Art In Your Inbox
An unscheduled, ‘sometimes’ email from the UMMA staff that connects works of art in our collection to the present moment. Unlike most newsletters, Art In Your Inbox doesn’t follow a set schedule. Sign up and you’ll receive an email with UMMA art when we’re inspired to reflect on current events by a particular piece in the Museum’s collection. Subscribe to Art In Your Inbox and join us in thinking about our collective experiences in new ways.
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Joanne Leonard used actual bugs and insect wings in the darkroom enlarger when she printed this portrait of her daughter. Her photograph uses the frame of the window and the frame of the film negative as physical and metaphorical barriers beyond which the young girl cannot see.
- What do the wings in Leonard's portrait of her daughter signify to you? Is it change, is it a restless energy, is it freedom?
- What changes do you see taking place around us? How can those changes be positive ones?
A mother tiger sits protectively between her cubs and the viewer. Contrary to her dominant gesture, her eyes are soft and thoughtful, as if she is trying to look into the viewer’s eyes.
- Spend time with the tiger mama's eyes - see how they can be at once soft and thoughtful, but also threatening and powerful.
- What routines do you have that help you feel powerful or in control?
The organized disarray of Julie Blackmon's scene, along with her limited color palette, blurs the lines between imagination and reality . It was announced recently in Michigan that children won't be returning to school until the Fall, creating a reality beyond imagination for many.
- Can you identify areas in your surroundings where something looks like chaos but it is actually under control?
- How can art, creativity, and self expression be an important part of a homeschooling practice for the next several months?
José Ortega created this print in the early 1950s, shortly after serving five years in prison for anti-Franco activism. The title "The Hole" likely refers to both his time in prison and also the social and economic "hole" that was, for the artist, the current state for the Spanish people.
- Feeling cramped, stuck inside, or pushing against an unseen force? What small acts can you do spread out in your surroundings and reclaim a sense of freedom for yourself?
- How does the print-making style and use of shadow Ortega uses add to the feeling of claustrophobia in his piece?
This work, which was part of Salvador Dali's 1975 Imaginations and Objects of the Future portfolio, explored the artist's focus on new technologies and their ability to create alternate universes. Dali stated that the clock in this work not only signifies the slippage of time, but also creates a roadway for space-time travel.
- How does Dali's concept of the power of new technologies translate to our virtual experiences today?
- Time is wonky right now. Days can muddle together and March stretched on for months. Do you ever feel like the Dowager Countess of Grantham on PBS Masterpiece's Downton Abbey when she, perplexed, asks Matthew Crawley "What is a 'weekend'?"
Anthony Goicolea combined several photos of himself to create this image of a crowd of Anthonys chowing on some Wonder bread.
- Does it seem like everyone in your social media feed is making bread these days? What is it about bread that humans find comforting in times of stress?
- How does the title Last Supper influence your reaction to and understanding of Goicolea's image? What do the Catholic-school-like uniforms imply? How do the different Anthonys express different moods?
Harrison Fisher was a magazine illustrator who rose to prominence in the early 20th century with his drawings of "It-Girls" for the covers of Cosmopolitan and The Saturday Evening Post . He also developed several war posters for the American Red Cross during the first World War, as seen in this work.
- There are many hard days ahead of us. How can we be more comforting of one another in the times ahead?
- From the first biological drawings to contemporary explorations of medicine, art and healthcare have always been intertwined. Where do you see art and creativity being used in helping us make sense of the current public health crisis?
Students at the University of Michigan and universities around the country are preparing to graduate this weekend — stepping into a new 'real world' many of us are still trying to figure out.
- What words of wisdom would you share with a soon-to-be college graduate that could help them navigate the next chapter of their life?
- The use of yarn in Buky Schwartz's Line A-C above is both playful and chaotic. It can provide reassurance that, eventually, you'll get to where you're going even if the path forward is unclear. But, what other readings are possible in this meandering, hectic heap?
Artist Enrico Baj created many satirical, chaotic images of war generals from the 1930s and 1940s, overtly politicizing his art and turning "strong men" into silly spectacle. Along with a few contemporaries, he founded the arte nucleare movement, which looked to create art that warned of the dangers of atomic weapons and nuclear technology.
- Raise your hand if you need a hair cut. In several states, hair salons and barbershops have become a site of political protest in recent weeks. Can you see ways in which Baj's work depicting war generals has relevance as commentary on these protests?
- Baj practiced "automatism," or creating art without conscious thought, similar to free association hand writing. How does this approach and style lend itself to the satirical nature of his images? What is he saying about these generals when he chooses loud color choices and chaotic patterns?
Photographer John Dugdale was partially blinded following two AIDS-related strokes in the early 1990s — the victim of another recent public health crisis. Dugdale relies mostly on touch and imagination when setting up his images, which he captures with a large format camera from 1912. After Dugdale lost most of his sight he was quoted as saying "The mind is the essence of your sight. It's really the mind that sees."
- Does the lack of color in Dugdale's image of Cornwall Peonies take anything away from the experience of seeing beautiful flowers in bloom?
- Peonies are in bloom throughout Michigan, including in the historic Peony garden in U-M's Nichols Arboretum — though guests are asked to not visit in person. What are some ways you can continue to experience beauty without physically seeing something?
Danny Lyon was a photographer for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s, and he captured many of the landmark events of the era while embedded with and working alongside protestors. A recurring theme of Lyon's photographs at the time is showcasing police violence against Black Americans.
- Fifty years after Lyon took this photograph, what systems and structures of society allow racial justice problems to persist?
