Friday, August 4, 2017

Contemporary Black Women Artists in the Cunningham Center: Lorna Simpson

Guest blogger Zoe Dong is a Smith College student, class of 2018J, with a major in studio art. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. This is the first of a three-post series on contemporary works by Black women in the Center's collection.

Lorna Simpson was born in 1960 in Brooklyn, New York, graduating with a BFA from the School of Visual Arts and receiving her MFA from UC San Diego. She rose to prominence in the art world in the 1980s for her art exploring black female identity and historical memory. Her work combines photography, text art and installation to create subtle and engaging works that are difficult to decode but meaningful in the effort it takes to understand them.

Counting is an excellent example of Simpson’s style, which excludes the eyes of any subject, utilizes text as a central element, and features hair as a motif. Counting shows, from top to bottom, the bottom half of an unknown black woman’s face, a Carolina smokehouse once used to hold slaves, and finally a long coil of braided hair. Surrounding the images are coolly inscrutable phrases listing hours for an unknown event, numbers of years, an amount of bricks, numbers of “locks” “twists” and “braids.” Where Kara Walker’s work about the history of American slavery is starkly in-your-face, Simpson’s art eludes a simple meaning.

 

Lorna Simpson. American, 1961-. Counting. 1991. photogravure with silkscreen text on paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, fund. SC 1992:2.

Details is a series of 21 photogravures with silkscreen text. The series alludes to a story of a romance in muted, delicate, and mysterious language, focusing on hands and their gestures, flowers and furniture instead of the faces of the lovers who the story centers around. Each of the photogravures in accompanied by text underneath, hinting at the meaning of each carefully composed, Pictorialist-reminiscent smoky image. The absence of a face is per usual in Simpson’s work.

 

Lorna Simpson. American, 1961-. soulful from Details. 1996. photogravure with silkscreen text on Somerset 300 lb. paper. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund and the Carol Ramsey Chandler Fund. SC 2012:6-1.

Lorna Simpson. American, 1961-. desired from Details. 1996. photogravure with silkscreen text on Somerset 300 lb. paper. Purchased with the Elizabeth Halsey Dock, class of 1933, Fund and the Carol Ramsey Chandler Fund. SC 2012:6-3.

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