The BMA is home to an internationally renowned collection of 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art – distinguished by the largest collection of works by Matisse in the world – plus, dynamic exhibitions, scenic sculpture gardens, and exciting programs throughout the year.
Ebony G. Patterson’s immersive installation in the Berman Textile gallery memorializes children killed in violent crimes, while asking what it means that society treats some bodies as valuable and others as expendable.
At the center of the exhibition is …and babies too…, a multi-media work started in 2015 by the artist working in collaboration with students at the Temple Contemporary at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. Below BMA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Cecilia Wichmann discusses the process behind the work with Robert Blackson, Tyler School of Art’s Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs.
CW: As is typical of Patterson’s work, ...and babies too… is loaded with imagery and glittering materials. Sitting on top of the tapestry are 18 pairs of cast glass shoes, each embellished by hand. Are there particular details in the work that stick with you, that carry particular stories or resonate in your memory of developing the work?
RB: Ebony transforms raw materials into aesthetic delight. When those shoes first came out of the kiln they were extremely rough and covered in plaster. Through a range of techniques and eventually the application of personal details those lumpen glass shoes became the shadow of souls lost to us through unspeakable violence. Few artists possess the evocative potential required to draw so much emotion from such a limited palette of materials.
CW: Patterson made …and babies too… as a specific response to the murders of nine girls and nine boys in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2015, and also more broadly as a reflection on the violence perpetrated against young people marginalized by hierarchies of race, class, gender expectations, and colonial power structures. What kinds of conversations—around violence, innocence, justice, or other themes—unfolded among students in the Temple Contemporary community in the process of developing this work?
RB: Temple Contemporary at the Tyler School of Art has a pedagogical mission that extends beyond the simple commissioning of new work by renowned artists. Embedded within the Tyler School of Art we equally serve our students by connecting them with the underlining interests and contexts that drive our visiting artists. Ebony generously led this dialogue by guiding a deep conversation about …and babies too… with a selection of our students and delivering an artist talk of her recent work for the entire school.
CW: The creative process can be unpredictable. Were there surprising or unexpected dimensions during the project? How did the resulting artwork shift assumptions and expectations that may have been in play at the outset of the process?
RB: The completion of …and babies too… took over a year and took many twists and turns. For example, Tyler purchased a digital Jacquard loom specifically to make …and babies too… However, despite this new equipment, we still weren’t able to create the specific effect Ebony had been hoping for and in the end we ended up making the …and babies too…’s tapestry by special ordering it from Walmart. I feel as though the work continues to be developed. The way it is exhibited now at the BMA, on a table, is different from how it was first shown at Temple Contemporary. This is one of the reasons I am drawn to Ebony’s practice—the exhibition, for her, is not a conclusion but, in fact, a continuation of her creative process.
Ebony G. Patterson: …for little whispers… is on view through April 7, 2019.
Ebony G. Patterson. …and babies too…2016-2018. Mixed media jacquard woven tapestry with digitally-embroidered appliques, hand-embellished cast glass shoes, and toys mounted on custom wood table. Made in collaboration with Temple Contemporary at Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia. Courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago
In February of 1939, the Baltimore Museum of Art exhibited 116 works by 29 black artists. Contemporary Negro Art, co-organized by Harlem Renaissance philosopher Alain Locke and the Harmon Foundation, became one of the first exhibitions at a major American art institution to exclusively display the work of black artists, including Hale Woodruff, Jacob Lawrence, and Dox Thrash.
The BMA revisited the landmark exhibition this summer with 1939: Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA, showcasing work by seven of the 29 artists included in the original show. While the exhibition is indeed a celebration, the BMA isn’t historically immune to racial discrimination. Morgan Dowty, BMA Curatorial Assistant for Prints, Drawings and Photographs—and the exhibition’s curator—will sit down with Dr. Bridget Cooks, author of Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum, to dive into the story behind 1939 and examine contemporary representations of black art.
I’m excited to talk with Dr. Bridget Cooks because she’s really put Contemporary Negro Art in the context of a larger history of predominately white institutions exhibiting black artists from the 1930s to the present day. Her book, Exhibiting Blackness, delves into several instances when black artists have been positioned in terms of their identity, and highlights key problems with this model of exhibition. Some of the issues that came up in 1939 are the same that we consider today when artists are grouped in exhibition based on race. Having done deep digging myself into this very local history at the BMA, I’m curious to discuss how the show fits into a larger trajectory of American institutions.
What do you hope visitors will take away from this conversation?
I think it is important to consider the BMA’s Contemporary Negro Art within a national context and an expanded sense of time—not just in the 1930s when these exhibitions of black artists are situated in segregation-era America and just starting to enter white institutions. I hope to examine how institutions and individuals play a role in telling these stories, who’s given a platform, and when. It’s also important to consider how this exhibition history carries forward, or how it doesn’t when there are gaps in representation at the BMA and at other institutions. Let’s not make it just a celebration of the fact that the show happened, but really take a critical look at the context. Contemporary Negro Art was an important exhibition, but we need to complicate the narrative, and I think that’s something we’ll do during the discussion.
Exhibiting Black Art at the BMA and Beyond happens Thursday, September 6 from 6pm-7:15pm at the BMA. This conversation is free and open to the public. Learn more.
Every year, the Baltimore Museum of Art teams up with schools around the area to highlight the talented young artists this city has to offer.
Every spring, the BMA hosts the Baltimore City and Baltimore County Public Schools Student Art Exhibitions with work from Baltimore students of all ages. Elementary students on up to seniors in high school are given the special opportunity to have their work displayed in a real art museum.
During my senior year, I was personally chosen to have one of my works showcased in the exhibition, just as I was starting to seriously think about my future and who I wanted to be in college and beyond. Four years later, I’m now an intern at the BMA and about to graduate from Towson University with an Art and Design Major and an Art History minor. I paint every opportunity I can and love being an artist.
I wasn’t, however, always so sure about which direction I wanted my life to head towards. I was always drawn to art and painting but never had the confidence in myself that I could make a career out of it. Having my painting chosen to be in a real exhibition at a respected art museum really helped boost my self-esteem and let me envision myself as a working artist. For one of the first times, I truly believed in myself and my ability to paint. I know through my own experience and struggles that this is such an important and vital feeling for a young student to have. This show is particularly special because kids of all ages and teenagers can seriously struggle with their self-image and identity.
Even if a student doesn’t decide to continue with art, gaining confidence in their skills and being able to proudly display their work has long-term benefits. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, studies have shown that students who have early and consistent access to the arts perform better academically and have better workforce opportunities. This is especially true for at-risk youth from a low socioeconomic background.
I’m so happy to be able to intern at a museum that realizes the importance art has on the lives of children and chooses every year to show them their work is just as significant and beautiful as any other piece of art in the museum.
Years after having my own art displayed in this exhibition, I have grown significantly as an artist and a painter and have chosen to pursue a career working in art museums. I’m excited to work at institutions that are committed to bringing art and education to the community around them, and the BMA is a great model for this commitment. The Baltimore City and Baltimore County Public Schools Student Art Exhibition is just one example of this commitment that personally had a significant impact on me. There is no doubt in my mind that this year it will also have an impact on another young student and hopefully inspire them to find their place in the art world.
Here is the painting that started it all from the 2014 BMA student show:
“Pulling My Hair Out.” 24in x 30in. Oil on canvas.
Here’s what I’ve been up to as a senior in college studying art:
“Caer Iborneith.” 30in x 40 in. Oil on canvas.
“marked by periods of great excitement, euphoria, delusions, or overactivity.” 30in x 40in. Oil and mixed media on canvas.