- What can you do today, this week, this year to make an impact toward ending racial violence and inequality?
Juneteenth, the annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States, commemorates the events of June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in the Confederate States gained their legal freedom, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
These portraits, believed to be taken shortly after that time, show ways in which African Americans pushed back against stereotypes and derogatory images circulating at the time, as well as against their purposeful erasure from visual culture (including in art collections).
With the development of the camera, African Americans gained increased control over their own representation, opening their own studios, and using the camera to shape their identity in the Reconstruction (post-emancipation) era. This self-representation worked to combat propaganda that perpetuated and attempted to justify violence against the African American community.
Juneteenth has been celebrated by African American communities for more than 150 years. This is the first time UMMA has recognized it.
- How have you used photography to project your own identity to others? Have you ever had the experience of using photography to counter negative depictions of you and your community?
- How can photos like these and others from the time help us honor the many African Americans who have fought to hold the United States accountable to its highest ideals?
- In what ways does the historical lack of a broad public awareness about Juneteenth shine a light on white-centric storytelling at cultural institutions and selective recognition of national holidays?
This edition was Guest Edited by Michelle Ding, Academic Outreach Intern at UMMA.
In 1967, Danny Lyon, known for his involvement during the Civil Rights Movement as a photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), traveled to Galveston, TX. There he became friends with two Black transgender women, Pumpkin Renee and Roberta Henderson. Both shared with Lyon that they identified as "female impersonators and homosexuals." Interested in their lives as Black trans women living in Texas, Danny was invited by Roberta and Pumpkin Renee to document their lives through photography and voice recordings over several months. In one of their discussions, Roberta said of herself: "this wonderful life all started for me when I was six years old … my destiny was to be a girl ... some day I am planning to have a sex-change operation.” This series of portraits of the two teenagers represent a rare depiction of Black transgender women having ownership over how they are represented in photography, especially for the late 1960s. Too often, transgender men and women are portrayed in a negative light in the media (i.e. as victims, criminals, or mentally ill). For example, check out this article by GLAAD examining ten years of transgender images on television.
As both a sexual minority and a racial minority, Black transgender women have faced discriminatory treatment in almost all aspects of society: healthcare, workplaces, education, housing. As a result, the emotional and psychological toll of this discrimination has put many Black transgender women at higher risks of morbidity/mortality for HIV, mental health issues, homelessness, substance abuse, and hate crime attacks. Most recently, on June 12th, the four-year anniversary of the deadly Pulse nightclub shooting, in which 49 people were killed at a popular LGBTQ venue in Orlando, the Trump administration announced that it is eliminating an Obama-era regulation prohibiting discrimination in health care against patients who are transgender (section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act).
With the intersection of Pride Month with the Black Lives Matter movement, and with the recent anniversary of the Stonewall riots, it is important to remember that Black LGBTQIA+ members, especially Black transgender women, were at the forefront of the riots, like Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. Miss Major was a leader in the 1969 Stonewall riots, but was struck in the head by a police officer and was taken into custody.
I'd like to dedicate this Art In Your Inbox to those who are no longer with us. Remember their names: Marsha P. Johnson, Riah Milton, Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, and Stormé DeLarverie, to name a few.
- How can we find ways to help our society become a safer and more inclusive space for transgender and gender non-conforming people, specifically transgender people of color?
- How has general mass media (photography, cinema, news, etc) typically portrayed and/or represented Black transgender women throughout history? What about in comparison to today? What still needs to be changed?
In his Agoras series, artist Cullen Washington, Jr. combines recycled canvas, paper, tape, and found objects, resulting in complex and layered works that are largely two-dimensional and visually spectacular. The compositions explore the ancient Greek public space and the heart of the artistic, spiritual, and political lives of cities.
Washington's solo exhibition The Public Square opened at UMMA in January 2020 — and the artist recently sat down with Guest Curator Vera Grant for a virtual check-in to discuss how his work is evolving, and how abstraction can offer lessons of hope in times of crisis and division. In the interview, Washington talks about using art to nurture "the being part of us" in stressful times, rather than focusing on consumerism. "Art plays a vital role in our well-being," he says.
- In the interview, Washington said that "to make an abstract painting is liberty" because of the way it "flattens hierarchies" and, in his own practice, treats each material and method as equal. Which activities make you feel most liberated? How can you incorporate them into your life more often?
- The above painting is part of Washington's Agoras series, where each piece is numbered. An agora is a gathering place for market exchange, and the word originally meant "to speak in the assembly," since it was the primary place of democracy and politics in ancient Greece. His series of prints (pictured below) follows a similar naming convention with the word "Aegina," which is the name of an island in southeastern Greece. Why do you think Washington chose to title his pieces in such an uncomplicated way? When you look at art, do you normally pay attention to the pieces' titles? Why or why not?
This is the first a series of Art In Your Inbox editions developed in collaboration with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).
“When I’m moved to create a piece, I find that listening to that inner voice always leads to something creative, fun, and sometimes challenging for viewers. But I’m always true to my own vision.” - Alvin Smith
Smith, who is currently incarcerated, has been a practicing artist for many years. As a boy, his father encouraged him to be creative, tinkering with bicycle parts and other ordinary things to come up with personalized objects. His father’s help inspired him to mentor young men in prison. His own body of work is varied, and he often calls attention to the history of structural racism in the United States, using inventive metaphors and images from popular culture, presented from his unique point of view.
- How does Smith play with the unexpected, leaving the viewer to question what they’re seeing in the painting?
- What narratives about present-day American racism does Smith seem to be responding to and critiquing?
