Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.
Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.
Friday, March 23, 2018
Dread Scott, American (1964-). Boom BOOM! 2001. Screenprint in printed in color on Stonehenge white paper (13/14). Purchased through the efforts of students in the class “Collecting 101,” January 2011. SC 2011:3.
Creating this collection was a form of empowerment. Not only because I was given the opportunity to create something and share it with others in a unique and truly special way, but because in hand with this came my new ability to explore the Museum. This was not new because I couldn't do it before, but because I didn't know that I could. Going into this process I was curious about everything - what the Museum had in its collections, what I could make of them, and what the final product would look like. And as I went through the Cunningham Center's collections with a goal of centering people of color and their experiences in the curation, I realized there was so much to offer. I just had to know to look for it.
Enrique Chagoya, American born Mexico (1953 - ). La Bestia’s Guide to the Birth of the Cool. 2014. Ten color lithograph with chine colle and gold metallic powder on handmade Amate paper, accordion book format. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund. SC 2015:1.
The full-circle moment of this collection was its presentation. Nothing is more empowering than sharing one's creative endeavors with others and receiving clarity in return. I had spent so much time with these pieces, with this collection, that I had forgotten the first impressions which drew me to them and led me to create this larger theme. Ausencias felt like a trans-national phantom; all the empty chairs left over after a big family reunion in the home country. La Bestia was an unsanitized lesson on a history that was never preoccupied with being clean until it decided who was dirty. The art took us through violence and fear, memory and fantasy, isolation and belonging, all tied through with a sense of contemplation.
The central piece of this collection - This Could Be Us, You or Anybody Else by Arpita Singh - summarizes this journey. The white dots peppering the image mirror constellations or even regional or national boundaries, satellite-view. These dots create a sense of connection, of a larger pointillism-style picture just out of sight. They map through several frozen scenarios which, read clockwise, tell a story of migration of people and food. The work calls to mind the detailing, vibrancy, and panoramic narrative style common in Bengali folk paintings. In the bottom right we are reminded that even fear and cruelty can move, regardless of borders, and is unique to no one person. Though the cardinal directions are written, only North and South are made to mirror each other. East and West are alone, with West duplicated above itself.
Arpita Singh. Indian, 1947-. This Could be Us, You, or Anybody Else. 2007. Etching and aquatint printed in color on heavyweight, slightly textured, white paper. Gift of Bridget Moore, Class of 1979. SC 2014:27-1. Click here for larger image.
At first glance this piece may seem to lapse into a kind of romanticism: the bright blue and white in the background, and the rose-vine borders work alongside the universalizing language to accomplish this. Yet they are offset by these grim grey scenes, etched out in jagged lines, figures drawn hunched or stiffly positioned and with either desperate or stoic expressions. The art is not devoid of humor or commentary, either - at the top, figures literally ride on top of an airplane. Singh does not tell the viewer that “this could be you” in an attempt to compare experiences, but instead to relate them. The worlds that we live in, populated as they are by movement, food, community, and even tension, are neither so opposite or equal as we would like to think. Singh herself is a product of a kind of movement, as new borders developed between India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh during her lifetime. She has a more acute recognition of how quickly one can be marked “other” or “outside” because of the multiple identities she carries. As a result of this, her words take on a new kind of meaning. There is the request for empathy - “this could be you” - but also a kind of ambivalence - “may be your friends/may be our friends” - and even a staking of claim - “guests coming to my place/may be to your place too”. The attitudes expressed under each scene highlight the varied responses to movement and the identity work that it requires. Ultimately there is a sense that even while Singh invites the viewer to relate, she is also reminding them of her place and agency.Her history and humanity.
Our movement merits contemplation. Begs it as a sign of warning or even impulse. Reading the viewers' responses I saw this again, and I saw it anew. Even while moving we are always in a position to heal, love, and acknowledge. Remembering this, especially as a product of the diaspora, carrier of colonial freight, as a person of color, is not only empowering - it is redemptive.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Unknown. Turn On Your Loved Ones, 1967 or before. Screenprint in color on paper. Purchased. SC 2011:38-113
Hijacked Art explores the Western canon through contemporary prints. In this exhibition, there are prints that echo American Gothic, Goya’s Los Caprichos, Piet Mondrian’s famous compositions, and Andy Warhol’s Campbell's Soup Cans. The exhibition title is drawn from the fact that the contemporary artists in this show have interpreted the work of deceased artists who cannot condemn or laud the appropriation of their work. Together, these prints show how artists can reference these masterworks while acknowledging the systems of oppression they are tied to.
