking in non-technological, non-practical, and non-physical terms–in his words this is “silence.” Those human impulses are then brought to “light” through all the circumstantial aspects of building–this is the brick and mortar, budget and code, and client and user part. For Kahn, the success of a building—what he thought of as “an offering to architecture”—was to be found in the structure’s ability to evoke an essential aspect of humanity. That he spoke to a brick is a well-known detail of Kahn’s persona (“You say to brick: ‘What do you want brick?’ To which brick replies, ‘I like an arch.’”). Behind that dialogue is an acknowledgment of human ingenuity, living traditions, working with materials, and more.
HH: Lastly, if you had to choose, which of Kahn’s sites would you recommend visiting to those who travel to South Asia?
WW: This is a difficult question to answer—it’s like asking someone who their favorite child is! It is also difficult because for various reasons, Kahn’s works are difficult for the public to access. If one can manage to access the Capital Complex in Dhaka, I’d put that at the top of any list. But I would also say that there are places where Kahn ventured–the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, the “pols” of old Ahmedabad, the Stepwell at Adalaj, or seeing the landscape of Dhaka along the Buriganga River—that can shed light on his thinking. All are well well-worth a visit.
Hear more about Louis Kahn’s travels to South Asia from William Whitaker, Curator and Collections Manager at the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design, on Saturday, June 10 at 10 am at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in the final lecture of the 2022–2023 Saturday University Lecture Series. Tickets are still available—get yours now!
– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum
On Saturday, June 3, SAM staff will participate in Seattle Pride in the Park to celebrate the city’s LGBTQIA+ community. This all-ages, family-friendly event features Drag Queen Storytime, youth spaces, lively performances, food trucks, nonprofit booths, queer vendors, and more. We’ll be at Volunteer Park from 12–7 pm to facilitate an art activity and spread the word about our upcoming programs and exhibitions.
As I brainstormed ideas for a fun, engaging, and educational art activity for Pride, one of my personal favorite artists, Mickalene Thomas, came to mind. Thomas’s work embodies the spirit of inclusivity, and her use of bold colors challenge traditional notions of beauty, gender, race, and identity. She is a Black queer contemporary artist that creates colorful and lustrous paintings, collages, photography, videos, and installations and uses materials like paint, pictures, colorful patterns, and rhinestones in her large-scale paintings. In 2018, SAM mounted Figuring History, an exhibition of her work alongside fellow artists Robert Colescott and Kerry James Marshall. Here’s a Seattle Times video interview about the show.
Inspired by Mickalene Thomas’s style, SAM Education staff has crafted Sparkling Icons, an art activity for participants of all ages. Using images of noteworthy LGBTQIA+ artists and activists, visitors will create collages with patterned papers and rhinestones that venerate the beauty and individuality of some of our most beloved legends. We wanted to highlight individuals that have paved the way for social justice and equality and have helped build a supportive community for future generations.
Art museums, as cultural institutions, have the responsibility to promote inclusivity and highlight the work of artists in a way that provides art historical context but also shares the truth about their lived experiences. By participating in Pride Month, we want to demonstrate that SAM’s museum spaces are ones that are welcoming to queer self-expression and points of view (and not just during June!). Plus, who doesn’t want to come and play with glitter and rhinestones?! Hope to see you up at Volunteer Park on June 3, looking sparkly and iconic!
Family Saturdays at the Seattle Asian Art Museum connect families with artists, authors, and performers, through art-making and other programming that celebrates Asian art and culture. As we celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian Heritage Month in May, SAM would like to thank all of the families and community members who amplified the BEAUTY OF US visual campaign and contributed to the three collaborative murals displayed in the museum’s Community Gallery.
In 2021, anti-Asian hate crimes across 16 major US cities spiked by 342%. This alarming statistic, coupled with the waning media coverage of hate crimes against Asian Americans, inspired artists Erin Shigaki, Juliana Kang Robinson, and Saya Moriyasu to come together to create BEAUTY OF US, a visual campaign aimed at boosting awareness of anti-Asian violence in Seattle and beyond.