This found photograph from the collection of Peter J. Cohen was the top vote getter in UMMA's 2019 exhibition Take Your Pick: Collecting Found Photographs shows an interracial couple embracing on the beach in the summer of 1958, when such relationships were illegal in 24 US states. It was the same year Richard and Mildred Loving were arrested and charged with felonies for their interracial marriage, kicking off a legal battle that would end with the 1967 Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court ruling that made interracial marriage legal across the United States.
Image #999 is just one of the 1,000 images from Take Your Pick depicting aspects of daily life and revealing the dynamic histories of amateur photography. In the exhibition, visitors could vote on their favorite photos, and Cohen donated the top 250 vote getters to UMMA's permanent collection. A new online exhibition for Take Your Pick is now available on UMMA's website.
- What is it about amateur photography that allows people to more easily find themselves in or relate to the images? Why do you think photo #999 was the most popular image in the Take Your Pick exhibition?
- The number of snapshots taken each year is now incalculably high thanks to digital technologies. How does the wide availability of photography impact the way we memorialize our experiences and connect with the world around us? Do you still print your photographs? Which ones, and why?
This photograph shows politician and Civil Rights leader John Lewis kneeling in prayer in front of a segregated swimming pool in 1962 while local white people shouted and harassed the activists. Lewis, who died last week at the age of 80, had become a living legend for his decades of involvement in Civil Rights protests and activism — from being a member of the original Freedom Riders in the early 1960s to his decades of service in the US Congress. In 2018 Lewis tweeted, "Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."
Danny Lyon, a photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who photographed many important moments of the Civil Rights era, took this photograph of Lewis in Cairo, Illinois. He later said that Lewis was “somebody [who] put action where their mouth was.”
- What is one thing you can do to make "good trouble, necessary trouble" in your personal life? In your city? In your workplace or school?
- Lyon's image of John Lewis kneeling projects a feeling of calm during an intense, chaotic period in U.S. history. What might we learn from that as we experience the intensity of our current moment? Is there strength we can draw from this?
This is the second in a series of Art In Your Inbox editions developed in collaboration with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).
“At this point in my life, my artwork gives me something I can be proud of. I have developed a bit of a reputation as, 'The Crochet Lady.' I intend to challenge myself each year to live up to that reputation. I also paint and with each painting I grow. I create something new and different. There is not much that I can say I am proud of in my life outside of what I have accomplished with both performance and material art. I have accomplished so much and have grown in many ways through art. Not only am I proud of myself, I know others are proud of me as well, and that adds so much meaning to my life. Without art I would be lost.” – Samantha Bachyski
Samantha Bachynski is a long-time participant in PCAP’s Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners. In addition to crocheting, Bachynski spent much time researching each of the motorcycle’s constitutive parts to better her work, using books and magazines to learn about the bike’s structure. In order to assemble this large piece, she crocheted each part of the motorcycle separately and then sewed the pieces together.
- Crochet is thought of as a stereotypically feminine practice while an interest in motorcycles is framed as a masculine one. How does artist Samantha Bachynski challenge our expectations of gender, by bringing together the masculine and the feminine in her crocheted motorcycle?
- How does research inform your own creative or professional practice?
Detroit-based artist Tyree Guyton uses found and recycled objects in his neighborhood installations and standalone sculptures. These paint cans may have been saved from the house paint that he used in the Heidelberg Project in Detroit. Guyton often incorporates American flags into his work and frequently uses his art to comment on America's troubled past, as well as current social and political issues that he observes. “My art is a medicine for the community. You can’t heal the land until you heal the minds of the people,” says Guyton.
- Notice the cracked, rearview mirror on top of the crate. What does this mirror symbolize for you? How can looking to America’s past help inform us about changes that still need to be made today?
- The paint cans seem to reference the stripes of the American flag. The fabric flag is not precisely folded but stuffed into the box, showcasing mostly stars. How might this piece represent America? Its past, present, and future? Its people? Its silenced history over BIPOC communities? Immigrants? Refugees?
This is the third in a series of Art In Your Inbox editions developed in collaboration with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).
“Most days I feel lost in this transition of self correction. Feelings that pour out puddles of thick paint on canvas touching dry anxious days. Thoughts found swooshing graphite across paper, pushing light into dark, sounds of shading stumps and fingers sliding back and forth, forth and back….Meditation, prayers...escape. Dreams and 13 year old memories mixing with the taste of tingy eraser tops of bristles of brushes rinsed almost clean in tinted cloudy water. Looking for forgiveness...finding art...sometimes. Lost in the smells of old paint kept moist on a lid with wet paper towel, of new paper, of pencil shavings...wondering what ifs, if onlys, and I can’t wait! With an emotion that occasionally showed its face on paper or canvas where others may see my feelings of self correction while lost in transition…” – Alan Compo
Alan Compo returned home in 2018 and has been continuing his art practice full time. While incarcerated, he gained deeper connection to his Native identity, and his paintings are often tributes to the Anishinaabe people and elements of Native culture.
- How does Compo use geometric stylistic choices to tell a story about the interconnectedness of its figures?
- Does Compo’s painting make you think of an image that represents your heritage? What similarities exist between that image and Compo’s?
- Compo discovered a passion for bold color. Do you have a signature color? Has it always been the same? Do you think your choice is related to your personality?
Delete this email and treat yourself. There's nothing here. You shouldn't even bother reading it. Why not go outside and enjoy what is left of the summer? Or turn your computer/phone off and relax for a bit. We mean it. Continuing to read this email is a waste of time — precious time you could be spending on a treat for yourself. Times have been tough recently, you deserve it.
