Art Biz with Liz: UMMA Exhibition Spotlight

It’s quite amazing how, at the University of Michigan, we have several fantastic museums right on campus. One such museum is the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). I like going to the (free!) art museum every so often to see the rotating exhibits, but prior to last week, it had been over a year since I visited the UMMA in person. I had the opportunity to visit the museum with my art class last week, and I enjoyed my visit so much I went again today.

Walking into the Marvin H. Davidson Gallery, my initial impression was that much of the art seemed similar in style and focus. Variations of painted portraits featured a range of white, wealthy individuals staring back at me. The art was part of an exhibit called “Unsettling Histories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism.” One sculpture, Untitled (bird cage, re-lynching) by Tyree Guyton, diverged from the portraits surrounding it. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple birdcage, but the longer I stood in front of it, the more I took away from it.

According to the sculpture’s description, the artist, Tyree Guyton, “frequently uses found objects to explore social and political themes.” Standing on its own, the birdcage is covered in paint and contorted, the metal jutting inwards and outwards in several directions. The movement of the main birdcage is contrasted by the stillness of its stand. At first, I thought it represented being “trapped,” but there could be other interpretations on the use of a birdcage. For example, there is duality in thinking about who was likely to own birdcages and what they represented, such as wealth and aristocracy. I perceived the birdcage to reflect not only the potential wealth of such slaveowners, but their view of slaves as property and less than human. Although not exactly on the topic of lynching and castration, the metal bell, another found object inside the birdcage, again reminded me of slavery. According to sources such as the Louisiana Digital Library, collars with bells might have been used to deter slaves who had previously tried to run away from doing so again. The United States flag, the last object in the birdcage, links the abominable practice to our country and its origins.

While the piece itself is untitled, the description of the art provides context in that it was common to castrate the Black men being lynched. Lynching itself was a horrifying and despicable practice, and castration added a physical attack on Black masculinity. The sculpture’s label also noted that castration was particularly common for those accused of sexually assaulting a white woman, perpetuating stereotypes of Black men being predatory.

This piece isn’t quite as abstract or unclear in meaning as some of other works I saw at UMMA, but there are certain aspects that even after reading the description could be up to interpretation. The purpose of the splatter of colors, for example, is unclear. To me, they reflect a kind of chaotic energy, and the red reminds me of shed blood. Still, even without knowing the information on the sculpture’s label, it’s possible to infer similar symbolism given the exhibition title and the sculpture’s combination of a United States flag, metal bell, and replica human phallus all trapped within the birdcage surrounded by portraits of wealthy white individuals.

This piece is powerful in its reflection on historical events, especially those that pertain to dark parts of our country’s history. My identity has made me privileged in that I cannot even begin to fathom what it is like to experience or fully relate to the themes and history reflected by this art, but the sculpture attracted me to it from both an emotional and intellectual standpoint. One of my first thoughts seeing this piece was, quite honestly, “is that a penis?” I think provoking such responses works in the artist’s favor, engaging the viewer and being upfront with topics that some might consider difficult to acknowledge or discuss

I’m not the only one who was interested in the exhibit, and I won’t be the last. If you’re at all interested, I encourage you to visit the UMMA, whether online or in person, or read more about the “Unsettling Histories” exhibition here.

Study Hal: Week 40 – Calm Campus

Hal had to attend to some business in Ann Arbor, so he made the trip over the weekend! He hasn’t been on campus since last January. When he got there, he was shocked by how quiet it was… Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s because it was a cold Saturday morning in the midst finals season. Whatever the reason, the lack of activity took Hal by surprise.

It seems like a lot of little things have shifted over the past year. It makes sense that campus activity patterns would change like anything else. Still, Hal and I both look forward to the day when north campus, the diag, and the UMMA can be full of people again.

If this is your first time here, welcome! Hal is a graduating senior at U-M, and he’s been studying from home all year. We post updates on Tuesdays, but if you’re itching for more content, check out the backlog on the Study Hal tag!

Art Biz with Liz: Reflecting on my Asian Identity and Dinh Q. Lê’s Interconfined

On Wednesday morning, I woke to news of a hate crime that left 8 murdered in Georgia. As an Asian American, there are plenty of thoughts swirling in my head surrounding the event. In a time when crime targeting Asian Americans has risen given a perceived association with the coronavirus, it’s interesting to tackle what my Asian identity means to me.

The same Wednesday, I also received my weekly email from the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). UMMA brings art straight to my inbox, something that’s been convenient given the pandemic. The subject line #StopAAPIhate caught my attention, and in addition to art, the email contained information about an event and podcast focused on recent anti-Asian and anti-Asian American violence. The art of this week? Dinh Q. Lê’s mixed media piece Interconfined.

