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.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Maia Erslev is an anthropology major, museums concentrator, and member of the class of 2018. In this post, she shares her experience working with Yao Wu, the inaugural Jane Chace Carroll Curator of Asian Art on the current exhibition “体: Modern Images of the Body from East Asia,” on view through August 26.
I am a senior here at Smith and for the past 2 years, I have helped with the new exhibition, “体 Modern Images of the Body from East Asia.” Since the fall of 2016, I have worked closely with Yao Wu, the inaugural Jane Chace Carroll Curator of Asian Art. I am an anthropology major with a geographic focus on Asia and I am part of the museums concentration. Given my academic interests, working with Yao was a great fit!
When I first started my work at the museum, Yao wanted me to familiarize myself with the museum’s permanent collection of Asian art. After some initial research, I was drawn to the general theme of Western male depictions of Eastern women’s bodies. This uneasy relationship was clearly shown through the museum’s significant collection of early Japanese photography, specifically that of the Italian photographer, Felice Beato.
Felice A. Beato. British born Italy (ca. 1825 - ca. 1904). The Grecian Bend, ca. 1868. Albumen print with hand coloring mounted on cream colored paperboard. Purchased with the Hillyer-Tryon-Mather Fund, with funds given in memory of Nancy Newhall (Nancy Parker, class of 1930) and in honor of Beaumont Newhall, and with funds given in honor of Ruth Wedgwood Kennedy. SC 1982:38-2 (7).
Beato was one of the earliest Western photographers to travel to Asia. He traveled to Japan and opened a studio in Yokohama in 1863. In this studio he staged many of his famous photographs featuring Japanese people dressed in traditional attire and appearing to be engaging in traditional activities. Beato’s collections of Japanese photographs were sold to Western audiences across Europe – many of whom had never seen images of Asia. From the Western standpoint, his photographs were unfiltered, realistic depictions of “the Orient.” As an anthropology major, I am fascinated with how Beato’s photographs embody this cross cultural exchange and set a precedent for how the West viewed the East.
My favorite photograph from the Beato collection is the one that best expresses this cross cultural exchange. “The Grecian Bend” is a staged photograph of two woman wearing traditional Japanese kimonos and striking an awkward and uncomfortable looking pose. As the title implies, this stooped pose is called the Grecian Bend. The pose was loosely inspired by the graceful, smooth, sloping curves found on ancient Greek statues. The popularity of “the bend” swept through England in the mid 1800s and soon made its way to Victorian America, where it reached its peak in the 1860s. The pose these two Japanese women are in is decidedly Western. It almost goes without saying that Beato intentionally choreographed these sitters to imitate this Western pose to be more appealing to his Western customers.
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.