The three artists collaborated with four additional Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women artists in Seattle—Diem Chau, Julie Kim, Raychelle Duazo, and Saiyare Refaei—to create original artworks that were printed on posters and distributed throughout the city. With their bright colors and positive messaging, the artworks raise awareness, beautify streetscapes, and uplift Seattle’s AA+NHPI community.
Browse and download all seven BEAUTY OF US campaign posters for free by clicking on the artists’ name below.
Inspired by the BEAUTY OF US, SAM Educators partnered with featured artists Juliana Kang Robinson, Julie Kim, and Raychelle Duazo to design three unique murals in the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s Community Gallery that invited community collaboration. Over the course of three Family Saturdays at the museum, families learned about and celebrated their cultural heritage by contributing to the murals. Now completed, these murals represent a proud statement of community and healing where children, families, and friends connected and collaborated over collective art-making experiences.
Following their display in the Community Gallery through Sunday, May 21, the murals will be moved and displayed indefinitely in SAM’s Education Studio.
Read on to learn more about each of the three community murals, then participate in an art project with family and friends by clicking on the resources linked below.
Kaleidoscope Stories Community Mural Julie Kim and Families Mixed media on illustration board
Julie Kim is a children’s storybook artist and author who is deeply interested in stories that arise from our personal lived experiences, and in myths and folktales that arise from our collective human experience. This mural is a snapshot of those stories, big and small, as told by our community members in patches of obangsaek tiles—the five directional colors in Korean—that describe wholeness and balance through inherent and necessary diversity. Create your own story tile here with guidance from Julie’s illustrated instructions.
No One Like You Community Mural Raychelle Duazo and Families Mixed media acrylics on paper
Raychelle Duazo is a queer femme Filipina-American illustrator and tattoo artist based in Seattle. She aims to combine dreamy aesthetics, vibrant colors, and cultural significance to her work through themes of identity, queerness, language, symbolism, love, transformative grief, and Filipino culture. This mural of two figures captures the importance of identity and individuality in body art. Contributing families added pops of color while learning the Tagalog words for jasmine, the Philippine national flower (sampaguita), carabao (kalabaw), butterfly (paruparo), shell (kabibi), and crocodile (buwaya).Click the links above to access a coloring sheet of each of the tattoo designs featured on the mural.
Year of the Rabbit Community Mural Juliana Kang Robinson and Families Mixed media on illustration board
Juliana Kang Robinson is an interdisciplinary artist creating work that draws from Korean art traditions and culture. Participating families created pojagi (the Korean word for patchwork) with mixed media prints and drawings that were collaged on mounds in celebration of Lunar New Year. Click here to create your own origami bunny pocket designed by Julie Kim and inspired by the stories that celebrate the year of the rabbit.
“There are so many gorgeous garments and wall hangings here: indigo kimonos from Japan and multipatterned robes from Nigeria; astonishing cloth artworks from India, Uzbekistan and the Americas.”
We were thrilled to host Amity Addrisi and the whole crew at New Day NW recently at SAM. Check out the segment where José Carlos Diaz, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art, takes Amity to some of the museum’s most beloved spots.
Puget Sound Business Journal names Northern Trust a Corporate Citizenship honoree for 2023; the firm; they share quotes from José Carlos Diaz and Amada Cruz, Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, about their support of SAM.
Great minds think alike: Curiocity, Seattle’s Child, and Seattle Met all wrote up lists of the city’s best parks and bike trails, including mentions of Volunteer Park (home to the Seattle Asian Art Museum) and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
“‘Seattle has tremendous potential,’ Harris said. ‘Even though some of the old established people are retiring, or I’m moving away, I really feel that the visual cultural scene there is still going to flourish.’”
Artforum’s May cover story: Tina Rivers Ryan on Signals: How Video Transformed the World, now on view at the Museum of Modern Art.
“It helps us see ‘video art’ as something that was shaped by television—a technology and medium that was also the site of a novel public sphere—and that, like television itself, is now transitioning into a new form.”
“With his distinct blend of Pacific Northwest iconography, and Mexican and Asian influences, Arreguín became a key figure in Pacific Northwest art history and paved the way for a generation of artists of Latin American descent.”
