An exhibit curated by Gund Gallery Associates, “Black Women/Black Lives,” wove together a quilt, historical photos, paintings and underground publications about civil rights to explore the portrayal of black women in modern art and material culture.
Work on the exhibit, which ran through Feb. 5, began in the fall semester, when three associates traveled to the Interference Archive in Brooklyn, New York. Their search through that collection inspired them to borrow some of its posters, pamphlets, buttons and even a T-shirt from the black power movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The students scanned about 100 pages of the printed material, which visitors could view on a digital tablet in the gallery.
“The show proposal really came together from that visit,” said Rose Bishop ’17, an art history major from Sag Harbor, New York. “We found a lot of stuff, and it’s cool because it’s not just protest material from the U.S., but also from Zimbabwe and South America. This show really filled in a lot of the gaps in my own knowledge of these movements.”
“Black Women/Black Lives” also featured six pieces given to the gallery’s collection by Gund Gallery Board Member David Horvitz ’74 H’98 and his wife, Francie Bishop Good. The couple donated a quilt by Faith Ringgold, a collage by Romare Bearden, a painting by Jacob Lawrence, and three black and white photos from the civil rights movement.
Ringgold began making her famous narrative quilts about the African American experience in 1980 because no one would publish the autobiography of her life as a painter. Lawrence, one of the best-known African American painters of the 20th century, referred to his paintings of Harlem life as “dynamic cubism.” And Bearden worked in oils and collages to portray scenes of the South and the civil rights movement, for which he won the National Medal of Arts in 1987.
“You can see from their lives the importance of these women,” said Natasha Siyumbwa ’17, a political science major from Lusaka, Zambia. “They worked so that I can be here today, and I hope this will help other black women on campus.”
The nine associates who worked on the exhibit were grouped into three teams tackling the themes “Women on the Front Lines,” “Radical Motherhood” and “Beauty, Politics and Femininity.” The teams were led by Bishop, Siyumbwa and Jenna Wendler ’17, an art history major from Villa Park, California.
“The hard part was that it took a lot of patience and waiting for the show and its themes to come together naturally, instead of trying to force it,” Wendler said.
“We worked on the labels for weeks,” she added, referring to the wall-mounted descriptions of the works. “We needed Jodi [Kovach, the gallery’s curator of academic programs] to look at them and make sure they said what we meant. It made me realize how vast this experience of curating an exhibit is and how lucky I am to have it.”
Kovach and the gallery’s Assistant Director Christopher Yates supervised the students’ work on the exhibit, which also included a photo of a Muslim woman and child, taken recently by Claire Beckett ’00.
“Their knowledge of pop culture and how these issues really resonate today come through in the exhibit,” Kovach said, praising the students’ professionalism throughout the process.
Bishop compared the experience of curating the exhibit to structuring a term paper. “But all of your paragraphs are physical objects,” she said. “How do you arrange them to tell a story?”
The exhibit was located in the Meier-Draudt Curatorial Classroom on the ground floor of the Gund Gallery. The gallery exhibitions and programs are made possible, in part, by the Gund Gallery Board of Directors and the Ohio Arts Council.