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Now everyone is an insider!

In order to provide an open forum for ALL of the museum’s collection and activities, the Paper + People blog is being renamed SCMA Insider. With its expanded focus, SCMA Insider will act as a go-to place for sharing information on the diverse collections and many voices and visions that shape SCMA.

If you want to contribute to the blog, please contact the Brown Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow, Shanice Bailey, at

  • Monday, October 17, 2011

    El Muro (The Wall)

    I first saw Eduardo Hernández Santos’s El Murophotographs in 2008 during a studio visit with photographer and Hampshire College faculty member Jackie Hayden. Jackie and her husband, printmaker Steve Daiber, had been visiting and working in Cuba since 2001 as part of Hampshire College’s study abroad program, and they had been assisting Cuban artists by introducing their work to U.S. audiences since 2004. At the time, Steve and Jackie were working on publishing a book on El Murothrough Steve’s imprint, Red Trillium Press. The pictures completely knocked me out.

    Eduardo Hernández Santos. Cuban, born 1966. Triptych from El Muro(The Wall),2005 (printed 2008). Gelatin silver prints with applied presstype. Purchased with funds from the Dorius-Spofford Fund for the Study of Civil Liberties and Freedom of Expression

    Hernández Santos began El Muroin 2005, when he discovered that a block of the Malecón, the five-mile sea wall extending from Old to Central Havana, had been claimed as a place where gay and transgendered Cubans congregated on a nightly basis. He photographed at El Muro (the wall) over the next year, engaging in discussions with his subjects, many of whom had no other public social outlet to express this part of their identities. Although Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of current Cuban president Raul Castro and Director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, is a vocal supporter of gay rights in Cuba, there is a strong sense that even minor gains (like being able to gather safely in public) may soon disappear. The late-night revelers, caught in the flash of Hernández Santos’s camera, display themselves fully, making the most of their current (albeit limited) freedom.

    El Muro consists of a series of ten photographic triptychs. Most of the triptychs includes two images of the wall itself shown alongside portraits of people at the wall. On the left-hand image, the artist has spelled out fragments from “La isla en peso (The Island Burden)” a poem by the well-known gay Cuban writer Virgilio Piñera (1912-1979). Piñera’s poem charts, in scathing language, what he saw as the often repressive, violent, and insular nature of Cuban culture, and he portrayed his native land as doomed and malignant. [La maldita circunstancia del agua por todas partes (the damned circumstance of water everywhere)]. Hernández Santos’s project strives to represent, in his words “the inner essence of a people who struggle to define and defend their right to be themselves, to have a space of their own.”

    Eduardo Hernández Santos. Cuban, born 1966. Triptych from El Muro(The Wall),2005 (printed 2008). Gelatin silver prints with applied presstype. Purchased with funds from the Dorius-Spofford Fund for the Study of Civil Liberties and Freedom of Expression.

    The prints Jackie and Steve showed me were made in 2006 with expired photo paper and chemistry in the artist’s bedroom/darkroom (black and white photography supplies are difficult to obtain in Cuba). The circumstances under which the photographs were printed are important to the meaning of the work: the economic realities of making art in Cuba often require a make-shift ingenuity to successfully realize projects that would be easier accomplished outside the country. The use of expired materials also contributes to the grainy texture of Hernández Santos’s images and the relative lack of contrast, which heightens the sense of people emerging from the darkness. The artist printed three more editions (also on expired paper, but with fresh chemistry), one of which was acquired by SCMA in 2010.

    El Murowill be on view at SCMA from September 2 -November 20 which will coincide with a residency by the artist at Hampshire College (dates TBA).


  • Monday, October 10, 2011

    What about this drawing intrigues you?

    What about this drawing intrigues you?

    Help SCMA improve our interpretive labels!

    The goal of interpretive labels is to give visitors information about works of art. The problem, of course, is that not everyone is interested in the same thing.

    What do YOU want to know? Here’s your chance to share your ideas and help us create more effective and interesting labels.

    What questions do you have about this drawing?

    What is the first thing you notice?

    What words come to mind when looking at this drawing?

    What function do you imagine this drawing may have had?

    Please record your questions, comments, ideas, or observations in the comments section. You can use the questions we’ve provided or formulate your own: all observations are welcome.

    Your feedback will also help us in planning an exhibition of French and Italian drawings scheduled to be on view during the Fall of 2012.

    We will post some test labels based on your comments and ideas, and hope you will check Paper + People to see (and rate!) our labels for clarity, interest, and effectiveness.

    An installation featuring this drawing will be on view on the Museum’s second floor until November.


  • Tuesday, October 4, 2011

    Odd Couples: Venus vs. Eve

    Albrecht Dürer. German, 1471 – 1528. Adam and Eve,1504. Engraving printed in black on antique laid paper. Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Murray Seasongood (Agnes Senior, class of 1911). SC 1983:20-4. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    Marcantonio Raimondi. Italian, ca. 1480 – ca. 1535. Venus and Adonis,n.d. Engraving on paper. Purchased. SC 1940:16-1. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    The Cunningham Center harbors a wonderful collection of old master prints that is especially strong in the area of Northern European Renaissance works.  One of the eye-opening experiences you can have when working with old master prints is uncovering their insights into the history and philosophy of a past culture.

    The portability of prints in the early Renaissance made them the perfect medium to propagate cultural beliefs, as well as subjects and trends in art.  Prints travelled easily and were relatively affordable, enabling a cross-pollination of art and ideas between northern and southern Europe.  Relatively egoless, printmakers of the early fifteenth century readily shared with and copied works from other artists. One such well-known and respected copyist was Marcantonio Raimondi, considered an important innovator in the history of Italian printmaking.  While most Italian printmakers of the time copied directly from known painted works, Raimondi was also famous for his free interpretations of works by other artists.

    Raimondi’s Venus and Adonisis a fascinating example of this practice.  Raimondi re-works portions of Adam and Eve,an engraving by the famous German artist Albrecht Dürer. In Venus and Adonis,Raimondi depicts a nude man and woman situated in a landscape composed similarly to Dürer’s in Adam and Eve,and directly copies Dürer’s lazy-eyed stag, which appears in both prints from behind a centrally located skinny tree.

    Detail from Adam and Eve

    Detail from Venus and Adonis

    In a way, these iconographic borrowings transform Raimondi’s Venus and Adonisinto a southern “pagan” equivalent to Dürer’s northern Christian Adam and Eve.

    The correlation between Adam and Eveand Venus and Adonisis not as farfetched as it may seem at first glance. In Ovid’s story of Venus and Adonisit is Venus who actively seduces Adonis. Often portrayed as a manipulative seductress, Venus’s attributes were easily transposed onto the biblical Eve, who, according to Saint Augustine (354 – 430), probably the most influential Christian theologian of all time, used her womanly charms to entice the innocent Adam into sin, ultimately leading to the Fall of mankind.

    That Eve used her womanly charm to achieve this feat leads us to an interesting detail that connects the two stories in these prints even further. In Raimondi’s print, Adonis is holding Venus’s breast. The breast is easily confused in this context with the seductive round apple Eve offers to Adam, a correlation that has been made in other works of art.

    Hans Baldung Grien. German, 1484/85-1545. Adam and Eve,1511. Chiaroscuro woodcut. Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington. 1943.3.907

    Comparing these two works by Raimondi and Dürer reveals how artists of the time made interpretive choices to convey cultural and religious ideas, in this case regarding the cunning and destructive sexual power of women—an idea that had currency in both northern and southern Europe, and that unfortunately still resonates in our time.