“Making it happen was no picnic”: Emily Anthes for The New York Times on the American Museum of Natural History’s new exhibit of leafcutter ants (yes, there are pictures).
“Redefines what ‘American’ means”: The New York Times’ Jillian Steinhauer on Memory Map, the overdue retrospective of Jaune Quick-To-See Smith that just opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art and travels to SAM in 2024.
“But if the current wave of attention has opened up new possibilities for Indigenous artists, particularly younger ones, credit is due less to the institutions than to Smith and others of her generation for the tireless work they did to ‘break the buckskin ceiling,’ in her words. The Whitney retrospective makes that clear.”
“Our approach is based on direct experience—a way of development outward from an inner core; something of the same process that nature uses in the creation of a tree.”
– George Nakashima
This Saturday, March 11, the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas at the Seattle Asian Art Museum will welcome architect and woodworker Mira Nakashima as part of the 2022–2023 Saturday University Lecture Series. Mira, daughter of celebrated American architect, master woodworkers, and thinker George Nakashima, will discuss her father’s influence and legacy as the founding figure of the 20th century American studio art movement.
As the creative director of George Nakashima Woodworkers, Mira continues her father’s legacy by integrating his deep appreciation and reverence of nature with her own warmth, unmatchable prowess, and ingenuity in incorporating contemporary sensibility into his philosophy. In her upcoming talk, Mira will explore the development of her father’s lesser known spiritual spaces and articulate the ways in which they emphasize his philosophical and personal formation as an architect.
In anticipation of this fascinating lecture, Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, caught up with Mira to discuss what visitors can expect to see, learn, and experience this coming Saturday.
HALEY HA: You are the current creative director of Nakashima Woodworkers. Can you tell us a little bit about your days as the creative director?
MIRA NAKASHIMA: First of all, ‘creative director’ is a term I borrowed from a friend of mine who heads a chamber music group, as I didn’t know what else to call myself. When I first started in 1970, I was the general ‘gopher,’ doing everything from typing up orders to driving the truck to raking leaves, etc. As time progressed, I learned how to make the shop drawings, got to work in the shop making small objects, and accompanied my father to the sawmill. Following my father’s stroke, I began supervising the work in the shop, and after he died, I had to be responsible for conceptual as well as working drawings. There was always something to be done maintaining the buildings, grounds, and machinery, so that became a part of my job too. And after my mother died, someone had to keep an eye on the accounting. As it was a bit overwhelming for one person to do it all effectively, we hired both a manager and an assistant designer which made life more complicated, but better. As ‘creative director,’ I oversee the creation of all the furniture made here, but I am just one of the many people devoted to preserving our history and craft tradition. I usually have a hand in selecting and pricing wood for every project, create the conceptual and sometimes shop drawings, oversee the final cut lines, base and butterfly placement, and sign each piece before it leaves the shop.
HH: Your father is considered one of the most celebrated woodworkers and architects of the 20th century in the US, Japan, and across the world. As a woodworker and architect in your own right, what do you consider to be the challenges and blessings of carrying out Nakashima’s legacy today?
MN: My father studied architecture at Fontainebleau, France, worked in the office of Antonin Raymond in Tokyo from 1934-38, and was sent to Pondicherry, India in 1936 to build a reinforced concrete building, so he had deep roots in many cultures and countries of the world.
His furniture practice grew in the aftermath of World War II, embracing and manifesting Japanese aesthetic ideals during a time when they were not socially accepted and slowly making his mark along both US coasts. In 1963, my parents sent me to Tokyo to attend Waseda University where I earned a Masters in Architecture. My father went on to join the Minguren group and earned the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor of Japan in recognition of his cross-cultural activities in 1983. After his passing in 1990, his work became ‘vintage’—a part of the renewed interest in 20th-century design worldwide. Auction houses began selling his work both locally and internationally, leading his fame to spread.
It has been a challenge to live up to my father’s legacy and to continue the work as he hoped we would. With his book The Soul of a Tree, originally published in 1981, generations of woodworkers have been inspired to take up the practice, and indeed, to copy his designs. We strive to preserve his original methodology and mindset by working from the pile of wood he collected during his lifetime and hiring younger craftsmen and designers to learn the Nakashima way. Fortunately, we have been able to keep Nakashima alive and well, and we will do our best to keep it going beyond my lifetime.
