- Alison Saar
Beyond Mammy, Jezebel + Sapphire: Reclaiming Images of Black Women is a traveling exhibition co-curated by I.D.E.A. and the Alexandria Museum of Art in Louisiana, where it premiered to great critical acclaim last December. The exhibit’s purpose is to show the artwork of Black women artists who speak out against the stereotypes and images that pervade our culture (popular culture and otherwise) and present accurate, thoughtful representations of Black women.
Curator Jessica Hunter-Larsen says her inspiration to bring an exhibit like this to CC came from the conversations that sprung up around the CC campus in 2015, after racial slurs began circulating via social media. “It got me thinking,” she says, “how do we help foster respectful dialog? And one of the ways I thought to do that was to bring visual images into the mix.”
These images, from the prominent collection of Jordan Schnitzer, include works by well-known artists Alison Saar, Kara Walker, Mickalene Thomas and Lorna Simpson, “people I thought were particularly important to the themes of the show,” Hunter-Larsen says. Then, of course, the collection includes lesser-known artists such as Mildred Howard, whose work Hunter-Larsen calls “tremendous.”
“We want to bring in the work of particularly thoughtful artists,” she says, “especially when they are commenting on issues of social justice from their own perspectives.”
But the exhibit itself isn’t the only draw. Tuesday’s opening reception will feature a panel of powerful voices: Heidi Lewis, a professor who teaches courses on Black feminist theory at CC; Claudine Taaffe, a Vanderbilt University lecturer in African American and Diaspora Studies; Jessica Lynne, an arts administrator and critic and founder of ARTS.BLACK (who will also give a lecture on March 29 called “Art Criticism for a New Generation”); and Sha’Condria “iCon” Sibley, a Louisiana-based performance poet who will also present a poem or two as part of the opening night’s events.
“We’re really excited,” Hunter-Larsen says. “All the people that we’re bringing in are nationally recognized scholars and artists who are going to be able to bring a very nuanced and articulate perspective to some of the broader themes of the exhibition.”
Throughout the show’s run, I.D.E.A. will host a few more notable events in conjunction with the exhibit, events that are meant to foster further dialog around the pieces and their themes.
On March 30, there will be a screening of NO! The Rape Documentary on campus, followed by a conversation with filmmaker Aishah Shihidah Simmons. Then, on May 9, Perdue University’s Head of Interdisciplinary Studies and Professor of English and African American Studies, Venetria Patton, will present a lecture: “Baby Mamas, Beloved, and True Motherhood: Reclaiming Images of Black Women.”
As Heidi Lewis says eloquently in the introduction to Beyond Mammy, Jezebel + Sapphire’s catalogue, “[this exhibit] should inspire audiences to think critically about these and the many other dangerous assumptions about Black women in ways that are far more complex than discourses outside of Black feminism and womanism typically allow. A large part of that work entails listening intently to the ways Black women, including the artists featured here, think about and discuss ourselves on our own terms, which is critical.”
It’s a good chance to get educated and to gain a greater understanding of the power of imagery as it relates to race and gender. Even if you miss the panel Tuesday, this is an exhibit you don’t want to pass up.
4:30-6 p.m., I.D.E.A. Space at Colorado College, Cornerstone Arts Center, 825 N. Cascade Ave., theideaspace.com. On display through May 26.