Women, Feminism, Art and Aesthetic Liberation: Innovative Pedagogies and Practices

Earlier this year as part of my visit to the USA to present at the College Art Association (CAA) annual conference in New York I was pleased to attend the CAA’s Committee for Women in the Arts panel session themed around “Feminist Pedagogy through Activist Arts Practices” (New York Hilton, Manhattan, 17 February 2017). During this 90-minute session four arts scholars presented papers examining different manifestations and articulations of feminist liberatory discourse through contemporary visual arts practices. A brief outline of each paper is summarised below, with links to further information about the featured artists, their projects and their portfolios of work, past and present.

The College Art Association 2017 annual conference panel session organised by the Committee on Women in the Arts and featuring contributions from (L to R): Laura Elizabeth Sapelley and Jennifer Rissler (co-chairs); Aranke Sampada; Ann Fessler; Jessica Cochran; and Samantha Hill. Photo: Carol Dixon

(1) “The Kinship Project: Manifesting Connections to History through African-American Family Narratives” – This illustrated talk was presented by artist, anthropologist and archivist Samantha Hill who discussed an innovative archives-based research project she first developed in the early 2010s and has been touring to selected communities within the USA since that time to specifically empower African-American families to share photographs from their private and personal archives so as to provide fresh insights on what it was like to live in the United States and challenge racisms during the post-enslavement, pre-civil rights period from the mid-to-late-19th century through to the 1950s-60s (see: https://samanthahill.net/kinship-project/).

Artist, anthropologist and archivist Samantha Hill presenting photographic stills from “The Kinship Project” to delegates at the College Art Association annual conference in New York (17 February, 2017). Photo: Carol Dixon

Continue reading “Women, Feminism, Art and Aesthetic Liberation: Innovative Pedagogies and Practices”


Curatorial traditions and experimental innovations at the Brooklyn Museum, New York

"Grey Area (Brown Version)" (1993), by Fred Wilson

My recent visit to view the expansive art collections at Brooklyn Museum, located in the Prospect Park area of New York City, provided an interesting  opportunity to peruse and critique a series of complex and engaging artistic and curatorial juxtapositions. On every level of this five storey building the vast collections of exhibits and their interpretation narratives were assembled to encourage dialogues between historical artefacts and contemporary artworks, established and experimental museographic techniques, and also conventional versus innovative perspectives on curation, all coupled together within close proximity throughout the display spaces.

Detail from the artwork “Skipping Girl” (2009) by Royal Academician Yinka Shonibare MBE, comprising a life-size, headless fibreglass mannequin, dressed in Dutch wax-printed cotton textiles. Photo: Carol Dixon (18/02/2017)

The African Collections on Level 1

Nowhere were these artistic and curatorial binaries more starkly evidenced than in the furthest corner of the Level 1 galleries where two, black walled rooms presented the Museum’s permanent holdings of African art objects as the temporary installation “Double Take: African Innovations.

Title panel for the temporary, two-room installation, “Double Take” displayed at the entrance to the African galleries in the Brooklyn Museum. Photo: Carol Dixon (18/02/2017)

Whilst it was wonderful browsing these two, tightly filled galleries, packed almost to bursting point with a diverse array of artworks sourced from several African nations, the thematic nature of curator Kevin Dumouchelle’s presentation – contrasting historical sculptural pieces with a range of more recent, multi-media contemporary art exhibits  – was actually rendered quite problematic by the Museum’s decision to retain the old-fashioned convention of showcasing African collections within dimly lit, darkly painted interior settings, designed to communicate (wittingly, or unwittingly) the tired 19th century tropes about Africa being perceived in the West as a culturally mysterious ‘Dark Continent’ (see, for example, Hutcheon 1995: 11-13 and Elliott 2007: 32).
Continue reading “Curatorial traditions and experimental innovations at the Brooklyn Museum, New York”

Conference Panel: Western Museumscapes and the Political Aesthetics of Decolonisation

Carol Ann Dixon will chair a 90-minute conference session on decolonial scholar-activism by African and Diasporan artists, curators and educators working with collections of ethnography and works of fine art in Western museums. This session forms part of the programme for the 6th biennial network conference Afroeuropeans: Black Cultures and Identities in Europe, University of Tampere, Finland, 6 – 8 July 2017.

