REVIEW: The Draft

I was first introduced to The Draft exhibition by African-Canadian artist Esmaa Mohamoud just around a year ago.  I was far from the familiar, quaint Ann Arbor, in the bustling international hub entirely different country to be precise!  While that statement exaggerates what was essentially a weekend jaunt to Toronto, there is no exaggeration when describing how impressive this series of work was when I first saw it.  Thankfully our campus was bestowed the privilege earlier this fall to host Mohamoud’s amazing series of work, and I was eager to compare my experience viewing it in a local setting to how it was displayed at the prestigious AGO in Toronto.

When I first arrived, although the gallery door was firmly locked, I was officially within the 10am-5pm time period that the gallery should be open to the public.  Thankfully after quickly asking the front office about gallery they were more than willing to unlock it for me, so don’t be discouraged if you find yourself in a similar position.

The pieces were spread out between two rooms, with the first room being a dedicated space to show the exhibit, complete with both  various sculptures and photographs. The second being a conference room with three of the large scale photographs hanging on the wall. The space in the first room was very well utilized, with a low sculpture placed in the middle activating and working in harmony with the pieces around the room. On the other hand, while the large-scale photography works certainly elevated the conference room they were hanging in, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed at how these meaningful photographs felt relegated to the same level as the generic abstract paintings used to spice up mid-tier hotels.

 

While I wouldn’t have guessed many of Mohamoud’s intentions with each piece without reading the description, her passion for basketball shines through in the way she handles this series.  As for what I did glean from the description posted outside, the series meant to explore themes of “gender, race, empowerment and disillusionment” within the world of basketball. The white, deflated basketballs in the main sculpture are meant to represent the 30 NBA draft picks every year and the rusted chain hoop is meant to “suggest the weird allure and enmeshment of the past.”  The photos of men in basketball jerseys and large ballroom-esque hoop skirts is a representation of Mohamoud’s complex feelings growing up as a girl immersed and in love with what was considered a “men’s sport,” and I also argue could be a statement on perceived masculinity in today’s sports world as well.

When the work was displayed in the AGO in Toronto, Mohamoud had the original models from the photographs in the series wear the same outfits and perform in the space.  While I was not able to attend the performance itself, I did get a chance to see the dress in person, which we were not able to display here at UM. I found this to be truly unfortunate as the dress was, by far my favorite part of her work.  It’s sheer size and volume are unable to be captured by the cropped photographs shown in the exhibit. Below is an image of the models wearing the dresses so viewers can get an idea of what they were like. While I would have loved to see one of the dresses on display in conjunction with the other pieces, I know that there were probably a long list of complications that kept from UM being able to do so, and the gallery space itself would have nearly been dominated by the dress’s physical size and presence even if it was somehow able to be displayed.

The Gallery is often rotating new and exciting exhibits, available right on campus free to students and the general public alike. The exhibit is the first door to your left upon entering the South Thayer building, and the building itself is directly across the street from the MLB and North Quad. Be sure to check out the upcoming exhibition as well, as the gallery is constantly rotating shows. I highly recommend taking the five to ten minutes that it takes to hop into the gallery any any day you need a quick artistic pick-me-up or shot of inspiration while walking around campus. 

REVIEW: RC Student Studio Arts Invitational Opening Reception

On a busy Friday the 13th, the Residential College’s art gallery opened its doors to show off several lucky students’ work. Granted, this exhibition is invitational and students were encouraged to drop off their works by their own hands, but we’re all pretty lucky to have this opportunity. All work from this exhibition is done by students taking RC studio arts courses and who have elected to show some of their work: ceramics, printmaking, sculpture, photography, and drawing. Individual works are not labeled, though a placard listing each contributing student rests among the artwork.

Even after four years at UM and several classes in East Quad, I’ve somehow never been inside this small gallery. It felt roomier than I expected, in a way that maximized the intimacy of the space. While I roamed around alongside a few other students, I still felt that I had plenty of time and space to admire the art on display.

Prints and drawings color the long wall and give it life. Several pieces were more political than others, though holistically mixing textures and adding to said life. A piece with a person stretching to reach their foot says “Let me live” beside a different piece shouting “The first pride was a riot” in stark contrast; a piece with an image of a gun and “Never again” sits above one of a mountain. I liked seeing how the creative minds of classmates look beside each other and how the individual pieces work into the whole. Despite so many different approaches, it all worked so well together.

From there, the gallery moves into sculpture and ceramics. A series of patterned blocks make a nice juxtaposition with a smooth and more organic-looking shape. Surrounding it, wire sculptures make shadows on the walls, reminding me of various works by Alexander Calder and their placements in other galleries. Mixed-media sculptures rest in the middle of the room: one being a sculpted human heart held up by wires attached to a three-dimensional frame.

Opposite the prints, ceramic vases and series give the walls texture among another color print and several black and white photos. I especially liked the glaze techniques on the smooth vases and the patterns that the artists were able to create — and I really loved the leaf patterns on one of them, with 3D ceramic leaves crawling around its rim. It was calming to view.

One of the walls of this gallery is a large window, so people can glance at art while walking past. Between that window and the rest of the gallery, exhibition space was definitely maximized by adding other walls. I liked this because of the chance given to see work during its closing hours: different types of work are displayed together, ceramic and photo in particular, giving passersby a glimpse into what the rest of the gallery has to offer.

