Musings

“New Perspectives on Portraiture”: Symposium & Book Release at the National Portrait Gallery – Sept. 20-21

The National Portrait Gallery’s Scholarly Center, PORTAL= Portraiture + Analysis, has announced the Edgar P. Richardson Symposium “New Perspectives on Portraiture” to be held in the museum’s Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium Sept. 20 and 21. The two-day event will bring together scholars whose work expands people’s perceptions of the diversity and complexity of portrayal in portraits. Speakers will investigate the power dynamics between artists and their sitters, the manipulation and evolution of portraits as physical objects, the dissemination of images and other aspects of this artistic genre.

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beyond the face cover.jpgCoinciding with the release of the new publication Beyond the Face: New Perspectives on Portraiture, which features essays by symposium participants, the two-day event will conclude with a book signing and public reception in the museum’s Kogod Courtyard. I will be presenting on my essay, “Habla LAMADRE: María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Carrie Mae Weems, and Black Feminist Performance.” The book and the symposium have already been reviewed here. This event is free to the public, but registration is required.

As the National Portrait Gallery celebrates its 50th Anniversary, the scholars brought together in Beyond the Face reconsider and expand the boundaries of the very definition of portraiture. As Smithsonian.com recently summarized in “How Can Museums Democratize Portraiture?”

Essays from an assortment of academic portrait experts, including the University of Delaware’s Jennifer Van Horn, the University of Georgia’s Akela Reason, and Wellesley College’s Nikki A. Greene, aim to bring portraiture to the people, showing how evocative images can be appropriated and re-contextualized to fuel social movements, and how seemingly crass variants on portraiture—ranging from newspaper caricature to the modern selfie—have often had the greatest lasting effects on American history.

My take on Campos-Pons’s and Neil Leonard’s (co-collaborator and husband) performance of Habla LAMADRE in 2014 considers how her insertion within the Guggenheim Museum stands as an exemplary performative portrait of a black feminist artist that is at once present and absent, still and in motion, familiar and foreign, historical and contemporary. In concert with the self-portraits and video performances by Carrie Mae Weems that were concurrently on view during her retrospective, Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video. They each distinctly reveal how the portrait of an African diasporic body acts as a site of difference, rupture, fantasy, and indeed, self, in ways not traditionally available in feminist art history. The essay will be expanded in a chapter of my book, Grime, Glass, and Glitter: The Body and the Sonic in Contemporary Black Art (Duke University Press, forthcoming).

See the full program below. I hope you’ll join us!

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Photos by Nikki A. Greene. All rights reserved.

Attendance is free and open to the public. Please register at the following links:

Day 1  | https://richardsonsymposium.eventbrite.com

Day 2 | https://richardsonsymposium2.eventbrite.com

Scholars will discuss such topics as the power dynamics between artists and their sitters, the manipulation and evolution of portraits as physical objects, and the dissemination of images. The symposium will explore how portraiture has evolved and how images of people reflect codes of behavior, social and political environments, and the rhetoric of the day.

Schedule:

Thursday September 20, 2018 2018

8 a.m. Check-in

9 a.m. SESSION 1: Materiality and the Profession of Portraiture

  • “Body Politics: Copley’s Portraits as Political Effigies during the American Revolution”

Lauren Lessing, Director, University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art

Nina Roth-Wells, Paintings Conservator

Terri Sabatos, Associate Professor of Art History, Longwood University

  • “Prince Demah and the Profession of Portrait Painting”

Jennifer Van Horn, Assistant Professor of Art History and History, University of Delaware

  • “The Other’s Other: Portrait Photography in Latin America, 1890–1930”

Juanita Solano Roa, PhD candidate, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

  • “Meaningful (Dis)placements: The Portrait of Luis Muñoz Marín by Francisco Rodón at the National Portrait Gallery”

Taína Caragol, Curator of Painting and Sculpture and Latino Art and History, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