Session title: Western Museumscapes and the Political Aesthetics of Decolonisation: African and Diasporan Arts Activists Agitating for Change

"Anthropomorphic head" (Benin, c. 14th -16th century), displayed in the Pavillon des Sessions at The Louvre. Photo: Carol Dixon
“Anthropomorphic head” (Benin, c. 14th -16th century), displayed in the Pavillon des Sessions at The Louvre. Photo: Carol Dixon

High-profile museums and galleries in the West – such as the British Museum in London, the Pompidou in Paris, and the MoMA in New York – are continuously revising and developing new strategic plans  to ensure that their collections, cultural programmes and exhibiting practices are engaging increasingly diverse global audiences. At the heart of these developments are complex issues about the changing nature of acquisitioning, curation, display and interpretation of artworks and cultural objects described as permanent holdings. The policies and practices implemented by these institutions serve as catalysts for generating and sustaining a rich discourse that invites artists, researchers, curators, archivists, educators, scholar activists and other creative practitioners to question their own roles and responsibilities within such dynamic museumscapes.

In this panel discussion, museologists, art historians, contemporary artists, scholars, educators and cultural  commentators from around the world will come together to discuss these issues with reference to one (or more) of the following questions:
Continue reading “Conference Panel: Western Museumscapes and the Political Aesthetics of Decolonisation”

“Senses of Time”: an exhibition co-organized by LACMA and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (2016-17)

Brave New World I, by Theo Eshetu

“Senses of Time” is a series of films and video-based contemporary artworks by six artists from the global African diasporas. In each case the contributors invite their audiences to consider the various tensions, contradictions and ambiguities that can exist between personal and political time, ritual and technological time, and corporeal and mechanical temporalities.

Un Ballo in Maschera, by Yina Shonibare MBE (RA)
A still from the film “Un Ballo in Maschera” [“Masked Ball”] – an installation by Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA). Image courtesy of Yinka Shonibare and James Cohan Gallery, New York. Source: The Washingtonian.
The following six film and video-based installations  feature as part of a new touring exhibition, organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC:

  • Sammy Baloji‘s project “Mémoire” [“Memory”] examines the themes of memory and forgetting and is set within the socio-political context of postcolonial de-industrialisation. For much of the film, a dancer (the renowned Congolese dancer-choreographer Faustin Linyekula) can be seen dancing amongst ruins. Baloji states that the 5-minute film is meant to symbolise:

“…the story of politicians and the working classes…of those in power and the work of those who are governed. It is also the story of a body that moves among the ruins of what was once the heart of the DR Congo.”
– Sammy Baloji (cited by Milbourne et. al. 2015: 78)

  • Theo Eshetu‘s film features a kaleidoscopic art installation that examines the convergence of space and time in relation to the past, present and future.
  • Moataz Nasr’s work  “The Water” focuses on identities distorted by the march of time.
  • Berni Searle‘s artistic ccontribution features ancestral family portraits being blown about in the wind as a way of representing the “slippages and fragility of time” aligned with issues of identity.
  • The film “Un Ballo in Maschera” by Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) features a lavish and ornately decorative ballroom scene with masked dancers dressed in the signature ‘Dutch-wax’ patterned fabrics that have become a major feature of his conceptual and performance-based art installations over several decades.
  • Sue Williamson‘s artwork – a 36-minute video projection, titled “There’s Something I Must Tell You ” – considers inter-generational dialogues.

Continue reading ““Senses of Time”: an exhibition co-organized by LACMA and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (2016-17)”

Thin Black Lines: marking time – on faces, within networks, and in exhibition spaces…

As I stood in front of Jelena Bulajic’s large-scale portrait of Alise Lange (2013) mesmerised by the network of fine wrinkles covering her face,  my momentary thoughts merged with memories of another contemporary artwork that came back to mind in sharp focus – the image of Lubaina Himid’s topological art map, Thin Black Line(s) (2011).

Portrait of Alise Lange (2013) by Jelena Bulajic. Mixed media on canvas. 270 x 200 cm. Photo: Carol Dixon

In Bulajic’s work, her mixed-media artistic cartography of facial lines signified one elderly woman’s life history over several decades, and also served to illustrate the wider curatorial context to the London-based international group show of works by 14 women artists within which it was being shown –  Champagne Life (Saatchi Gallery, London, 13 January – 9 March 2016). Although very different in its composition, Lubaina Himid’s artwork also mapped out women’s lives. However, rather than creating a close-up image of one woman  to symbolise the complexities of our universal human condition, she chose instead to map diverse cultural and socio-political connections between several black British female artists from the UK’s African and Asian diasporas as a network diagram similar in appearance to Harry Beck’s topological map of the London Underground.

Thin Black Lines (2011) by Lubaina Himid.
Thin Black Line(s) (2011) by Lubaina Himid – a diagram illustrating “moments and connections” between all the diasporan women artists who showed work in exhibitions at the Africa Centre, Battersea Arts Centre and the ICA in London during the 1980s, displayed at Tate Britain in 2011-12.

Continue reading “Thin Black Lines: marking time – on faces, within networks, and in exhibition spaces…”