Concerning the Spiritual in Art: Lecture at the Tang on April 14

Thursday, 4/14 at 7:30 p.m.

Nikki A. Greene, Ph.D.

Concerning the Spiritual in Art: The Substance of Abstraction

On abstraction, music and painting in the works of Moe Brooker, Beauford Delaney & Alma Thomas.

Alma Thomas-Nikki Greene

Nikki A. Greene before Alma Thomas, Wind, Sunshine and Flowers, 1968. Photo by Jean Egger for the Tang Teaching Museum, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, 2016.

Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College

The exhibition Alma Thomas is currently on view at the Tang Teaching Museum and is curated by Ian Berry, Dayton Director of the Tang Museum and Lauren Haynes, Associate Curator, Permanent Collection at the Studio Museum, New York. 

Alma Thomas remains at the Tang until June 5. The show opens at theStudio Museum in Harlem on July 14.

Please join us!

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Black Portraitures II: Revisited @ NYU | Feb. 19 & 20

Black Portraitures II: Revisited is already sold out!

That speaks volumes to the importance of this series of conferences spearheaded by Dr. Deborah Willis. To say that the Black Portraiture{s} II Conference that took place in Florence, Italy (May 28-31) was phenomenal does not quite capture the artistic and intellectual vibrancy–chemistry really–of the dynamic scholars and artists that gathered there. Dr. Willis is the University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She and her wonderful team of staff members from NYU, Harvard University, the Studio Museum in Harlem, among other institutions, executed a seamless conference experience from beginning to end.

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What an honor to be able to present again in New York on a fantastic panel of scholar-performers!  Out of Body: Composing Blackness through Sound, Music, and (Performance) Art with Matthew D. Morrison, Kwami Colemanand Imani Uzuri, moderated by jazz musician Hank Thomas, was one of my most fulfilling professional panels of my career.  Our panel this weekend will offer some new points of engagement for our audience with Jeff Rabhan of the Clive Davis Institute at NYU as our moderator.
Get yourself on the wait-list. We hope you can make it. The conference will also be broadcasted live. Be sure to keep on Twitter with #BlackPortraitures. For the full schedule, see: Black Portraiture[s] Program – Feb 19-20
A heartfelt THANK YOU to Dr. Therí A. Pickens, who offered her take on our previous panel in her blog post, “Scholar Fierce: Doing Dilettante as a Scholar.” Dr. Pickens’s gracious remarks include:

During this panel, I felt like I learned some pretty basic stuff about jazz (how to listen), black figures in classical music, and how to read art (whether sung or materially crafted). In those moments, worlds opened up. I don’t want to overstate the case by saying that the earth moved. However, the tectonic plates of knowledge I have (which tend to move slowly) quaked and changed the terrain of my knowledge… just a bit. 

C’mon, now. THAT has to convince you to check us out!

Out of Body: Composing Blackness Through Sound, Music, and (Performance) Art. 

February 20 at 9:30 a.m.-11 a.m:  NYU’s School of Law, Vanderbilt Hall, Tishman Auditorium. 40 Washington Square South, New York.

By listening to and engaging sonic histories and performances of blackness, this panel seeks to complement/complicate visual representations of blackness in Western art, as we consider how sound is articulated from, outside of, and onto (black) bodies through art, music, and performance. (Dis)Embodied acts of improvising and composing (of sound and identity), the “spirit” of sound, and the politics of (black) sound’s reception and circulation, will be themes that run throughout this panel.
Out of Body Panel
Kwami Coleman, Nikki A. Greene, Imani Uzuri, Matthew D. Morrison, and moderator Hank Thomas. Black Portraitures II Conference, May 30, 2015. Photo by Deborah Jack.

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

Black Portraitures II: BLACK GIRL MAGIC

Black Portraitures II Conference in Florence, Italy provided the beautiful surroundings, amazing fellowship and excellent scholarship that made for a perfect formula for BLACK GIRL MAGIC. You’ve seen this hashtag: #BlackGirlMagic. You may have also come across #CarefreeBlackGirl (In fact, I think I’m raising one):

These hashtags have come to mean much more in the last year. The #SayHerName movement encourages us all to remember the cis and trans black women who have been killed during altercations with the police or while in police custody, especially in the wake of the possible suicide of Sandra Bland while in a jail cell in Texas. We need to recognize women cross the country who continue to work within social, cultural, political and academic programs, movements, and institutions in order to advance black people across the country and around the world. This is my small tribute to those women I met or reunited with in Florence.

Deborah Willis was the driving force behind the Black Portraitures II conference along with a hardworking team of collaborators from New York University, Harvard University, the Studio Museum in Harlem, among others. Dr. Willis is University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Dr. Willis has worked throughout her entire career to highlight and celebrate the creativity, talent, and beauty of African Americans, primarily (though not exclusively) in photography. Because of her and the wonderful conference staff members, BLACK GIRL MAGIC was palpable throughout our time in Florence.

Dr. Deborah Willis and Dr. Nikki A. Greene. Black Portraitures Reception at La Villa Pietra.
Dr. Deborah Willis and Dr. Nikki A. Greene. Black Portraitures II Reception at Villa La Pietra, Florence, Italy.