The rest of this is pointless. There is nothing to learn here. You can look up some reading about Frankenthaler's influence in the abstraction and color-field movements of the 60s and 70s if you want — it's quite interesting! — but you won't find it here. This is an email we want you to delete.
- Why haven't you stopped reading? Do you think something special is coming? What could that possibly be? It's just an email! And you should delete it.
- Do you read every email this thoroughly? How do you have time for other, more enjoyable tasks? Surely you sometimes delete emails without reading them. This should be one of those.
- How much better would you feel if you were doing something else right now? Maybe feeling the sun on your skin and the wind in your hair. Maybe relaxing in a bath. Maybe meditating or reading a book. All great options.
“I am a father to a bad child,” pop artist Robert Indiana told the New York Times in 2013, about his iconic LOVE design. “It bit me.”
Originally designed as a Christmas card for MoMA in the 1960s, Indiana bemoaned the fact that his design found its way onto a variety of mass-produced posters, cheap jewelry, and the like. You’ve seen it before, likely in both print and sculpture form—the red L and tilted O stacked on top of a V and E. UMMA has a 1967 lithograph of the work, which was issued as an 8-cent US postage stamp in 1973. This image was the very first in the USPS’s series of Love stamps, which is updated every year and a popular purchase for people sending out wedding invitations and Valentine's Day cards.
- Postcards and greeting cards are often the best-selling items in museum shops. Have you ever bought one? Did you mail it or save it?
- Do you like sending and receiving letters? How do you connect with family and friends during the pandemic? Write to someone you LOVE.
- Who could use a care package now? Reflect on who you know who may feel disconnected and reach out to them by delivering a unique bundle of love.
This is the fourth in a series of Art In Your Inbox editions developed in collaboration with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).
Susan Brown’s statement is written in response to her selection as part of the Prison Creative Art Project’s 25th Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners (postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
“This is my 17th year incarcerated. Until I can physically be free I am ever so grateful for the opportunity to express my personal freedom of art with all of you. Each piece that gets selected for the U of M art show gives me hope that someone will be touched by my creations. This is the 25th exhibit for PCAP, and I hope my work represents just how honored I am to be a participant. To my beautiful children; it is an honor to be a part of your lives. I love you so very much!”
– Susan Brown
Over the course of six months’ time, some of which she spent in segregation, Susan Brown created Redeemed. The armature and structure are constructed out of toilet paper and glue, common materials for incarcerated artists to work with. Brown placed each of the work’s 347,929 beads individually.
She originally began honing her craft with two-dimensional, small-scale, intricate beadwork, and then began creating more structural pieces like this one. Of its significance, Brown says, “This piece started out as a symbolic reference to how often society discards things by removing life, as it does with deer that are taken and hunted for sport or pleasure, and how often individuals are taken or removed, whether by their own actions or others’, from society by harsh sentencing. Both are discarded, and the numbers of each, each year, are greatly increasing with little or no positive change. I have been blessed to create this piece. It was above and beyond my wildest dreams.”
- How might we view each bead as a comment on the importance of acting and creating with intention?
- Have you ever thought about things or people who are unnecessarily discarded? How might you bring attention to them, as Brown did?
- Notice how Brown brought out the symmetry of the Buck with her colorful designs. What else if nature and in our built environment is symmetrical. How could you enhance its beauty with your own design?
A simple black and white photograph can say so much. This one, mostly illuminated by the light inside of a jack-o-lantern in the fall of 1945, conveys a sense of childlike fascination with the Halloween season. At the same time, the upward light casts sharp shadows across the young child's face, as if they're about to tell you a scary story around a campfire. Of course, 1945 was the final year of World War II, meaning the image can also be viewed through a contemporary lens of celebrating holidays in less than ideal situations.
This photo was one of 250 selected by UMMA visitors to join the Museum's permanent collection earlier this year as part of the Take Your Pick exhibition, which showcased 1,000 vernacular snapshots from 20th and 21st century America. Collector Peter J Cohen donated the top 250 vote getters to UMMA this past spring.
- What was your favorite season as a young child and why? Has your opinion changed as you've grown older?
- Imagine this image is a scene from a scary movie - what happens next?
- Celebrating Halloween in 2020 will be different from recent years. How do you plan to celebrate safely?
Jacob Lawrence is best known for his The Migration series, a precursor to this work, which launched his career with its exhibition at the Downtown Gallery in NYC (1941). The series portrayed the Great Migration when hundreds of thousands of African Americans moved from the rural South to the urban North after World War I. Because he was working in tempera, which dries rapidly, he planned all the paintings in advance and then applied a single color wherever he was using it across all the scenes to maintain tonal consistency. Only then did he proceed to the next color. With this NYC show, he became the first African American artist to be represented by a major commercial gallery.
Builders (The Family) was produced while he was a Professor of Painting at the University of Washington in Seattle. This print is a later addition to his career-long series of works featuring builders, and it reflects his turn in the 1970s away from more explicit social commentary. From the mid-1940s until the 1990s, the focus of many of Lawrence's paintings and prints was builders. For him, builders served as symbols of man's aspiration— "man building", as he described it. As we can see here, builders are serving not only as symbols for individual building, but a familial and community building as well.
This image was one of 12 thoughtfully selected by UMMA and U-M’s Edward Ginsberg Center staff and faculty for a new interactive Dialogue Deck exercise. Drawing from UMMA’s permanent collection, the Dialogue Deck takes works of art that both directly and indirectly evoke the culture, politics, and history of the USA, and asks you to consider how they make you feel and how they might make others feel. We believe that visual art offers a creative platform for exploring complex and difficult issues. Images help to expand our intellectual and emotional capacities, and offer opportunities to describe the world as we see it and imagine how others might see it differently.