11 a.m. Break

11:15 a.m. SESSION 1 | Panel Discussion

Moderated by Kim Sajet, Director, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

12 p.m. Lunch on your own

1:45 p.m. SESSION 2: Dissemination: Furthering Social, Political, Economic, and Religious Agendas

  • “‘Capital Likenesses’: George Washington, the Federal City, and Economic Selfhood in American Portraiture”

Ross Barrett, Associate Professor of American Art, Boston University

  • “Caricature Portraits and Early American Identity”

Allison M. Stagg, Visiting Lecturer in American Art History, Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

  • “Reconstruction Reconsidered: The Gordon Collection of the National Portrait Gallery”

Kate Clarke Lemay, Historian and Director of PORTAL, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

  • “Cloud of Witnesses: Painting History through Combinative Portraiture”

Christopher Allison, Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities, Affiliate Faculty Member in the

Departments of History and Art History, University of Chicago

3:45 p.m. Break

4 p.m. SESSION 2 | Panel Discussion

Moderated by Wendy Wick Reaves, Curator Emerita of Prints and Drawings, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

Friday September 21, 2018

8 a.m. Check-in

9 a.m. SESSION 3: Reassessing Subjectivity

  • “Soul-Searching: The Portrait in Gilded Age America”

Akela Reason, Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia

  • “Photos of Style and Dignity: Woodard’s Studios and the Delivery of Black Modern Subjectivity”

Amy M. Mooney, Associate Professor of Art and Art History, Columbia College, Chicago

  • “Side Eye: Early Twentieth-Century American Portraiture on the Periphery”

Jonathan Frederick Walz, Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of American Art, The Columbus Museum

  • “Making Sense of Our Selfie Nation”

Richard H. Saunders, Director, Middlebury College Museum of Art, and Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Middlebury College

11 a.m. Break

11:15 a.m. SESSION 3 | Panel Discussion

Moderated by Kate Clarke Lemay, Historian and Director of PORTAL, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

12 p.m. Lunch on your own

1:45 p.m. SESSION 4: Theatricality, Performativity, and Play

  • “‘Let Me Take Your Head’: Photographic Portraiture and the Gilded Age Celebrity Image”

Erin Pauwels, Assistant Professor of Art History, Temple University

  • “Playing Against Type: Frank Matsura’s Photographic Performances”

ShiPu Wang, Professor of Art History and founding faculty of the Global Arts Studies Program, University of California, Merced

  • “Call It a Little Game between ‘I’ and ‘Me’: Mar/Cel Duchamp in the Wilson-Lincoln System”

Anne Collins Goodyear, Co-Director, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

  • “Habla LAMADRE: María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Carrie Mae Weems, and Black Feminist Performance”

Nikki A. Greene, Assistant Professor of Art History, Wellesley College

3:45 p.m. Break

4 p.m. SESSION 4 | Panel Discussion

Moderated by Asma Naeem, Chief Curator, Baltimore Museum of Art

5 p.m. Book Signing and Reception in Kogod Courtyard

L+M Lecture Series with Nikki A. Greene @ Express Newark – May 5

Nikki A. Greene - L+M Lecture Express NewarkI am deeply honored to return home to Newark, NJ to present “Newark: My Home in the Arts” as the inaugural speaker of the L +M Development Partners Lecture Series as an invitation from The Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience
The lecture precedes the grand opening of Express Newark, a community-university collaborative space of Rutgers University-Newark. As a native Newarker, this art space in the former historic Hahnes Building is simply a dream-come-true and will serve the Newark community in meaningful ways.

Express Newark, an arts incubator conceived by Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) faculty, staff, students, and community arts leaders, will occupy 50,000 of the structure’s massive 500,000 square feet. Building on an already high level of synergy among Newark’s anchor institutions, Express Newark will partner with community arts organizations in the city’s socially, economically, and culturally diverse neighborhoods. RU-N arts classes in Express Newark began with the spring semester on Jan. 17. Entrance to the building is at 54 Halsey St.; the building is designated as HAH on RU-N class schedules.