Thursday, February 1, 2018
Guest blogger Zoe Dong '18J recently graduated from Smith College with a major in studio art. She was a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
This fall, Japanese-American photographer and collage artist Patrick Nagatani passed away on October 27, 2017 after a struggle with colon cancer. A nationally respected photographer with work held in museums across the country, Nagatani’s work dealt with themes of science, nuclear power, Japanese-American history, and New Mexican culture. He represented and explored these themes through otherworldly images, saturated prints and flat collages that were magical and sometimes unnerving. Though Nagatani’s work can be subtle and humorous at times, his political commentary is sharp and this pairing of social critique with fantasy is thoroughly engaging.
Nagatani was born in 1945 in Chicago to two Japanese-American parents. Both his mother and father were held in Japanese internment camps during World War II, and his extended family’s hometown was Hiroshima; he was born just days after the city was decimated by the atom bomb. Much of Nagatani’s work speaks to that same horrible legacy of nuclear war that America enacted on Japan, a power the country holds the possibility to enact still. Although he was never technically trained in photography, Nagatani started creating photographs when he was 31 and went on to receive an MFA from UCLA. He was a professor of photography at the University of New Mexico from 1987 to 2007.
The work of Nagatani’s that initially spoke to me was 'Effects of Nuclear Weapons', Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico (1990).To create this work, Nagatani overlaid several images on top of each other, but the word “collage” seems almost too trivial to apply here. Nagatani has placed Japanese children’s faces and the buckets that carry their ashes on top of a photograph of an American science museum; the exhibit coolly displays information about the scientific effects of nuclear war with no apparent mention of the actual loss of human life. It’s a tragic, biting accusation towards the American public and government who didn’t and still do not acknowledge the murders of a perceived “Other” from thousands of miles away by the power of nuclear bombs.
'Effects of Nuclear Weapons', Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, 1990. Ilfocolor print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2007:60-39.
This work is part of the series Nuclear Enchantment,which the Cunningham Center owns several works from. The series, through representations of different New Mexico landscapes, warns of the dangers of nuclear power and, occasionally with grim comedy, highlights the strangeness in America’s normalization of it.
Simulation/Simulation, the Trestle, Nuclear Effects (Electromagnetic Pulses), Simulation Facility, Air Force Weapons Laboratory, Kirtland A.F.B. Albuquerque, New Mexico from Nuclear Enchantment, 1990. Ilfocolor print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar.
Said Nagatani in an artist’s statement, “Are we a society so blinded by the powers of science that we will continue to support a destructive industry rather than seeking alternative solutions? Many of the photographs in Nuclear Enchantment are of actual sites presided over by a cast of ancient mythic figures...I want them to remind us of the spiritual poverty of the technical age.” In some images he incorporates parts of work from the famed 19th century woodblock artist Hiroshige, noting that his art “commented on Japan's transition from ancient Shintoism to Westernization - a path that ultimately led to Hiroshima.”
Golden Eagle, United Nuclear Corporation Uranium Mill and Tailings, Churchrock, New Mexico, 1990. Ilfocolor print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2007:60-40.
The Cunningham Center also owns the fascinating series Nagatani/Ryoichi Excavation,a surreal series that takes an elaborate, detailed look at what a fictional archaeologist’s findings might be. Nagatani worked on Hollywood productions, creating models for films such as Blade Runner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He used these model-making skills to create the intricate images that are so cunningly done they resemble fantastic hoaxes, shown as “evidence” of a secret, lost time when people worshiped cars. Of the project, Nagatani said “my interest [lies] in testing the realities that can exist within the realm of photography and physical documentation… I am interested in the potential of photography to tell a story.” The complexity of the narrative is striking, as is the technical and artistic skill in creating the images.
Bentley, Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England, from Ryoichi Excavations, 1987-2001. Toned gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2006:56-26.
Ryoichi's Flask and Journal, 1999. Chromogenic (Fuji Crystal Archive) print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2011:71-41a.
Patrick Nagatani will be remembered as a gifted photographer and as a creative storyteller. His talent for creating fantasies with real political heft and thought was a unique one, and his confident, strange images reflect that.
Take a look at his works in the Cunningham Center collection and visit to see for yourself.