As a photographer, curator, historian and documentarian, her commitment to the arts is unequal to most academics today. Her numerous books include Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the PresentOut [o] Fashion Photography: Embracing Beauty; Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers – 1840 to the Present; Let Your Motto be Resistance – African American Portraits; Family History Memory: Photographs by Deborah Willis; VANDERZEE: The Portraits of James VanDerZee; and co-author of The Black Female Body A Photographic History with Carla Williams; Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery with Barbara Krauthamer; and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (both titles a NAACP Image Award Winner). Most recently, inspired by Deborah Willis’s book Reflections in Black, Thomas Allen Harris’s film Through a Lens Darkly premiered at Sundance in 2014 (and is now available on Netflix).

THANK YOU, Deborah Willis, for bringing us together so that we can continue to do “the work.” You’re an incomparable mentor and inspiration to so many of us.

Chirlane I. McCray, 1st lady of NYC and Wellesley graduate with Nikki A. Greene
Chirlane I. McCray, 1st lady of NYC and Wellesley graduate with Nikki A. Greene. Black Portraitures II Reception at Villa La Pietra.

There were too many wonderful scholars, artists, students, and art aficionados on hand to name them all (there was so much fangirling going on). I was particularly thrilled to meet Chirlane McCray, New York City’s First Lady (and Wellesley College grad ’76), Spelman College’s new president and art historian, Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, art historian and curator Dr. Kellie Jones, feminist scholar Michele Wallace, and writer Michaela Angela Davis. All of my Dark Room Faculty Seminar sisters made the time spent there that much more enjoyable, of course. And there were so many magical moments…

We occasionally owned the streets of Florence. Right, Jasmine E. Johnson?!

Betty - BPII

There was a paper on BETTY DAVIS by De Angela Duff! Thanks for the shout out for my “Feminist Funk Power” article during your presentation!

We got to “whip our hair back and forth” when we needed to (Autumn Womack!):

When we heard Imani Uzuri sing on stage during the Out of Body panel on music, we were moved:

We also learned that magic can exist anywhere, even in a hair pick (Thanks, Ebony Coletu!)

Ultimately, all we needed to do was just stand around and see all of the beauty, talent, and intelligence that inhabited the spaces of the Odeon Theater and Villa La Pietra in Florence. As a result, WE WERE ALL BLACK PORTRAITS worthy to behold.

African Art

AFRICAN ART

ARTH264-Brooklyn

As an introduction to the arts of Africa, this course explores the meaning and the contexts of production within a variety of religious and political systems found throughout the continent, from Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria, to name a few. We consider important topics such as the ancient art outside the Nile Valley sphere, symbols of the power of royalty, and the aesthetic and spiritual differences in masquerade traditions. We pay special attention to traditional visual representations in relation to contemporary artists and art institutions in Africa.

FEMINISMS UNBOUND @ MIT – The Dark Room: Race and Gender in the Visual Archive – Feb. 11

The Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies series “Feminisms Unbound” continues at MIT on February 11 featuring members of The Dark Room: Race and Visual Culture Faculty Seminar: Irene Mata (Wellesley College), Sandy Alexandre (MIT), Marcia Chatelain (Georgetown University), and moderator/co-organizer Kimberly Juanita Brown (Brown University). I’ll talk specifically about Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, the sugar installation at the Domino Factory in Brooklyn from last summer. Join us!

Mammy in waiting
Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety…”(July 2014).  Photo by Nikki A. Greene.
The Dark Room: Race and Gender in the Visual Archive
Wednesday, February 11th: 5:30 – 7:30 PM
Location: The Moore Room, Building 6 Room 321

In the intellectual tributary that is critical race theory, all is connected.  Whether the task is elucidating the gendered trajectory of imperialism and violence in the United States, examining indigenous art forms in Latin America, or probing the interstices of Caribbean cultural production in the 20th century, critical race theorists have always engaged the world of the visual.  Bringing together scholars invested in the work of critical race studies as visual culture offers a unique vantage point through which to imagine the future of visual culture studies. The Dark Room is an interdisciplinary working group of scholars interested in theories of visuality and theories of racial formation.   In this roundtable each feminist scholar will select an image and interpret it in relation to its archive.

 

From poor black kid to…Art Historian?

President Obama took a shot at Art History majors yesterday at a General Electric manufacturing plant. Obama’s comment is nothing new for us foolhardy art historians. A lawyer friend poked fun at me years ago: “Nikki, what are you going to do with a doctorate in Art History? Is someone gonna come up to you and say, ‘Ah, doctor, my painting hurts!'” I thought it was fitting to re-post my journey in Art History.