HH: Your family was forcefully moved alongside over 12,000 incarcerated Japanese Americans to the Minidoka Camp in Idaho when the war broke out. Could you tell us about how this period impacted your father, his work, and your family?
MN: I was a baby when we were incarcerated. My mother was traumatized by the relocation while my father made friends with a highly skilled Japanese carpenter named Gentaro Hikogawa. Gentaro taught my father many that he would not have otherwise learned in developing his craft. Fortunately, in 1943, my father’s employer in Tokyo, Antonin Raymond, had moved to Bucks County and offered to sponsor my father to work on his farm so we did not stay in the camp as long as our other relatives. While in Idaho, my father’s friend, artist Morris Graves, carefully kept our meager belongings in Seattle and returned them all to us when we moved to Pennsylvania to start our new life. My father prophetically called the move a “New Hope” and found many artists in the area to call his friends. He called the incarceration “stupid” but said that eventually, “the wounds healed over and left no scars.”
HH: As we know, your father’s sense of spirituality deeply influenced his practice. You’ve previously been quoted as saying that for him, work “was a spiritual calling, a form of prayer.” Can you tell us about a bit more about the relationship between his beliefs and practices and explain a bit more of what you’ll be focusing on in your talk this Saturday?
MN: When my father was working on the reinforced concrete building for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India, he learned that physical labor was “karma yoga,” no less a yoga than meditating, praying or chanting all day. There, he and the other workers devoted their time to creating a hitherto unimagined place of beauty and peace. When he visited France’s Chartres Cathedral in the 1930s, not only was it an astounding space because of its incredible engineering, beautiful sculpture, and stained-glass windows, but also because it was built over several centuries by people from all walks of life whose only intent was to create a sacred space for the glory of God. In Seattle, my father converted to Catholicism and developed a deep kinship with the Benedictine monks and their monasteries. He volunteered to assist them in not only designing, but helping construct their remote chapels by gathering materials, building technology, and hiring local craftsmen.
HH: While he considered his work as a spiritual calling, his reverence for materials was remarkable yet practical. For example, could you tell us how kodama—the Japanese belief of offering a second life to a tree—became a central belief to his practice and how it bore the iconic aesthetic of Nakashima Woodwork?’
MN: I do not think the concept of ‘offering a second life to a tree’ is particularly Japanese, but in Shinto, Druid, Native American, and other so-called ‘primitive’ belief systems, inanimate objects like trees, stones, and water are respected not merely as ‘dead’ objects, but as living examples of the Creator. Perhaps my father’s connection to trees was fostered by his early days as a boy scout where he spent long weekends hiking throughout the Pacific Northwest and sleeping amongst the trees. In Japan, the forces and forms of nature are respected, honored, and integrated into everyday life. So, it is perhaps this practice which found voice in the Nakashima aesthetic.
HH: The Nakashima estate in Pennsylvania became a National Historic Landmark in 2014. I’m envious of your beautiful home and curious to know what it is like to live in a space with such powerful intention, art, and legacy?
MN: To me, this is simply the home where I grew up and have worked all of my life. I didn’t realize it was anything special until I returned from my first trip to Japan in 1966, and not until I wrote my book in 2003 that it became clear how groundbreakingly bold the architecture was for its time. It is indeed a responsibility to maintain the property, and to allow limited access so that it does not suffer from too much traffic, while encouraging and educating people about its history. I do not live on the original property, but in a house across the road that my father built for me in 1970, so it is an easy commute but also provides some distance to the place I now call home.
HH: In our ongoing Saturday University Lecture Series, we’ve been exploring the different notions of sacredness within built environments amid our ongoing climate crisis. There seems to be a sense of reverence, deeper recognition, and ecological thinking that is rooted in your father’s practice. Would you agree?
MN: My father built each of his buildings with a sense of economy and ecology that was way ahead of his time. From working in Japan, he instinctively knew the principles of kimon—in Chinese, feng shui—including the auspicious positioning of buildings and usage of the rooms according to its geography, path of the sun, seasons, and source of water on the site. He selected each site because of its south-facing slope and built most of the buildings along the brow of a hill, intentionally leaving an open slope and field in the center. All of his buildings have large expanses of glass to the south, and their carefully proportioned roofs overhang to keep the rooms cool with cross-ventilation in the summer and warm in the winter with solar gain.