- At the precipice of one of the most highly charged U.S. presidential elections in recent history, UMMA and the Ginsberg Center offer an online, interactive Dialogue Deck exercise as a platform to examine and explore social and political norms, values, and beliefs through shared dialogue and reflection.
- These are a sampling of questions taken from the Dialogue Deck, which can be applied to a variety of images. How would you answer them while considering Builders (The Family) above?
- Describe the setting in the artwork. How does the setting inform what this image says about the USA?
- How does this image speak to our country’s past/present/future? Why?
Though the 2020 U.S. Presidential election has seen more early voting and mail-in voting than any before it, millions are still heading to the polls today to cast their votes in person. American artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel made this piece during the U.S. general election of 1992 as a fundraising effort for the Democratic Party that year, which was trying to elect more women to the Senate.
The image shows a reproduction of a Baroque-style painting depicting a woman rescued from churning waters. The word "vote" is layered on top of this scene, perhaps speaking to the political landscape of that time. It's sometimes easy to feel like we're drowning or submerged -- in debt, in election ads, in COVID fears, etc -- and voting can be one way we can pull ourselves out.
- Regardless of political affiliation, big elections can often be a time of great stress and feel like life and death for many voters, who view their futures or individual rights as being on the ballot. In what ways does Schnabel's image and mixture of styles reflect those feelings?
- If this image were an advertisement for the USA, what would it tell you?
- What is your voting plan? Have you already voted today? What was the experience like for you? How might the experience be different in other parts of the country?
Among other benefits, spending time looking at art can be an excellent source of calmness and relaxation. We recently checked in with UMMA docent Laura Seligman, who is also a mindfulness and meditation teacher. She said "Practicing mindfulness with art invites a fresh, direct and spacious interaction with one single work and increases our enjoyment."
To aid with your own mindfulness practice this week, Laura shared a series of prompts you can use to guide your thinking while you look at the work above and others from UMMA's collection. Follow along with this practice to bring a little more calm to your day.
- Take a few deep, long, luxurious breaths. For a few moments, simply rest your attention on this image. Sit quietly for a few minutes. What do you notice as you simply gaze at the image?
- Do you feel calm, spacious or something else? Where do you sense this in your body? Does the mind get quieter or louder? (There are no right answers!)
- How does the simplicity of slow looking, without engaging in analysis or judgement, shape your experience of being present with this work of art? Can you use these lessons elsewhere in your life?
In his early career, Native American artist Fritz Scholder made a vow to never paint or depict a Native American figure. Instead, he would focus his art making on his passion for color and composition; something he'd return to throughout his career, as this lithograph from the early 1980s shows. Scholder eventually had a change of heart and became quite renowned for a series of controversial paintings depicting what he called "real Indians," showing Indigenous North Americans alongside American flags, beer cans, and cats.
Scholder's paintings of Native peoples countered overly romanticized depictions of Native Americans and became important, and controversial, for the way they show a more "honest" and raw version of Native life in the United States.
- Scholder's "Indian series" challenges long-held colonial stereotypes, as well as illustrating real issues many Native peoples experience in their daily lives. Why might representation of this type be important?
- In Scholder's more abstract work above, what catches your eye first? Are there any clues to what the "mystery" the artist is referring to in the work's title might be?
- While always important, on Native American Heritage Day, it is especially important to remember that the land you work, live, and play on was stolen from Indigenous peoples. UMMA resides on Ojibwe, Ottawa and Bodewadmi land. Do you know whose land you live on? If you don’t, just text your zip code or your city and state (separated by a comma) to (907) 312-5085 and the bot will respond with the names of the Native lands that correspond to that region*.
*This service is not affiliated with UMMA and is offered by Code for Anchorage, an independent third party.
It’s been a long year, folks. The pandemic has had a huge impact on all of us—one of the things that has kept spirits high at UMMA is all of you. Thank you for being part of our community! We hope you’ve found a bit of solace in UMMA during these difficult times, whether you’ve enjoyed our reflection prompts and stories delivered through Art In Your Inbox, studying in the Apse study spaces, or enjoying our exhibitions online and on-site like Ibrahim Mahama’s tremendous installation In Between The World and Dreams. We love you!
This piece from Tracey Emin, on view in our Modern and Contemporary gallery, is a favorite on Instagram, where visitors pose for pictures next to it basking in the warm pink glow, sharing their love with the world.
- How do you share your love with the people and causes you care most about during the holiday season?
- What are you thankful for this year? A question we hear often this time of year but is perhaps especially poignant in 2020. Think about it–like, really think–and make a short list. Hang it somewhere so you can look at it often.
As the global North passes through its Winter solstice and celebrates the return of light, this image from the 1960s by Jewish American street photographer Joel Meyerowitz conveys both nostalgia for holiday traditions and a glowing sense of hope for the future. Meyerowitz imbues ordinary scenes with mysterious qualities. Here, a Cadillac covered in snow at an airport parking lot is elevated to something mystical by the Christmas star decoration glowing above the still scene and illuminating the darkness.
The bright star in Meyerowitz's photograph resonates during this year's solstice. Tonight, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will form "the great conjunction," as they pass incredibly close to one another in the night sky. To the naked eye, the two planets will appear to (almost) combine and form the brightest star in the sky. Though similar conjunctions happen every two decades, it will be the first time observers on Earth have been able to see the two planets this close together in nearly 400 years.
