In Case of Fire is striking. Disorienting and surreal, the
black-and-white landscape unfurls into the supernatural. A tree is anchored in
a sea storm, a larger-than-life raven is perched on the remains of a sinking
home, mythical creatures and human figures are scattered against scenes of
Just as the flames and embers of fire possess movement, this linocut—a print carved onto linoleum block—captures the turbulent motion of winds, hills, plateaus, and water swirling in waves across the surface. This fantastical presentation is of an apocalypse. Yet, despite the chaotic and apocalyptic imagery, In Case of Fire feels intuitively familiar. The fragmented images are contained in a single frame, and recall the nature of dreams with their strangely linear order of otherwise disconnected events and forms.
Seattle-based artist Barbara Earl Thomas is a storyteller. Though born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Thomas remains deeply connected to her Southern roots: Thomas’s parents had “left behind family and friends and a history rooted in slavery and sharecropping to take up 1940s war jobs.” As an art student at the University of Washington, Thomas studied under Jacob Lawrence, who remained her close mentor and friend until his passing in 2000.
The composition and dramatic scope of In
Case of Fire is inspired by folklore, myths, Biblical tales, and magical
realism, drawing on the storytelling traditions passed through generations in
Black history. An active figure in writing, arts administration, and public art
commissions, Thomas maintains a social responsibility in her artwork. She
invokes issues of inequity and injustice across communities and writes, “It is
the chaos of living and the grief of our time that compels me, philosophically,
emotionally, and artistically. I am a witness and a chronicler: I create
stories from the apocalypse we live in now and narrate how life goes on in
midst of the chaos.”
The American Alliance of Museums (AAM)
brings together museums across the country—representing more than 35,000
individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate
partners—to share knowledge, best practices, and standards of excellence. Every
year, AAM hosts an Annual Meeting and MuseumExpo, featuring interactive
sessions covering all aspects of the museum field, keynote talks, book
readings, vendor presentations, and parties. Held in a different city every
year, the host city often guides the content and experience of the attendees, especially
when it comes to doing what museum professionals love to do: visit museums.
Well, and eat.
This year’s annual meeting was held May 19–22 in New
Orleans. Here are three reflections from SAM staff on what they learned, experienced,
and ate in NOLA.
David Rue, Public Engagement Associate
Ongoing (and authentic) relationship building is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about the 2019 AAM annual meeting. After connecting with Lauren Zelaya, Brooklyn Museum’s Assistant Curator of Public Programs and Nico Wheadon, Studio Museum Harlem’s former Director of Public Programs and Community Engagement in 2017, we felt a mutual desire to continue a professional relationship of idea-sharing and thought that AAM would be a great opportunity to continue the conversation. In our session, we provided three different institutional perspectives on how to use public and educational programs to implement racial equity work both internally and externally. Getting to know and learn from my co-presenters undoubtedly help me grow as an arts professional. It’s a prime example of how important it is to reach out to those that are doing work that is similar to your own.
Apart from a fun and exciting panel discussion, it was also my first time visiting New Orleans and it’s safe to say I fell in love. The city, the people, the art, and THE FOOD! It felt great representing SAM at such a large conference and in such a beautiful part of the world.
Philip Nadasdy, Associate Director of Public Engagement
Beyond full days of sessions, keynotes, and meetups, one of the distinct benefits of any AAM annual meeting is the opportunity to visit cultural organizations that help comprise the host city’s identity—and there is no city like New Orleans. A more recent addition to the city is the Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum which opened in 2013 with a mission “to promote community empowerment through remembering the past, sharing stories of the present, and planning for the future.”
The museum resides on the corner of a residential street in a six-room house converted into gallery and programming spaces. The Lower Ninth Ward is perhaps most commonly known as the neighborhood hit hardest by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but the Living Museum tells a more comprehensive history of the neighborhood’s geography, people, and culture—while amplifying the ongoing and future community-based efforts to strengthen the lives of people living in the Lower Ninth.
While the museum’s footprint is small, the experience is complex in approach, rigorous in interpretation, and deeply effective. The museum takes the long view of the neighborhood’s history: the geologic and natural ecosystem before land development and industry; Indigenous cultures of the region; colonial beginnings as sugar plantation land; the subsequent growth as a predominantly Black and working-class neighborhood, rich in culture and with an inclination towards resiliency and a do-it-ourselves activism, amidst historically racist and neglectful policymaking and lack of infrastructure investment.
Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are given rightful attention, providing deeper insight into the stories of the residents through oral histories, photographs, art installations, and video that underline the devastation not only of the storm and floods, but of the ongoing systemic forms of oppression and racism that members of the community faced (and continue to confront) as their homes and livelihoods were destroyed.
As in its name, this is a living museum, and while the Lower Ninth’s history is on full display, so too are the ongoing efforts to rebuild and strengthen the community, in which the museum plays an important role through wellness, arts, afterschool programming for youth, and hosting community wealth building opportunities, professional training, and education programming for adults.
In 2012, the city began limiting voyeuristic Hurricane Katrina bus tours of the Lower Ninth, but similar versions continue to operate today. The Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum stands as an antidote to that exploitative version of learning about a place and people—a museum built by and for the community that tells their own stories.
Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations
I arrived in New Orleans the day before sessions began, just as night began to fall. I walked the streets of the French Quarter and posted up at a red-lit oyster bar to experience Gulf oysters; in Seattle it’s all brine and mignonette, there it’s horseradish, hot sauce, and conversation. I was in love with the city already.
Over the next two days, I attended sessions on public policy, crisis communications, and participatory exhibitions. A standout was the conversation-starting keynote by art curator and writer Kimberly Drew. My favorite session was TrendsWatch, the annual forecasting report led by Elizabeth Merritt, Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums. In her work, she identifies what the field needs to be planning for. She identified five trends: truth & trust, blockchain technology, decolonization efforts, homelessness & housing insecurity, and self-care. Phrases that I heard throughout the conference resonated with me and how I approach my work and the work we’re trying to do at SAM: bearing witness, democratic meaning-making, and mission-led social justice stances.
The annual meeting is more than, well, meetings. I also caught a performance by Big Queen Cherice Harrison-Nelson of the Guardians of the Flame and a reading by legendary culinary historian Jessica B. Harris. At the amazing closing night party, I walked through the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which simply astounded me. On view was Vernacular Voices, featuring work by Self-Taught, Outsider and Visionary artists; the paintings of Clementine Hunter were a revelation.
On my final morning, I took a streetcar (no, it wasn’t called Desire) to the New Orleans Museum of Art, where I saw photographs from Rich Frishman’s Ghosts of Segregation series; Will Ryman’s massive gold-painted log cabin America, chronicling the violence of capitalism; and yes, a monumental mural painting by Clementine Hunter.
I fell in love with New Orleans; from the cats in the streets and the live jazz and Sazeracs at Snug Harbor, to the gigantic Gulf oysters and the stunning art and people, it’s a place with a gift for life. I left inspired about the possibilities for cities and for cultural institutions to better people’s lives.
– Rachel Eggers, Manager of Public Relations
Images: David Rue with co-presenters Chayanne Marcano (Studio Museum of Harlem) and Lauren Zelaya (Brooklyn Museum). Lower Ninth Ward Living Museum, photos: Philip Nadasdy. Oyster-getting and gabbing with famed shucker “Stormin” Norman Conerly at Acme Oyster House. Harvesting Gourds near the African House and Wash Day Near Ghana House, Melrose Plantation (1959) by Clementine Hunter at the New Orleans Museum of Art, photos: Rachel Eggers.
As industrialization brought sweeping changes to British life, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and William Holman Hunt formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The young artists were reacting to the traditional training methods of the Royal Academy of Arts, which they regarded to be as formulaic as industrial methods of production. While these works of art may not offend the sensibilities of today’s audiences, they were referred to as “Lamentable and revolting . . .” and as “. . . Monstrously perverse . . .” by their contemporary critics.
Visit SAM through September 8 to see 150 works from the 19th century Britain and consider for yourself what makes art radical.
creates a stunning dialogue between the historical ‘porcelain room’ and our
modern attempt to reckon with the colonialism and institutional racism that
necessitated the creation of these beautiful objects.”
