“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

María Magdalena Campos Pons: “Habla La Madre” | #CAA2016

LIVE (at the Guggenheim): María Magdalena Campos Pons, Carrie Mae Weems and Black Feminist Performance

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María Magdalena Campos-Pons, Performing “Habla La Madre” at the Guggenheim on April 27, 2014. Photo by Nikki A. Greene.

Nikki A. Greene | Assistant Professor of the Arts of Africa and the African Diaspora | Wellesley College

Panel: Performance as Portraiture

Wednesday, February 3, 2016, 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

The 104th College Art Association Conference, Washington, DC
Chairs: Dorothy Moss, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution & Jamie L. Smith, CONNERSMITH Gallery
Mariott Wardman Park Hotel, Wshington 1, Exhibition Level

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All photos by Nikki A. Greene

María Magdalena Campos-Pons and Carrie Mae Weems, originally from Cuba and the United States, respectively, have thrived internationally creating works of art that examine African diasporic identity using the physicality of their own bodies as process, subject, and object, literally and figuratively. On April 27, 2014, María Magdalena Campos-Pons processed through the lobby and onto the ramps leading to the second floor galleries of the Guggenheim Museum of New York, shouting incantations among hundreds of visitors, costumed in a startlingly white, hooped dress that mimicked the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright building. Eight female attendants and an Afro-Cuban band sang and played along. In celebration of the exhibition Carrie Mae Weems: Three Decades of Photography and Video, the performance took place during Carrie Mae Weems LIVE: Past Tense/Future Perfect, a weekend of programs of artist talks, dance, music, and theater.
This paper will examine how Campos-Pons performance “Habla La Madre” offered on that Sunday afternoon her Afro-Cuban body as a site of/for “Africa” and “womanhood” in harmony with Weems—and in dissonance with the museum space—serving to complicate performance art as portraiture within the African Diaspora. Stuart Hall defined the circular relationship of people of African descent to the continent as they return physically, intellectually, and/or spiritually as having to do with “what Africa has become in the New World, what we have made of ‘Africa’: ‘Africa’ as we re-tell it through politics, memory and desire.” Campos-Pons’ insertion within the Guggenheim 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. By engaging (and interrupting) an “Africa” that thrives vis-à-vis Cuba and the United States through the artist’s own metonymic presence—in the museum/as the museum—in concert with the self-portraits and performances by Carrie Mae Weems concurrently on exhibition, Campos-Pons distinctly reveals 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.

For the full video of the performance, see Carrie Mae Weems LIVE: Performances – “Habla La Madre” | guggenheim.org

Azúcar Negra: Still Digesting Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety”

I’ve been struggling to put into words the kind of phenomenological experience I had going to see Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that no amount of preparation could actually equip you. Just being there–anxious, confined, exhilarated and unsettled–has made one of the greatest impressions on me as an art historian woman of color.

Fallen Sugar Sculpture. Kara Walker, A Subtlety. Domino Factory. Brooklyn, New York. July 5, 2014. Photo by Nikki A. Greene.

Since my visit to the Domino Factory in Brooklyn on July 5, I cannot rid myself of Celia Cruz singing out her signature refrain: “¡Azúcar!”  Her hook is not a gimmick, but rather an affirmation of her blackness. A firm recognition of the labor of many black bodies that endured the Middle Passage to the Americas to harvest crops, including sugar cane, in places like her native Cuba. The Afro-Cuban proudly asserted in one of her many classic songs, “Azúcar Negra” (written by Mario Diaz):

Soy dulce como el melao’/Alegre como el tambor/Llevo el ritmico tumbao’/Y Africa en el corazon/Hija de una isla rica/Esclava de una sonrisa/ Soy calle y soy carnaval/Calle corazón y tierra/Mi sangre es azúcar negra/Es amor y es música/ Azucar azucar negra/Cuanto me gusta y me alegra/Azucar azucar negra/Ay cuanto me gusta y me alegra

I’m sweet as molasses/Merry as the drum/I wear the rhythmic tumbao’/And Africa in the heart/Daughter of a rich island/slave of a sunrise/I am street and I am carnival/Street, heart and earth/My blood is brown sugar/It is love and music/Black (Brown) Sugar Sugar / How much I love it and it makes me happy/ Black (Brown) Sugar Sugar / Oh how much I love it and it makes me happy*

The excitement of the long-awaited pilgrimage to Brooklyn to one of the most tweeted/blogged/televised/talked about installation of the year subsided once I stepped inside. Once I finally reached the Creative Time‘s sign fully announcing the exhibition, I smelled the molasses-dripped walls of the Domino factory before I entered. The scent enveloped me as I looked around at the vacuous space containing throngs of people navigating the rust and licorice-colored puddles that gathered in the unexpected sloping corners and passages around the carefully-placed sculptures of brown-sugared “children” holding baskets.