- What portions of Meyerowitz's photo do you relate to most? Is it the snow-covered car that obviously hasn't gone anywhere in a while? Is it the parking lot, which doesn't seem to be hosting many guests at the moment? Or maybe the star, glowing strongly, defiantly against the darkness?
- No one alive today was around in 1623, the last time Jupiter and Saturn formed the Great Conjunction. Will you attempt to see this historic event for yourself? How does the rarity of some celestial events alter their impact and our collective interpretation of their meanings?
The First Sunrise of the Year, or Hatsuhinode in Japanese, comes from the Shinto tradition where people had to greet the god of the new year, Toshigami, at sunrise. The First Sunrise of the Year represents hope, renewal, and rejuvenation and is celebrated with a long list of other first activities for the New Year, which are thought to bring good fortune. Many families will watch the first sunrise, some will watch it at their own homes, those who don’t want to watch it outside can watch the broadcast from the news station, while others travel to popular locations for viewing the sunrise.
- The First Sunrise of the Year is a symbol of hope and rejuvenation. What are you hopeful for as we start a New Year?
- Susaki Point was a popular spot for viewing the First Sunrise of the Year during the Edo period, yet the artist chooses to represent a woman standing alone. What do you think the artist is trying to convey by painting a single woman instead of a bustling crowd?
This edition of Art In Your Inbox is sponsored by a grant from the Japan Business Society of Detroit, a non-profit organization that works to promote exchanges between "business," "culture," and "people" in order to deepen mutual understanding between Japan and the United States.
Weems explores the subjects of gender, identity, and racism in her work, questioning stereotypes and received ideas that influence popular opinions about race in the United States. The title of this piece is a play on words, implying that it is simultaneously "after" Manet in chronology and influence, but also "goes after" the nineteenth-century French painter with criticism. Here, the central figure recalls Manet's Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia — in the latter a nude woman reclines on a couch, offering her body to admirers while a dark-skinned woman proffers a bouquet of flowers in the background. In After Manet above, the Black female subjects play a central role, evoking a sense of youthful confidence. Weems presents her subjects both as empowered and independent, visions of freedom and optimism, owned by no one.
Weems has said of her art that she aims to write a new history by "linking figures to a historical narrative or tradition, and re-examining that tradition by putting in someone who was never there."
As the United States kicks off Black History Month, it's important to remember and honor the lives and the impact of Black individuals throughout human history. Why might it also be important for individuals and society to write and envision new, more complex histories about our past?
The Weems photograph above is inspired by but also critiques a famous image in the Western canon of "classics." But, more simply, it also captures a lazy afternoon in the park. In the middle of a snowy pandemic Winter, it can be easy to get lost in daydreams of warmer weather. What is the first thing you'll do outside once the weather turns warmer?
This edition of Art In Your Inbox features Community Commentary from Stephanie James, Director, Curator and Collection Educator at the Mott-Warsh Collection and MW Gallery.
"This print combines two themes that Jacob Lawrence explored at various times in his artistic career: people playing games of thought, such as chess, and the workplaces of builders or craftspeople. Personal acquaintances and observations of everyday life were his inspiration. The subjects also served as metaphor for aspirations held by American workers, particularly African Americans, for advancement in American society and the strategic savvy needed to navigate the struggles they faced.
"The Mott-Warsh Collection has numerous prints by Jacob Lawrence, so I am intimately familiar with his work. What I most admire is his skillful manipulation and control of line, color and space. He uses these elements along with figurative gesture to guide the viewer's eye through his compositions, creating tension and meaning in the image that are open for interpretation. Here, our focus is on the chess players silhouetted mostly in black. He also uses black for the two vertical bands behind them, yet we instinctively distinguish foreground and background. The large, stylized hands of the men are rendered as if they are anthropomorphic extensions of the tools that surround them. The intriguing trio of skin colors may point to racial harmony, but they also provide visual harmony. Lawrence accomplishes all of this with a minimal palette modulated by the additions of black, white and gray.
"Lawrence’s masterful expression of the human condition through an authentic modernist style is what makes him one of the more fascinating artists of the 20th century." -- Stephanie James, Director, Curator, and Collection Educator at the Mott-Warsh Collection and MW Gallery
- In Lawrence's scene above, the chess board and building tools lay spread out before the viewer, ready to be used. What "tools" are in your own emotional or spiritual tool box? Have you used them recently?
- What connections can you see between the intellectual pursuit and challenges of both chess and life?
- Looking at the appearance and demeanor of the two chess players, how do they differ? What might Lawrence be trying to tell you about the differences between these two men?
This edition of Art In Your Inbox features Community Commentary from Yodit Mesfin Johnson, President and CEO of NEW, New.org
Sophie/Elsie is part of a series in which South African artist Mary Sibande (b. 1982) explores her family’s history. Sophie is a kind of avatar or alter ego—a life-size fiberglass figure cast in the artist’s own likeness—through which Sibande seeks to understand herself in relation to three generations of women in her family. There are many different versions of Sophie, sometimes dressed in blue and white, the uniform worn by domestic workers in South Africa, and other times in purple, a color that symbolizes protest against the former Apartheid government. Sibande created this version of Sophie, Sophie/Elsie, in 2009 in honor of her great-grandmother, who was given the Western name Elsie because her masters couldn’t be bothered to learn her African name. Here, her maid’s uniform transforms into the dress of a Victorian queen, complete with billowing cape and dramatic train.