Express Newark is a bold plan to cultivate local artistic expression that resonates globally by facilitating public scholarship and community engagement, opening an exciting new chapter in the city’s cultural history. RU-N envisions Express Newark as the fulcrum of the city’s burgeoning Arts District, linking well-established institutions such as the Newark Museum, the Newark Public Library, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Military Park, and WBGO public radio, with Halsey Street’s studio art spaces and the Great Hall at RU-N’s 15 Washington Street. Designed by Goldwin Starrett and renowned for its striking architecture that embodies the department store aesthetic of early 20th Century urban America, Hahne’s has been an iconic focal point of the downtown Newark streetscape since opening in 1901.

Come celebrate with us!
Location: Express Newark Lecture Hall. 54 Halsey Street, Room 213. Newark, NJ.

Eating Ice Cream While Black (Or My Life In Wellesley, Mass)

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Let me first say that I’ve been called the n-word before…to my face…shouted along with “Heil Hitler.” It was 1992, and I was sixteen years old, living in Barcelona, Spain. I was a foreigner, and I knew to be especially cautious of skinheads. They wore their racism and xenophobia as badges of honor. I’d run away from them a couple of months prior to that evening because once you spotted them, you knew to take off in the opposite direction. My life in Wellesley hasn’t been about that kind of racism. There are no skinheads. There’s a subtler, more insidious kind of racism experienced over time that most people of color in the United States are accustomed to. There’s a term for it now: microaggressions, the subtle, daily instances of racism that you don’t always see coming and that you cannot easily run away from.

Wellesley is a beautiful, affluent community in suburban Massachusetts. Known, of course, for the all-women’s college, but also for its prestige as an exclusive town of sorts with one of the best school systems in the state. Those are wonderful attributes, but diversity does not make it into their town’s historical records. My husband and I packed up our home in our bucolic town in South Jersey the summer of 2011, and we brought our ragtag family of four to live in faculty housing at Wellesley College. Lots of stress comes with a big move, but I was grateful that I landed a postdoc at the college, which has led to my dream job as an Assistant Professor of Art History.

With that description in mind, imagine a beautiful September New England afternoon just weeks after our arrival. I joined a colleague from the college, an African American woman with two beautiful kids of her own, to take a walk together to a popular ice cream spot in the center of town. We sat with our brood of four on a bench outside when an older white woman approached with pearls firmly clutched (ok, maybe I’m imagining that). In seconds, the woman began fondling the feet of the infant, and then she raised her head curiously to take all six of us in. Flustered, as if she couldn’t believe there could be so many of us—brown-skinned people, that is—sitting before her, she remarked with surprise, “Do all of these children belong to you?” She then placed her hand on my four-year-old daughter’s head, and she said almost admiringly, “I want to see your face.” After repeating herself once more, she forced my child’s head to look upward into her eyes, away from my own. After a few more awkward moments, she walked away. My friend and I stared at each other in disbelief. With nervous laughter, I said aloud, “When did we become the petting zoo?” Shaking our heads, we acknowledged this blatant form of patronizing and humiliating conduct that could sometimes be expected from an older generation. We still knew better than that though. If this account seems innocuous to you, and you are a white reader, please check your white privilege (Check out George Yancy’s opinion piece “Dear White America” from the New York Times. Then read Anna Keglar’s “The Sugarcoated Language of White Fragility” to come closer to understanding my position-and yours. When you’re done, pick up Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Get in touch with me directly about a more complete reading list). 