My own work is on display as well (photos and poems teamed together). I’m taking the black and white photography course this semester, so I recognized some of the photos and series of photos from my peers. I haven’t been able to see the other section’s photos until this exhibit, and I enjoyed seeing what they’ve been coming up with for certain projects. Their displays both juxtaposed and mirrored the prints coloring the opposite wall: several different artists with different approaches/subjects adding to one array that still works holistically.

Part of me wished that each piece was individually labeled with titles and/or artist statements so I could see what some of the artists had conceptualized, but I also liked that they stood alone. This element truly added to the idea that art can have as many meanings as people who see it, and sometimes it’s fun to make your own thoughts separate from what the artist wants you to think.

This exhibition of student work is on display until the April 27th, so you have plenty of time to go see these wonderful pieces! The gallery is always free, and open M-F from 10am-5pm. If you’d like to one day have your work shown in an exhibit like this, consider taking an RC studio arts course. Some seats are open to non-RC students.

And, for those who also have their work exhibited — truly great work! I hope you’re as excited as I am to have something original shown in a nice gallery space.

PREVIEW: RC Student Studio Arts Invitational Opening Reception

Maybe you’ve been taking studio art classes in the Residential College, or maybe you have friends (such as yours truly) who have, or maybe you’ll be around East Quad at some point this month with art on the mind. Maybe you’ve been itching to see student photography, ceramics, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture all in the same little space.

Lucky for you, the RC Art Gallery will be full of student work from various RCARTS courses from the 13th-27th of April, completely free to browse. The gallery and student exhibition will open with a reception on Friday, the 13th of April from 4-6pm — also free and with refreshments! The gallery is just to the right of the East University entrance when you first walk in and is usually open M-F 10am-5pm, special exception for this event.

Date: Friday, April 13th, 2018
Time: 4-6pm
Location: East Quad’s RC Art Gallery

*Featured image credit: “Date Night” by Henry Schreibman

REVIEW: Stamps Speaker Series- Hank Willis Thomas

Prior to tonight’s lecture I knew little about Hank Willis Thomas aside from the fact I had seen and been particularly struck by one of his pieces in the Detroit Institute of Art.  I had no idea what a treat that night would be.

When Thomas walked out onto stage in a still brightly lit theater, phone clutched in hand, I’m sure many of us were unsure what to think. He said he then wanted us to start off the night with a collaborative project, to take a picture of a stranger or friend sitting nearby and post it on social media with the hashtag “#thetruthisIloveyou.”  You can find a smattering of these photos on his twitter account here.   This immediately set the tone for the overall optimistic and hopeful presentation, despite the dark subject matter.

Hank Willis Thomas and his Mother

After this brief activity, the lights were dimmed and Thomas started his presentation by introducing the audience to his mother, a talented photographer herself.  He told us about how his mother was once told by a college professor that she, as a woman, was taking up the space of a “good man.”  She carried those words with her for the rest of her life, but in spite of that professor, she has gone on to publish books well into the double digits and is currently a professor at NYU.

He then transitioned smoothly into talking about his own development as an artist.  Thomas said that he had not originally planned to become an artist, but rather fell into the role after his close cousin was murdered in 2000.  Finding himself lacking motivation and drive, Thomas eventually found his way into the artistic field.

An image from a sweater ad

He then took us chronologically through the various pieces and series that he has done. He began to talk about his fascination with framing, and how the theme of frames showed up in many of his college works.  He also produced the B(r)anded Series in which he explored the African-American male body in relation to popular brands and advertisements.   He was particularly fascinated with taking advertisement and stripping away all of the words and identifying information to let the images speak for themselves.  He showed us the various depictions of women throughout the last century, first showing the image and then making his audience guess what the ad was actually for.  It was an eye-opening and sometimes chilling experience.

 

He then talked about this idea of reformatting images and advertisements so that they can be viewed in a new way.   He would find photos that particularly resonated with him, often of apartheid South Africa, and then find a different way to frame those events, often through cast sculptures where only parts of the original photograph will be shown, leaving the viewer to fill in the rest of the information.

 

Lastly, he finished up the speech by showing some of the video recording from people across the globe for the  “The Truth Is” traveling project.  This project involved a recording booth shaped like a giant speech bubble that simply says “truth” that was then placed in high traffic areas. Civilians were invited into the booth to record a short video telling what they believed “the truth is.”  One of the most touching and heart wrenching videos, especially because of the recent developments in the news, was of a little boy not even 8 years old who wanted to share the truth that Muslims, like him and his family, were good, peaceful people.

One of the most inspiring things about his presentation, was how captivating of a speaker Thomas managed to be.  He managed to be calm and yet passionate at the same time, providing a wonderful and entertaining balance that still remained informative.

When Thomas finally walked off the stage, there were whoops and cheers scattered among the fervent applause, making this the warmest and most enthusiastic sendoff of any speaker I’ve seen here yet. True to this reception, the Q&A session was the most well attended that I had seen so far, while still remaining fairly small and intimate in the Michigan Theater’s annex. Thomas got to answer questions ranging from his work, to his history as an artist, to his political views.

You can find out more information about Hank Willis Thomas at his website. The STAMPS speaker series is free to the public and is offered every Thursday at 5:10 at the Michigan Theater.  You can find a full list of the upcoming speakers here. 

Photo Sources- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5