- We are all shaped by our history and the particular lineage of people and circumstances that came before us. What are the aspects of your lineage from which you draw strength? Or maybe you find yourself inspired to go in a different direction? What kind of ancestor do you hope to be for those who come next?
- Sibande uses carefully chosen materials in her Sophie series to uplift the work of her grandmothers and other South African women during Apartheid. The massive skirt and long train of Sophie/Elsie's skirt makes her a queen and yet we also clearly see the uniform of a domestic worker. How would the story of this piece change if the clothing were made of a more regal textile or material?
On being shaped by our history:
"Like Sibande, I am the descendant of domestic workers. My great grandmother, Nan, came from the US south in the early 1900’s to Syracuse, NY to be a domestic in a Jewish family’s home. Her daughter, my grandmother, cleaned houses with her until that family gave my grandmother (who was fair skinned and white passing even though she was Black) a job in their jewelry business. Later, my grandmother broke ceilings in industry as the first Black woman to go into appliance sales for Sears Roebuck and Co in NY. She and my grandfather used their earnings to send my mother to college; the first person in our family to attain an advanced degree. My mother never failed a student in all of her 25+ years of working in public education. The will, tenacity, resilience, love and barrier-breaking legacy of my ancestors inspires my work and my devotion to liberation, freedom and justice."
On Sibande's choice of textile:
"If Sibande draped her in gold fabric fit for a queen, would that make her oppression less real than the uniform? There is danger in romanticizing her labor or feeding a Black ‘superwoman’ trope by dressing her up. Instead, we should sit in the truth of her experience and credit Sophie and other Black and Indigenous women as the heroines of nations that we are. Like Sophie and my ancestors, Black women have toiled and cleaned up houses and nations since the dawn of time. This is the legacy of Black and Indigenous women all over the globe; lifting homes, communities and nations on our backs. I don’t want the clothes to change, I want the narrative about our role in nation-building to change." - Commentary from Yodit Mesfin Johnson, President and CEO of NEW, New.org
Ten years ago, on March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake hit the Tōhoku region in northern Japan. This is known as the Great East Japan Earthquake which is the strongest recorded earthquake in Japan and the fourth-strongest in the world. The event triggered a tsunami with waves that may have reached as high as 133 ft. The tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which released radioactive materials into the environment and forced thousands of people in the area to evacuate their homes. In all, there were about 20,000 deaths with many others missing or injured.
Kokeshi dolls, like the one pictured above, date back to the 19th century and come from the Tōhoku region of Japan. These handmade wooden dolls are hand-painted, with round heads, cylindrical bodies, and no limbs. The dolls are believed to have spiritual significance. The kokeshi doll above is a so-called “traditional” type, which has an abstract painted design of a child with a bob-cut hairstyle and a colorful kimono. More recently, there is a new type called “creative” kokeshi, with more free-form designs. Both traditional and creative kokeshi dolls are used as ornaments, collector’s items, and are bought as gifts or souvenirs inside and outside of Japan.
We asked Kokeshi artist Takatoshi Hayashi why he's passionate about this art form:
"I started making kokeshi because I wanted to bring back people and bustles to the commercial district of Ishinomaki City, Iwate prefecture, after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Though most kokeshi makers learn the skills and art by becoming apprentices of established makers and studios, I studied them independently. Youtube videos were especially helpful. It is very rewarding to me when people come to our city to buy my kokeshi, and kokeshi became a starting point for them to know the city. As my kokeshi becomes known all over Japan and gradually in the world, I feel great joy as an artist." -Takatoshi Hayashi, Kokeshi Artist
- How do you feel when looking at this kokeshi doll knowing it was produced in the same area where the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred? Did your feelings change after hearing from Takatoshi Hayashi?
- Kokeshi dolls have become very popular both inside and outside of Japan, what about them do you think attracts so many people? What about them interests you?
- If you had Kokeshi dolls in your home, where would be a great place to display them?
"Photographer Joanne Leonard's work is rooted in feminism, where she focuses directly on personal moments within women's lives. With captivating scenes, such as in this work, titled Barbara Slider and Leo Reed (soon to be married), Leonard reveals many emotions that signal broader historical and sociological topics.
This very intimate moment reveals more than just a couple cuddled comfortably on an embroidered sofa. Historically, there is something to be said about the radical nature of this photo in essence. There exists in our society a harshly-enforced stereotype that Black women (and men) are seen as aggressive, and therefore independent from love, nurture, and care. This picture directly contradicts that fabricated notion. As Barbara and Leo are physically interlooped, the couple share an extremely tender moment for Leonard to capture a display of affection and rebellion towards the dominant narrative of the 1960's.
This image was taken during a crucial turning point for Black Americans. After hundreds of years of slavery, success, and series of insurgencies that destroyed Black communities and ushered in the Jim Crow Era, Black Americans found themselves in a new-yet-still-the-same system. Years of continued oppression can result in demoralization, whereas this photo shows not only Black love, but Black resilience. This couple exists in a world built against them, and yet they stand unapologetically united with each other."
Commentary contributed by:
Jacob is a junior in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance pursuing a BMA in Performance with a Minor in Performing Arts Management and Entrepreneurship. He is the Digital Fashion Editor of SHEI Magazine, the official arts, fashion and culture publication at the University of Michigan. Merging his interests in music, arts & fashion, and current events has led him to work at the UMMA to amplify the student voice.
- What immediate thoughts do you have when you look at the subjects in the photo? Which feelings does the scene in this image ignite in you, and does that reveal something true about yourself?
- Do you think this image would have the same significance today? Why or why not? What parallels can you draw from then and now?