For those of you who have already read my post from fall 2011, “I was a poor black kid…”, you know that I come from pretty humble beginnings in Newark, New Jersey. Perhaps the next question is: why did you become an art historian? A question I get pretty often. My mother would tell you that already at the age of five, I was fascinated by everything connected with museums–cold marble floors, dazzling framed color, curious-faced visitors, the hushed atmosphere. She said that I was as contented and stimulated there as other children might be at Disney World (truth be told, I’m not a fan of Disney). My passion for art history initially stemmed from my love for and appreciation of museums, specifically The Newark Museum (what a great education program they have there!). Then, at 15, I left Newark and Connecticut for Barcelona (pronounced Bar-THAY-lona). I took my first art history course there in Spanish. It was a real trip to discuss Picasso, and then walk down Las Ramblas to get to the Picasso Museum. My bus route home to my Spanish host family literally went past Gaudí’s La Casa Batlló and La Casa Mila! How could that not have an impact?

As a Smithsonian High School Intern, I had wonderful opportunities to expand my understanding of the world beyond the arts, including meeting Rep. John Lewis (GA) along with my fellow teenage interns (now, on the left, Judge Asha Jackson from Georgia and Principal Shawna Becenti from New Mexico). Summer 1993.
As a Smithsonian High School Intern, I had wonderful opportunities to expand my understanding of the world beyond the arts, including meeting Rep. John Lewis (GA) along with my fellow teenage interns (now, on the left, Judge Asha Jackson from Georgia and Principal Shawna Becenti from New Mexico). Summer 1993.

I was awarded the National High School Internship at the Smithsonian Institution in the African American Studies Center the summer before starting college. I got to see the inner workings of the Smithsonian, and I knew then that I wanted to major in Art History. Oddly enough, the women that I worked with there warned me not to pursue a career in the arts (low pay, not enough jobs, etc.). So what did I do? I became a double major in Spanish Lit and Psychology at Wesleyan University. After a year and half of taking art history classes, I didn’t listen to those women anymore. I had the wonderful opportunity to work as an intern for the Amistad Center and the African American Art Collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. For two consecutive summers, I was in direct contact with the 6,000 piece collection of art, photographs, and artifacts that enabled me to study African American works within the larger frame of American art history (I’ll leave out the part where I worked at Burger King on the weekends to scrounge up money for the upcoming academic year. Talk about socio-cultural-economic shifts!).

What happened next? The abridged version: From Wesleyan to the University of Delaware (MA, Ph.D.) to adjunct teaching purgatory in the Philadelphia area to a Mellon Postdoc at Wellesley College to Assistant Professor at Wellesley College! Despite President Obama’s opinion that more money could potentially be made with a skill in manufacturing, I’m proud of my three Art History degrees. I’ve traveled internationally learning and teaching about art (Ethiopia, Canada, Cuba, and England, for example). I wouldn’t trade my life as an art historian for any other “trade” in the world. I’m not the richest woman, but I’m not doing too badly for a poor black kid!

Washington Post: “We know what President Obama thinks of art history majors. But what do they think of him?

(See About Nikki G for my current musings and brief cv)

Editing as Collage

I miss those quiet summer days that made for a great time to experiment in writing.

A new approach to editing–cut and paste style! Pillow, pen, scissors, tape and paper.

I had a professor remark that my writing was “collagistic” in a way that mirrored the topic that I was exploring: Romare Bearden’s collages and photomontages. Wish I could say that this approach was always deliberate. Bearden was deliberate (See From Process to Print: Graphic Works By Romare Bearden). However, I’m learning to embrace this writing style which wanders between creative inventiveness and distracted chaos. I obsessively cut and paste my Word documents on the computer screen. I splice from within the document and from previously written notes, and I paste those iterations together with new thoughts and inquiries. This past summer I tried something new. I built a physical collage of an article-in-process on Bearden. One of my arguments has to do with the physicality of collage methods–cutting, pasting, arranging, and rearranging–in order to come up with a visually distinctive and multi-layered work. Bearden said this about his process of building collages:

I build my faces, for example, from parts of African masks, animal eyes, marbles, [and] mossy vegetation. . . I then have my small original works enlarged so the mosaic like jointings will not be so apparent, after which I finish the larger painting. I have found when some detail, such as a hand or eye, is taken out of its original context and is fractured and integrated into a different space and form configuration it acquires a plastic quality it did not have in the photograph.[1]

I wrestled for two weeks to finalize the article. I implemented a much more measured collage-like form at the process stage than ever before. I literally kneeled on the floor of my office, then in the serene space of the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College in the final weeks of my Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Art and Africana Studies. I accomplished a lot just in seeing my article before me. Visually tracking one argument to the next was useful. I actually went into a hypnotic zone of organizing–no music, no chair, no human interaction–except when I was home. My six-year-old walked in to see all of my papers on the floor (ah, work-life balance). She asked, “Mommy, what are you doing?” I wasn’t always sure, but I wanted something magical to happen with my writing, or, at the very least, something coherent.

I haven’t submitted my article yet. It’s still not ready. I need to cut-and-paste my way towards something inspiring in my new digs in the Jewett Art Center. Pass me the scissors!


[1] Romare Bearden as quoted in Michael Gibson, International Herald Tribune. Letter from Bearden dated June 15, 1975 [copy], Bearden Papers, AAA; Schwartzman, p. 216, 310, n21.

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