On the Pool House, built in 1960, he installed a series of water pipes along the rooftop as a way to heat the shower water by passive solar energy when no one else was even thinking of that. His last building, the Reception House, built in 1975 during the first oil crisis, has a plenum and fan system behind its Franklin stove-like fireplace to heat the entire house. There is also a cook-top on the fireplace hood and an oven compartment in the wall of the fireplace like the old Bucks County farmhouses. There is even a large sunken Japanese bath with water heated by a wood-burning boiler imported from Japan. We are currently working with the University of Pennsylvania to create an overall campus plan which will minimize our dependence on fossil fuels in the future by installing both passive solar and geothermal energy sources, and of course, increasing insulation and minimizing air infiltration without destroying the original design concepts. It’s bound to be an exciting challenge!
HH: Lastly, what kind of legacy would you like to leave behind to the next generations of woodworkers?
MN: Harvest materials sustainably and replant as many trees as possible. Know and respect the woods local to your area and use them whenever possible. Learn to do honest joinery yourself. Do not imitate forms, but create your own. Remember that less is more; don’t complicate things just to be different.
– Haley Ha, SAM Manager of Public Engagement at the Asian Art Museum
“‘Every single piece of art within this place has its own story,’ Leingang said. ‘And the best part about my team is they are the gateway to those stories. They are taking their own personal experiences of what resonates with them within this museum and sharing that with every person that walks in.’”
Say hi to Chelsea and the rest of the SAM crew at Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth, an exhibition exploring over 100 dazzling textiles opening to the public this Thursday, March 9.
In their latest print edition, Seattle Met shouts out all three SAM locations in a graphic “tourist trap matrix.” Online, they share “Where to Take Tourists in Seattle” according to their editors, including a day at Volunteer Park and the Asian Art Museum.
“[Director Roya] Sadat also recognizes, however, that inequality and deprivation of fundamental human rights are not unique to Afghanistan, but are issues that reverberate across the globe. ‘I want this opera to stand as a reminder of their strength in the face of violence. This opera is a narrative of women’s resilience.’”
“Smith’s curatorial turn comes at a moment of long-overdue institutional recognition for the artist, whose incisive and wide-ranging practice rooted in painting and collage is the subject of a major retrospective opening at the Whitney Museum of American Art next month, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith: Memory Map.”
Alison Sutcliffe for Tinybeans shares “25 Things to Do with a Baby in Seattle,” including mentions of the tranquil setting of the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the fresh air and sculptures of the Olympic Sculpture Park.
“[World Monuments Fund’s Kateryna] Goncharova stressed the importance of cultural heritage preservation, saying: ‘Restoring a monument that was destroyed gives people a reason to withstand whatever the circumstances we have to face, whatever challenges may come. It gives us something to look forward to. So continue believing in Ukraine, continue believing in our future.’”
Happy Valentine’s Day! For the last seven days, we’ve been highlighting expressions of familial, romantic, and platonic love at SAM during our #SAMWeekOfLove on our Instagram. As part of the series, we shared photos and stories from four couples for whom SAM has played a significant role in their relationship. To give you an extra dose of love this holiday, we’ve rounded up all four of the love stories we previously shared on our social media below. Scroll below to learn how SAM played Cupid in all of these relationships!
“We were searching for a venue that had both an indoor and outdoor space and was both modern and simple. The sculpture park fit that search perfectly! I am a wedding calligrapher and event designer by trade, so working with the different areas of the venue was so much fun. The spaciousness of the park was also great—from our wedding album it looks like we went to several locations, but they’re all taken from different areas of the park!” – Diane
“I had my wedding at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. From childhood to adulthood, the museum and its camels will forever hold a special place in my heart. Pictured are me and my bridesmaids: my two sisters, and my two best friends.” – Tiffany
This photo and story was shared to us by SAM’s very own Director of Membership and Annual Giving Tiffany Tessada. Tiffany has been a part of the SAM family for over 24 years and our membership program wouldn’t be what it is today without her tireless work and dedication. Considering everything she’s done for SAM, we’re honored to have been a part of her love story!