Image comprised of three figures with the central figure interwoven between a Buddhist statue and a Christ-like figure in a red robe. The material of the work is cut into strips and is woven together.
Dinh Q. Lê’s Interconfined

The artist, Dinh Q. Lê (Vietnamese name: Lê Quang Đỉnh), was born in 1968. He is most known for his photography and photo-weaving techniques. According to the UMMA website, many of his works refer to the Vietnam War. Concepts and themes of memory and its relationship with the present are also featured. This work, Interconfined, has three figures, with the central figure being interwoven between a Buddhist statue and a Christ-like figure. The central figure is none other than the artist himself.

For Dinh Q. Lê, a Vietnamese American multimedia artist, the piece represents the “struggle of finding one’s identity as an Asian immigrant (represented by the Buddha) in a Western, Eurocentric world (represented by Jesus)” (UMMA Exchange). This is tastefully represented by how the material in the art piece is cut into strips and is woven together. As a mixed Asian American, I’m inclined to consider how the piece represents being torn between two worlds, or stuck in the middle of two cultures. There are also themes of connectivity in play; the central figure is strategically overlapping the figures of Buddha and Jesus Christ, perhaps suggesting how they – or more so, what they both represent – are found within him.

I come from different ethnic backgrounds, with some parts of me more visible than others. They all, however, comprise who I am. I think of my mother, who experiences a divide tenfold as an immigrant, carrying a mixed bag of stories, traditions, and customs. In the US, we are constantly forging new traditions and identities as cultures and people collide, learning from one another and creating a mixing pot that should serve as a a place for liberty and justice for all. I say should, because as the recent hate crimes have demonstrated, we still have a long way to go as a nation. Being Asian is something that often “othered” me in my youth, and just as I began to found my voice in college, I found myself being shut down by a society that still casts me as an outsider. But just as the central figure in Dinh Q. Lê’s work stands strong, so can we. His work could not have popped into my inbox at a better time, and I am glad for a piece that resonates in such a remarkable way.

Looking Forward: This Week at the UMMA + New Interviews Soon

Happy Friday, Arts, Ink readers!

After a brief intermission, we will be back in action next week. I’ve spent this week reaching out to many exciting and diverse student organizations to learn more about how they’re handling the semester, and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far. 

In the meantime, I thought I would spend this week highlighting some events the UMMA is putting on this week that I found especially exciting.

If you’re a fan of spotify collaborative playlists and/or how art and music intersect, check out UMMA’s jukebox. Through that link you can fill out a form to suggest songs that pair with two of the museum’s newest art pieces. As someone who has always enjoyed interdisciplinary work, I found this project very interesting and I’m excited to see the results!

The UMMA is also putting together a virtual event called “The Adjacent Possible” on Feb. 18th at 8PM. They describe it as “[mixing] music performance, storytelling, and technology that converts the audience into an orchestra. The project culminates in the recording of an orchestral piece – the first and last ever to be performed.” If you need to transport yourself for a little while from the stress of schoolwork or job searches, definitely check it out – it seems like a really unique event. Pre-registration is required, so make sure you confirm ahead of time!

That’s all from me today. Check back next week for an interview with the co-presidents of Relevé – they had some really interesting points to make about the creative process and COVID!

Stay safe!


Looking Forward: APG Presents

Hey arts, ink readers!

Happy Friday! I hope you’ve all had a chance to recharge over the break, whether you celebrated Turkey Day or not. The holidays look a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the best out of them and still find ways to connect to friends and family (albeit virtually). 

This week I had the chance to talk to Katie Lorenz, a member of APG (Arbor Promotion Group) Presents, about how the org is adapting to the year as well as how she views the arts scene on campus acclimating to the health and safety guidelines. Read on to learn more!

Founded in 2018, APG Presents is one of the more recent groups to enter the music scene on campus. They have two main focuses: producing and promoting live events, and helping students in the organization with professional development. In a typical year, they help put on shows at Necto and other venues around campus, bring in speakers from the industry to talk to members of their organization or the larger UofM community, and help with resumes, internship searches, and interview prep. They currently have over 50 members, with leadership opportunities for those interested in learning more hands-on about the industry. 

This year, APG Presents has had to pivot, as all of us have, but they’ve done a great job of maintaining much of their usual programming. They’ve moved their weekly meetings to be virtual, as well as their professional development programs. Their live music events have also been moved virtual, but have been able to shift to include things like artist Q&As as well. Katie explained that, although it’s obviously a bummer that they can’t all be together and produce their normal concerts, there have been bright sides to the changes, too. “Virtual experiences do a great job for [these] events of bringing people to us who might not have been able to, like, fly to us directly, people all across the world… So I think that’s been working in our favor kind of this year.” If you’ve read other posts from Looking Forward, this is a theme that a lot of people have come to notice over the pandemic – the musical theatre department, the Shapiro Design Lab, and now APG Presents. The limitations of geographical barriers seem to be non-existent now, and it will be interesting to see if that trend continues once things start returning to “normal”. 