“Obviously, Transforest can’t capture certain things about trees—their smell, the
sound of leaves rustling in the wind, their sense of knowing. But as I stood
underneath it, sweating under all that sun, trying to figure out this
sculpture, I realized I was missing something simple, easily capture-able about
As we continue through summer, a season known for family dinners, picnics, and midnight feasts, food becomes a large figure in our lives. Many are connected to it on an intimate level through memories and desires. Painted on a massive sixty-foot scroll, A Feast (2001) by Li Jin dramatizes this deeply important role that food plays in everyday life, specifically in Chinese life and culture. The scroll begins and ends with an essay in light ink calligraphy, written by the artist’s friend, detailing the cultural significance of food. He bookends both essay halves with the declaration that you must “eat as much as you can.”
this essay, Li Jin offers a sumptuous feast for the eyes with many paintings of
dishes and ingredients. He not only gives us plates of steamed crab,
sandwiches, and hotpot, but he also presents pig and chicken heads with whole
onions and skewers of radish. Combining raw ingredients with more gourmet
dishes, he fashions a work that at once showcases the relationship between the
Chinese people and food alongside a dazzling display of the consumption of
Surrounding these loosely painted images in bold colors, simplified Chinese characters march through the space detailing many different recipes of foods not depicted. Through this unconstrained method of painting, paired with calligraphy, the scroll becomes more alive with action and realism. In the words of the artist, “the scroll could have been lengthened indefinitely. The continuous presentation of food simulates a real feast, where tables can be added to accommodate more dishes.”
Born in 1958 in Tianjin, China, Li Jin’s work has continually evolved as he reflects upon the ways in which people connect to nature and his attempts to represent life in an honest and lifelike manner. His work in A Feast capitalizes upon these enthusiastic and unapologetic qualities as he crafts a world where everyone is invited to the table to join together and eat as much as they can, a philosophy fitting for the possibilities and simple joys of summertime.
saturated color and minute detail, the works sit in bold contrast to the
zeitgeisty minimalism and pastel palettes of the past few years. It’s a rather
refreshing aesthetic twist, and a veritable feast for the eyes.”
An SOS, a lofty reminder, a memento mori: Crosscut’s Brangien
Davis visits Ted Youngs’ new Smoke Season
installation and looks at some other trees in art, including John Grade’s Middle Fork at SAM and the Neukom
Vivarium at the Olympic Sculpture Park.
“They peer up at the tree, which stands parallel to the Space
Needle — one conceived as a beacon of humanity’s bright future, the other
an urgent message from the here and now.”
at a collection more freely and greedily than most of us, from odd angles. They
often ferret out neglected or eccentric treasures, highlighting what museums
have but aren’t using; they can also reveal a collection’s weaknesses, its
biases and blind spots.”
Indian Summer, a bucolic scene is
obviously staged. There is a printed mountain backdrop, a cut-out cardboard
deer, fake plants, and Western-themed props strewn across a manicured bed of
Astroturf. The Native artist Wendy Red Star sits poised amid the artificial
flora and fauna. She wears traditional Apsáalooke (Crow) regalia and stares
stoically into the distance.
from the larger photographic series Four
Seasons, which includes Fall, Winter,
and Spring. When I first viewed Indian Summer, I was reminded of bright,
color-saturated storefronts with eerie mannequins and design sets—frozen behind
walls of glass. In Four Seasons, Red
Star plays on the commercialism of Native identity and satirically recalls the
dioramas of Native people exhibited at natural history museums.
Star was raised
on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, and received the Seattle Art
Museum’s Betty Bowen Award in 2016. Through reclamatory, unsettling, and
playfully witty art that is also collaborative and intergenerational, Red Star
dismantles the narratives of Natives by white photographers, archives, and
media: depictions that remove Native agency and preserve stereotypes of Natives
as stoic, passive, and distant.
In an interview with SAM, Red Star reflected on her role as an artist and cultural archivist: “Native voices have historically been silenced, unable to explain or even place our own narrative within the larger society. As a Native person I have witnessed the lack of inclusion for Native artists in particular in the contemporary art world, many of whom struggle for inclusion in important exhibitions.”
“Also troubling is a prevailing but antiquated expectation of what Native art should be, whether from the 19th century or the 21st. This leaves many Native artists feeling segregated into categories of “traditional” work and without a place in the contemporary art world. I consider my practice and the act of annotating, revealing, and erasure a reclamation of my own history and identity. The act is so much more than a rejection of the colonial gaze, it is a deliberate act to take authority and rewrite histories in humanist way.”
week, fireworks, barbecues, patriotic fanfare, and heavy traffic usher in
another 4th of July holiday. Prior to yesterday’s processions at the White
House, Trump had tweeted “It will be the show of a lifetime!” ensuring more
tanks and military planes. In the wake of continued injustices toward
immigrants in this country, it remains precisely that: a show. Ongoing
histories of racism, genocide, nativism, and imperialism get to masquerade as
nationalism under a venerating sheen of red-white-and-blue. On the cultural
archive of Native experience and presence, Wendy Red Star removes and probes
these veneers of unaccountable histories—dismantling and rewriting false
colonial narratives to engage Native voices past, present, and future.