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My son enjoying ice cream in Martha’s Vineyard. Summer 2013. Photo by Nikki A. Greene

Fast forward to July of this year, on the nearly fifth anniversary of our move, a group of Wellesley High School students’ racist and homophobic rants over Facebook Messenger were revealed. The group went as far as to single out two students, an African-American and Mexican-American, enrolled at the school. While this hate speech may have come as a surprise to some white residents, for most people of color, LGBTQ folk, and other underrepresented groups living or working in Wellesley, this warranted a knowing shake of the head, understanding full well that these sort of disturbing, violent stereotypes constitute the underbelly of microaggressions in the town. Whether one is innocently eating ice cream or going to school, there is no armor strong enough to protect you from the painful effects of experiences like these in a conservative community that lacks the racial and economic diversity and education to prevent these incidents from happening.

Residents of Wellesley aren’t the only citizens affected by these actions. Since 1966, Boston parents have been sending their children to the suburbs through the METCO program, a voluntary desegregation program. These brave parents put their even braver children on buses to public schools in places like Wellesley in an effort to offer their children access to the best education possible where their own zip codes do not. While the schools’ academic offerings indeed rank high, much of the social and intellectual work surrounding “multiculturalism” still lags. The few children of color within the school system take on the undue burden of not only educating their classmates (and some teachers), but also facing their own set of microaggressions. Those may include not-so-innocent remarks about their hair texture to teachers’ disproportionately penalization of their behavior, sometimes due to their own unconscious biases. How do I know the affects on the children? My own daughter was bullied in the first grade, and she only found the courage to tell us two years later. In hindsight, we understood why she cried on more than one occasion about wishing to change her skin color.

Why has this overall treatment persisted, or in some instances become worse, in Wellesley and elsewhere in suburban Boston since desegregation efforts began in the sixties? An African-American student at Wellesley High, who spoke anonymously to the Boston Globe about the hate speech, put her finger on one of the central problems:

It’s very possible to go through Wellesley Public Schools from pre-K through graduation and not even interact with a person of color. Not even on purpose — just because of the numbers game…And when you hit 18 and you’ve never interacted with a person of color, it’s very difficult to avoid being a little biased, or a little sheltered, or a little ignorant.

If we were to stay in Wellesley for the long haul, a very unlikely probability, what would be the impact for my children to never encounter an educator of color in their classrooms and scarcely in the administration and for thirteen years? What is the potential psychological damage of facing years and years of microaggressions in the classroom, on the playground, or in ice cream parlors? I am especially leery of this prospect considering that when my six-year-old son grows into an adolescent that he is no longer seen as an adorable, energetic playmate, but rather as a menace to society. This is a fear every black mother possesses; we’ve witnessed the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, and far too many others, suffer through the same fear, only theirs were realized.

On July 28, World of Wellesley, a diversity group, organized a “Gathering of Peace”(#WellesleyStandsUnited), in concert with faith and secular organizations. Around 75 attendees sang together and supported each other as individuals shared personal accounts of their experiences as parents, students, and citizens and offered suggestions for future actions and steps toward healing. After each testimony, the group that stood in a circle of unity recited, “We see you. We hear you. We are grateful for you.” Though we still await the next steps by the school administration and police department to these verbal assaults, it was a promising demonstration of what can be possible in Wellesley to create an inclusive and welcoming environment.

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My daughter and her friend make signs for the Gathering of Peace. July 28, 2016. Photo by Nikki A. Greene

Ultimately, I want my children to feel safe not only on our block, where we are surrounded by a diverse group of loving, openhearted, and open-minded Wellesley College faculty and their families. Ultimately, I want my kids to thrive in whatever space they occupy in order to stand confidently in the brown skin they are in. In the meantime, we are taking off to Martha’s Vineyard this week, one last getaway before school starts. The Vineyard, the town of Oak Bluffs especially, has historically been a vacation refuge for black families to fellowship while swimming on the beach, strolling on the sidewalk, and, yes, even while eating ice cream. There, we all walk with our backs a little straighter, heartened to see families like our own, families who have faced their own set of microaggressions in their hometowns. Our time will overlap with President Obama and his family again this year. I certainly wouldn’t mind my children turning their faces upwards to meet their eyes.

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Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard. Summer 2014. Photo by Martha McNamara

 

 

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