I also asked Katie to share her thoughts on the state of the arts on campus right now. She told me that she sees creativity and the

10/1/20 UMMA Ibrahim Mahama Exhibit installation (via UMMA website)

way that arts organizations on campus have expressed themselves during this time as being really interesting – people are finding new ways to commit to their ideas and what they stand for. One example she brought up is the UMMA showing support for the Black Lives Matter Movement. If you’ve walked by the UMMA recently, you may have noticed that half of it is covered in stitched-together canvas sacks. This is by artist Ibrahim Mahama and is meant to “[celebrate] the often-invisible labor of Black and brown people behind global exchange and commerce while acknowledging the troubling histories of colonialism and slavery in the Western world,” (from the UMMA website). Personally, I found this interesting because although I had walked by this installation many times, I didn’t really understand what it was saying. Katie’s comment reminded me that there is always something to uncover about the arts on campus, always something new to experience, and that gives me a lot of hope for the year ahead. 

If you’d like to learn more about APG Presents and stay up-to-date on their future events, be sure to follow their Instagram @APGPresents and their LinkedIn page. If you’re interested in joining the organization, you can email Talia Rizika at

If you wanna read more about the UMMA installation I mentioned, you can check it out here


That’s all from me this week. I hope you have an amazing rest of your week and stay safe! 


A Little Themed Tour in UMMA: What Clothes Tell Us

Exploring UMMA is one of my favorite things to do in my spare time. I enjoy wandering in the quiet and cozy museum, stopping by whichever painting that draws my attention, and trying to appreciate it by looking closely at it and reading the label. However recently, rather than try to learn more about each painting, I found a more interesting thing to do: to look at several paintings together, to compare them and to find the subtle similarities or underlying relationships among them. Today for my little themed tour, I picked four portaits in UMMA, in each of which the costumes of the figures can tell us the story behind the painting itself.

The first painting I’m gonna introduce is Portrait of a Lady by Johann Tischbein, which is located in the European Gallery on the first level. It is a portrait of a well-dressed lady. We can see her elegant blue silk dress with delicate lace cuffs, her resplendent earrings and necklace, her elaborately braided hair and the matching hair ornaments. Although we don’t know her exact identity, but from her costume we can infer that she is a lady from high social class. She is also holding a fan in her right hand, which may give us a clue of the fashion trends back the time she lived. Fans became fashionable decorations for women in 18 centuries and can be seen in many portraits in that period. Ladies used fans not only to cool themselves but also to enhance body languages.

Right next to this portrait is another portrait of a man. Like the lady in the former painting, he is also dressed in a sumptuous way. His red coat and waistcoat seem to be velvet, with rich gold embroideries on them. His powdered wig is also noteworthy. Pamela Reister, one of the curators in UMMA, once told me that the size of the wig could reflect the man’s rank to some extent. She said bigger wig would suggest higher social rank of the wearer, and was also considered to be more fashionable. The identity of the figure is indeed Pierre Bachelier, the director of customs at Lyon, according to the title of this painting. Therefore, the outfit of the figure in this painting can tell us much about his profession and also his social status.

One of the most eye-catching pieces in the apse is Portrait of Maximilien-Sébastien Foy by Baron François Gérard. Maximilien Foy was a French general and statesman. According to the label, Gérard painted this portrait after the death of General Foy, in other words, the painter didn’t have General Foy posing for him as a model but painted this portrait based on his memory. Thus, the choice of the painter to paint the general in French army uniform could be explained as an attempt to emphasize the figure’s identity as a former military leader. His cloak billowing to the wind reminds us of the famous portrait of Napoleon by David, who was shown as confident and ambitious. The medals on his uniform imply the honors he received as a general, who was severely wounded 15 times and eventually died on the battlefield.

Costumes could be deceptive sometimes, too. If you go upstairs and turn right, you would easily spot a portrait on the balcony of a woman in a blue dress. The lady is shown in a elegant position, with her head raised a little bit and his eyes confronting the viewer with confidence and dignity. Her dress doesn’t even look outdated now, which was probably of the highest fashion back the time the painting was made. However, if you are guessing she was a bourgeois woman, you would be surprised to find out that she was actually a working class widow who could find no other jobs but modeling for the painter. She was in poor health and could hardly pay for the medicine or support her two children. The discrepancy between her dress and her actual identity makes this painting more intriguing and thought provoking for the viewer.

Ok. Here ends my special tour of UMMA:) Btw, you are welcomed to come to UMMA After Hours this Friday (which is Oct.15 and I’m gonna be a volunteer, too!). And if you come, don’t forget to check these paintings out!