My name is Meghan Park, and I’m an intern in the Education Department here at the NMAfA. I’ll be contributing to this blog with thoughts and doings from an Education angle as Artists in Dialogue 2 progresses!
Today I visited the gallery for the first time since installation of Artists in Dialogue 2 began. While I’d been told, and saw from this blog, that the pieces being installed were being done on a grand scale, I was not prepared for the fully consuming experience of being in the gallery space. Walking into the gallery was a sensory feast. Initially, my eyes didn’t even know which way to look. The twists and turns, the textures and shades, the rough edges and dark scorch marks provided so much visual interest, it would have been easy to stand in one spot and stare for a very long time. At the same moment that my mind was attempting to process the incredibly surreal images of this convoluted wooden entity and charred outlines, my nose was filled with a scent that was powerfully earthy. The wood on the piece, as well as laid out in strips on the floor and soaking in a wooden crate-turned-bathtub, has a distinct smell that brings to mind forests, construction sites, and rain. Meanwhile, the piercing sounds of staplers and nail guns provided the soundtrack and in order to explore every nook and cranny of these fascinating artworks, I found myself walking in circles, stooping, squinting, and cocking my head at all angles. The nature of the art forced me to physically engage with it in order to satisfy my curiosity about it, and so my whole body became involved in the process of learning about what was in front of me.
It is exactly this type of absorbing experience that we at the museum and in the Education department are hoping to inspire. The mission of the Smithsonian affords us wonderful opportunities to go beyond the surface of the art and investigate the physical, intellectual, emotional and personal experience of encountering artwork like this in the context of a museum space. With that in mind, I have been developing a set of Thought Questions to be used in various aspects of this exhibition. Here they are:
What common themes do you see between Henrique’s and Sandile’s works? Think about reclaimed materials, social and political commentary, nature and the environment. Where and how are these themes reflected in their works?
Do you feel the processes involved, like burning, reclaiming, bending and breaking, are as meaningful as the finished pieces themselves?
How does the large scale of Henrique and Sandile’s work affect your physical and visual experience of being in the gallery?
Sandile Zulu lived through the apartheid era in South Africa. Is this relevant to the way you interpret his artwork?
Henrique Oliveira frequently passes by the favelas, or slums, in Sao Paolo and uses old fencing from these neighborhoods in his artwork. Do you think he is making a statement by choosing this material? If so, what?
What, if any, aspects of Henrique’s works feel specifically Brazilian to you? What, if any, aspects of Sandile’s feel specifically African?
Do Henrique’s and Sandile’s pieces challenge any ideas or convictions your previously had about what art is, how it is created, and what it means?
Exhibitions like this one hope to spark your curiosity. What additional commentary, interpretations, or voices do you want to hear? What would you add to the conversation?
Perhaps these questions will help to spark some hearty discussions and provoke some challenging debates! This installation should that get us all thinking, looking, smelling, feeling, and talking.