With most of their guests coming from out of state, Ciera and John wanted a venue that celebrates Seattle and the life they’ve built together in the city. With views of their home in West Seattle, the Olympic Mountain Range where they ski and backpack, and the iconic Space Needle, the park served as the perfect location to host their nuptials. Their most cherished wedding memory? Read it in their own words below:
“Our favorite memory was having the opportunity to sneak away to take quiet sunset photos around the park while our guests enjoyed cocktail hour overlooking the Puget Sound.” – Ciera
A few weeks before their wedding, Tina and Greg dressed in their most glamorous and practical attire—her, red Converse hightops and him, green bowling shoes and a Puyallup Fair hat—and visited several Seattle locations that had a special meaning to them. With their photographer Shel Izen in tow, they captured fun and scenic moments across the city, including at the Seattle Asian Art Museum (then just called the Seattle Art Museum) where they had spent one of their first dates as a couple.
– Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator
Photos: Sam and Sola Lee. Courtesy Tiffany Tessada. Joe Tobiason. Courtesy Tina Koyama.
“Through the use of atmospheric effects, GATO brings viewers inside the family’s home, reminding viewers of the deeply personal fallout that comes with the displacement of families.”
It feels like February, but trust us, summer is right around the corner! Tinybeans rounded up all the best Seattle summer camps for kids to plan for now, including SAM Camp at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Registration opens February 15!
“But right now, a building where magic once took place is gathering dust. Maybe something’s in the works; maybe we’ll hear something soon; maybe that diamond-bright screen will light up again. In the meantime, we and Cinerama wait, and remember.”
“Its content is chaotic and absurd, but in the view of creators like Aamir, it’s this Dada-esque nature—making sense out of the nonsense of being online—that levels up the genre. ‘What does art do,’ he said, ‘if not attach meaning to the meaningless and arbitrary experiences we have as humans.’”
Don’t miss JiaYing Grygiel’s wonderful itinerary in ParentMap for a family adventure in Volunteer Park, including the conservatory, water tower, and Seattle Asian Art Museum (including posing on the camel replicas!).
Call all tourists and staycationers! It’s Seattle Museum Month again, when you get museum admission deals with your hotel stay. Curiocity has all the details. The museum also got a staycation shoutout from Listette Wolter-McKinley for Seattle Refined.
There were some final mentions of Anthony White: Limited Liabilityin Crosscut and on KUOW. The artist’s debut solo show at SAM in honor of his Betty Bowen Award win is now closed, but the museum has acquired one of the molten plastic paintings for its collection.
Crosscut’s Margo Vansynghel takes in the new Seattle Convention Center, focusing on the numerous artworks in the new addition (designed by LMN Architects, who created the renovated and expanded Asian Art Museum!).
For the Seattle Times, here’s Gary Faigin with an obituary for artist Gregory Blackstock, who has died at the age of 77. Blackstock’s drawings catalogued all kinds of ephemera, including vegetables, animals, and buildings.
Local media news, via Daniel Beekman of the Seattle Times: The Seattle Chinese Post has ceased publication and Northwest Asian Weekly is going online only. The sister publications were led by Assunta Ng for the past 41 years.
“But the Northwest Asian Weekly will keep churning out stories for online readers, so the project that Ng began will endure. She hopes younger news hounds will take over soon, because the truth that motivated her in 1982 remains relevant.”
Zachary Small of the New York Times on Kenneth Tam’s exhibition at Marfa Ballroom, Tender is the hand which holds the stone of memory, which honors “the lives of Chinese laborers in Texas who helped build the country’s railroad system.”
“Mounted on the walls surrounding the museum’s runway floor were collaged black and white images of 13 Black female performers, Josephine Baker, Diahann Carroll, Marpessa Dawn, Lena Horne, and Nina Simone being among them… ‘To see these monumental figures, take up such space in a setting that celebrates their elegance and talent,’ Thomas told ARTnews, is a ‘moving moment.’”
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.