This June, the Ann P. Wyckoff Education Resource Center celebrated its one year anniversary at SAM! We’re proud to have had a fantastic first year here in our brand new space and to have gotten to know our great downtown community.
Formerly the Teacher Resource Center at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Education Resource Center (ERC) is a free lending library at SAM. Our goal is to spark creative learning by providing inclusive and engaging resources for learners of all ages. Anyone is welcome to visit and check out our art books, picture books, DVDs, graphic novels, curriculum guides, and Family Fun resources for free to take home with them. In the last year teachers, families with young children, students, community leaders, and more have taken advantage of this fun opportunity.
We’ve welcomed educators into the museum during Educator Preview nights, where they can catch a first glimpse of the latest exhibitions, enjoy food and drinks, and see all of the educational resources the museum has to offer. Museum visitors have enjoyed our new family reading area, where they can stretch out and take a break to read, relax, and play. We are really encouraged by the enthusiastic response to our first ever Family Fun Storytime event. This exciting new program is full of songs, dance, and art as we travel to the galleries to read a story together. During our last storytime, we danced along with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s Trapsprung, read some brilliant books, and created our very own drums using tin cans and balloons.
Family Fun Story Time, June 2019
We also launched a few other new programs with families in mind! For families looking for a fun self-guided activity in the galleries, we created our Gallery Reads, which pair a children’s book with a work in the galleries and offer looking questions to encourage creativity and critical thinking. Our new Family Fun Packs will be released later this year and will take you on a longer art adventure where you can make, read, move, and play while connecting to art.
Family Fun Story Time, June 2019
We plan to continue to provide even more books, resources, and programs for you to use in the classroom or at home. So whether you are searching for ways to integrate art into your classroom, the latest storytime books, a documentary on your favorite artist, or a space to relax with your children when you visit the museum, we look forward to welcoming you to the ERC.
The Education Resource Center is open to the public Wednesdays through Saturdays 10 am–2 pm. Everyone is welcome to become a borrower and check out materials from our extensive collection for free. Please with questions!
– Jordyn Richey, Wyckoff Education Resource Center Librarian and Educator
Images: Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photos: Robert Wade
As the first official week of summer comes to a close, a
palpable shift has taken place. With longer days and later nights, more time is
already spent outdoors, whether on a porch, patio, or campground. Personally,
summer often equates with more time spent looking at the night sky, along with
a whole host of other associations—certain smells, foods, activities, and
In untitled (cosmos) by
William Cordova, a fragmented expanse of black space is peppered with stars and
planets, evoking the universe. Closer inspection reveals that among these
celestial bodies are also archaeological artifacts and other suspended objects.
Functioning then as a fictional astronomical and astrological map, it
references the relationship that ancient cultures, such as the Inca, had with
the cosmos—determining, or at least heavily informing, human events and
Like the act of observing the night sky, the fragility and
fugitive nature of this photographic map—held together by mere electrical and
scotch tape—serves to remind us of our own ephemerality, and perhaps even make
space for the contemplation of time and space, spirituality and identity.
Born in Lima, Peru, Cordova moved to Miami at an early age. He later lived in Houston, Chicago, and New York, but Peruvian cosmology, Andean architecture, and his personal history continued—and continue—to inform his work. Often working with found and discarded materials, Cordova’s varied and multimedia practice also means to address the economies of certain materials and objects, “challenging the functionality of art as a purely aesthetic pursuit.”
– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection & Provenance Associate
“I’ll keep saying the same thing I’ve said for years: Any time you have a
concentration of talent, wealth, innovation and quality of life, you’ve got all
the ingredients for a renaissance, of a revolution, of a movement. But somehow,
we just haven’t been mixing them right.”
“Art and violence
have for an eternity held a strong narrative grip with each other … To have
the Rumors of War sculpture
presented in such a context lays bare the scope and scale of the project in its
conceit to expose the beautiful and terrible potentiality of art to sculpt the
language of domination.”