Africana Studies at the Art Museum
On April 20, 2016, MHCAM hosted “Africana Studies at the Art Museum,” an event organized by Aladrianne Young ’16. An Africana Studies major and a receptionist at the Museum for three years, Aladrianne became interested in representations of diversity in academia and the art world. She conceived of this brilliantly successful event in order to explore issues of racial and gender identity, oppression, and history through artworks drawn almost exclusively from the MHCAM collection. Aladrianne recruited six student presenters to share their research, poetry, and personal anecdotes about works by Faith Ringgold, Kehinde Wiley, Alison Saar, and Shirin Neshat.
Africana Studies at the Art Museum
During my sophomore year at Mount Holyoke College, I began to work as a receptionist at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Through this role, I became aware of the hard work, expertise, and teamwork necessary for the production of exhibitions, workshops, and lectures, which constitute some of the daily operations of the Museum. My exposure to the Museum facilitated my appreciation for art and visual culture, as well as my curiosity to explore the presence of diversity within the art world. As an Africana Studies major, the representation and recognition of diversity within academia and in museums has particular importance to me. On April 20, 2016, I organized the first collaborative event between the MHC Africana Studies Program and MHCAM to present a pop-up exhibition to feature African American artists called “Africana Studies at the Art Museum.”
The event brought together six student presenters: Kimberly Grenade ’16, Natalie Riquelmy ’16, Fatima Cadet-Diaby ’16, Tara Gabriel-Richards ’16, Chrislyn Laurore ’16, and Kymberly Newberry ’16. These women offered their own, deeply personal analysis of selected artworks by Alison Saar, Kehinde Wiley, Faith Ringgold and Shirin Neshat. The presentations were predominantly based on artworks within the Museum’s collection, in order to highlight artists of color represented at MHCAM. The various academic backgrounds of the presenters ranged from disciplines in History, Theatre, Biology, International Relations, Anthropology and Africana Studies, bringing a rich student perspective to the event. Additionally, each presentation uniquely addressed blackness as a subject illustrated by the various artworks.
The student presentations powerfully detailed the complexities that exist with Black marginalization in the United States and abroad. For example, Chrislyn Laurore ‘16, discussed And Women? a 2009 serigraph by Faith Ringgold. Chrislyn highlighted Ringgold’s depiction of the distinct racialized experiences of Black and White women in the United States through the side-by-side portraits of Abigail Adams and Sojourner Truth overwritten with text. While both Adams and Truth were women’s rights activists, Chrislyn explained how the intersectionality of race and gender impacted the struggle for equality faced by Black women, which Ringgold suggests in her work. The inclusion of Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech in this artwork acknowledged blackness as a defining characteristic of the difference in womanhood experienced by Black women in society. Truth’s speech is a favorite of mine that conceptualizes womanism though an assessment of race and gender that Ringgold utilizes in order to differentiate gender inequality through the Black and White experience in the United States.
The event’s audience, made up of students, staff, and professors from the MHC community, were marveled by the poise and knowledge shared by the six student presenters. I am proud and humbled by the intellect of my Mount Holyoke sisters who shared their poetry, independent research, personal anecdotes, and academic interests during their respective presentations. This pop-up exhibition inspired the MHC community to gather and learn about issues of identity, oppression, and history through the lens of African American artwork. I am thankful for the six student presenters, MHCAM staff, and the Africana Studies Program for their constant encouragement and support for this event! The collective work of the event team made Africana Studies at the Art Museum a first year success and laid a foundation for the continued recognition of diverse artists at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum.
-Aladrianne Young ’16