Mammy in waiting I knew the “Mammy Sphinx” awaited my inspection, but I only wanted to glance at her from afar. I had to first take my cues from those children, some made of resin coated in sugar, others made of pure azúcar negra (brown sugar) who marked a path from the entrance towards the gleaming white Mammy-in-waiting. For me, they set the tone in the Domino factory. Walker wisely chose to let the conditions of space, time, and the natural elements take their due course, leaving those pure sugar babies purposely neglected, fallen, and broken. Those sculptures were best described by the sound poet, Tracie Morris, who stated at the Free University – NYC event, “Subtleties of Resistance,” held within the factory that afternoon, that the looming sculpture was “a ghost watching over all those sweet dying children.” Paraphrasing Morris, she describe how “their tiny load bearing bodies literally melting on the factory floor and in the shadows are the real story of enslaved labor, suffering, death. She watches them – gaze fixed straight ahead – protecting them, bearing witness for them.” An eery, but apt description.

A number of other elements made me trepidatious about approaching the “Sugar Mama” because it took time to acclimate to the environment: the (anti)ceremonial procession on a street in Brooklyn, the heat of the blazing sun outside, the coolness of the darkened interior, the scent (oh the stench), the reluctant dampness of melting azúcar negra, and the sticky floors coated with it audibly marking each person’s step within.

My attendance was tempered by meeting a former Domino factory worker, Mr. Robert Shelton. I’d learned about his presence as a volunteer through an article written by Leigh Raiford and Robin Hayes in The Atlantic, “Remembering the Workers of the Domino Factory.” As we approached the Sugar Mama — I can’t stop calling her that — Mr. Shelton’s availability to speak about his work within the building mediated my own conflict between the hands of the laborers who earned a living since the factory’s opening in the 1856 until its fraught closing in 2004 and the “art” and its substance in the hands of Kara Waker. Yes, his very presence made the history of the factory much more palpable, palatable, and extraordinary.

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After being there, I do understand why one would yell  (“Why I Yelled at the Kara Walker Exhibit,” The Indypendent, June 30, 2014). I mostly sighed in my discomfort. It’s a tough piece, and it’s even tougher watching people in inappropriate poses at the expense of the representation of the very people victimized by institutions/systems that created versions of these kinds of “sugar mamas” and their resultant destructive forces. This, despite the public protests against such postering (“‘We Are Here’: People of Color Gather at Kara Walker Show”).

Indeed, the “Sugar Mama” was formidable. She took my breath away. But, what to do with the uneasiness of having seen a black woman’s body turned into a powerful, yet vulnerable monument to the legacy of sugar? What to do about an homage to the black, female body whose site(s) of power — her monumental frame (40′ x 70′ x 90′), her kerchiefed head, her exposed vulva — put on display for close observation, critique, and praise? The respectful and powerful introspection of the “Subtleties of Resistance” really did help to contextualize the installation with the set of readings/performances staged by Free University – NYC with original sound poetry by Tracie Morris, a reading of Frederick Douglass’s July 5, 1852 speech “What to the slave is your Fourth of July?” by Brian Jones, and Sofía Gallisá reading in Spanish of Abelardo Díaz Alfaro’s 1947 story “Bagazo.” (I wasn’t able to attend the workshop and film screening afterward. I imagine that was also immensely transformative for participants.) Being in the company of Wellesley colleagues, former students and other friends who just so happened to come through, I felt in solidarity with those who were willing to thoughtfully and courteously discuss the experience.

There are so many sentiments spoken and unspoken that must still be felt, expressed, sung, and written about. My friend and Wellesley College colleague, Dr. Elena Creef, who joined me on this journey, coined a term – “A Middle Sugar Passage.” Yes, we are travelers on a different kind of 21st century “Passage” wading through the structural failures of a post-industrial collapse of manufacturing in the United States. No, we weren’t taken against our will aboard a ship from our homeland into a foreign one, but we were made to feel like we swayed within the bowels of a vessel, with a single porthole provided in one of the walls to enhance that perception. Again, I ask, where do I — do we — go from here? …back to Celia Cruz perhaps.

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Very few pieces in recent history have done the kind of work to foster the conversations that I think this installation will engender for years to come. I’ve still got my work cut out for me. Research may answer some questions, but I may never be satisfied. That, I guess, is the brilliance of Kara Walker’s A Subtlety: or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

¡AZÚCAR!

BOOKS on sugar and slavery to the rescue. Photo by Nikki A. Greene.
BOOKS on sugar and slavery to the rescue. Photo by Nikki A. Greene.* Thank you to Andreina Castillo for help with the translation of the lyrics to “Azúcar Negra.”

* Thank you to Andreina Castillo for help with the translation of the lyrics to “Azúcar Negra.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 







 

 

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