Dinh Q. Lê (born 1968; Vietnamese name: Lê Quang Đỉnh) is a Vietnamese American multimedia artist, best known for his photography work and photo-weaving technique. Many of his works consider the Vietnam War as well as methods of memory and how it connects to the present. Lê learned how to weave mats from his aunt and uses this process to create large-scale works in which warp and weft (the two basic components used in weaving to turn thread or yarn into fabric), narrow and widen, coalesce and disperse. This work, Interconfined, weaves an image of himself, in the center, with an image of Jesus on the right, and of the Buddha on the left. These figures represent the struggle of finding one’s identity as an Asian immigrant (represented by the Buddha) in a Western, Eurocentric world (represented by Jesus).
Commentary contributed by:
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
Journalist, activist, artist
U-M Lecturer of Asian/Pacific Islander American Studies
Knight Arts Challenge Detroit Artist
@fkwang on social media
Reflecting on Interconfined:
"Standing between two major cultural and philosophical traditions, we overlap even as we stand apart. Many of us come from both these traditions, and yet we are both here and not here, seen and not seen. We stand strong because we are woven out of the stories, traditions, food, and cultural handicrafts of our immigrant and refugee elders as we forge new identities and create lives in this new land.
The recent surge of COVID19-inspired violence targeting Asian American elders across the country has artists and activists responding with art and creative community-based solutions, interracial solidarity, and allyship. Asian American aunties sew masks for Native American communities, Black and Latino volunteers walk with Asian American elders and women, and a diverse coalition of activists and restaurants fill refrigerators and donate free meals.
Together with our elders, we step forward and weave together a beloved community where everyone is here, seen, fed, housed."
- Lê physically weaves these large-scale photographs. How does this method convey the stories of immigration and immigrants?
- Dinh Q. Lê used two artworks he saw in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, to represent the contested identity of his own. Can you find two works from UMMA’s collection that show who you are?
- Hate incidents targeting Asian American and Pacific Islanders have risen due to the association of coronavirus with Asian people. For example, the Stop AAPI Hate Center reported that between March 2020 and February 2021, it received 3,795 reports of anti-Asian, coronavirus-related hate incidents, which include verbal harassment, shunning, and physical attacks. Please check out AAPI Task Force to see what you can do to help stop Asian hate.
It's been exactly one year since we launched Art In Your Inbox, a sometimes email from UMMA staff and collaborators where we share art from the collection that's speaking to us right now. Our first edition from last year featured Joanne Leonard's photograph Winged Ones. Her image feels even more poignant today, given the year we have all been through.
We've re-shared that same work of art below with updated reflections, new stories, and a brand new archive of a complete year of Art In Your Inbox you can explore.
Thank you for subscribing and engaging with art during this always evolving time.
Joanne Leonard used actual bugs and insect wings in the darkroom enlarger when she printed this portrait of her child. Her photograph uses the frame of the window and the frame of the film negative as physical and metaphorical barriers beyond which the young child cannot see.
- It sure has been a year, huh? Last time we shared this image we asked what the wings signify for you. Change? Restless energy? One year later, what's your answer to that question? Relief? Hope? Something else?
- Have you been keeping a journal or have another habit you can look back on? What changes did you expect to see that didn't happen? What do you hope stays around from this time?
- What are you most looking forward to this summer? Say it out loud, right now, and manifest it into reality.
No April Fool's prank here, just a slideshow of smiling faces to remind you to make room for joy in your day-to-day. You'll be glad you did!
There is, of course, no shortage of smiling happy faces in UMMA's collection. So, we've gathered some of our favorites into a group you can explore in our online collections database. Check it out by clicking here and feel the warm glow of happiness wash over you while you scroll through the grins.
- When are you happiest? And how will you make room for joy in your day today?
- What can you do to bring joy to someone else today? Maybe a quick phone call or text message is in order?
From the artist: "I started doing silkscreen prints in 2013 after returning from Chile, where I was able to learn about street activism and muralists through my own independent research. Art has become my own form of activism and organizing practice. I have also learned collage, printmaking and mosaic techniques through a community art center in my hometown of Chicago. The piece I shared for the rEVOLUTION gallery show was made in 2018 after living abroad and experiencing intense street harassment, it was made using the silkscreen technique and printed on Bristol paper. The word is in Arabic and means 'be quiet, silence or to shut up'. All three words are synonymous with how survivors of sexual violence are silenced. For me, art has become a cathartic practice to shed the layers of trauma and embrace my own story of resiliency as a survivor of domestic violence/intimate partner violence. I hope this piece empowers and resonates with many."
Work of art and above commentary contributed by
U-M Student, Artist
About the show
The work above is one of several pieces of art from the U-M community included in the virtual exhibition rEVOLUTION: Transformation, the 16th annual art show curated and presented by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. "Our goal with this event is to create and engage in a supportive community space for survivors where UM student allies and survivors will build empathy and an understanding of sexual violence and healing through the unique creative expression of survivor experiences and perspectives," the organizers said.
- Alvarez's work includes several prints of lips, slightly open, as if they are about to speak. It shows a crucial moment in the experiences of survivors of sexual abuse: Do I talk or not? Will I be believed or not? Will telling my story help or not? At this crucial moment many survivors will be silenced. Much work still needs to be done to create a wide-spread culture of support that listens to, believes, and helps survivors. What can you do to encourage that culture change?
- Thinking about the #MeToo movement and other recent moments of cultural change around believing and supporting survivors of sexual abuse and assault — what role has art had in moving those conversations forward? Have you seen a piece recently that has stayed with you?