By Alex Withers ’21
This interactive guide is for adults seeking to engage more deeply with the exhibition, either individually or in dialogue with others. The activities and discussion questions below can be used while browsing the both the physical and online exhibition.
Here are a few questions to consider before viewing the exhibition:
- Can you name a Black woman visual artist?
- Can you think of an artwork you saw in a museum that depicted a Black woman?
- In what forms of media do you usually encounter Black women? Are they the creators or represented by others?
- In what forms of media do you rarely see Black women represented?
The following activities are inspired by different thematic sections in the exhibition. You are encouraged to do the activity BEFORE analyzing the key artwork or reading the exhibition labels. This format will help to enhance your engagement with the exhibition’s themes and narrative.
Patterns of Visibility
What happens when we attach meaning to people?
When exploring the exhibition, keep in mind how the artist tells the story of their subject, what they try to convey, and what they potentially leave out.
- Look at a photograph that you took of a close friend of family member. What does the image tell you about who they are as a person, their personality, and/or their identity?
- Find a different photograph of the same person. Does the second image provide a different or similar understanding of the person, their personality, and/or their identity?
If you are visiting with a companion:
- Pull up a photograph of yourself and ask your companion what they think the image says about you
- Now pull up a picture of someone that your companion does not know and ask them to guess what that person represents
- How do your created stories compare to the reality of the person’s character and/or identity?
Think about the last time someone took photographs of you. What was your relationship to that person? Would you feel comfortable with someone making a portrait of you while nude? What questions or concerns come to mind in that situation?
After viewing the pieces in this section, think about the following questions:
- What are the first words that come to mind to describe the women in William Witt’s Nude in Leather Chair and Barkley Hendrick’s Sister Lucas?
- Who are the figures looking at?
- What is the effect of color in each of the works?
Now have a look at Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538):
- What are the first words that come to mind to describe the woman in this painting?
- All three of these pieces show nude women. How do their representations differ? Think of how they are posed, how they look at us, and how their skin is rendered.
Force of Labor
Think about an influential woman in your life, perhaps a mother, sister, grandmother, or aunt. Think about creating a portrait of this woman using four different materials along with paint. What materials would you use to create a portrait of her?
Instructions for home activity:
Find some used objects around your home that best reflect the woman you would like to depict. Now try to arrange these objects to create a portrait of this woman. This is hard and that is okay! The important part is to think about physical materials and certain ideas or memories it can represent and how we can show those through artistic expression.
African American women have quilted as early as the antebellum period. Their quilts served multiple functions ranging from storytelling, practical use, and an art form. Quiltmaking is a practice often passed down through generations.
Instructions for Small Quilt:
Find some pieces of cloth around your house, enough to cut eight 4×4 in. squares. If you have quilting materials, that is fine to use as well. Think of a few designs you would like to stitch on each square. Your designs can be aesthetically inspired or based on something meaningful. Stich together four squares to make a larger square; repeat with the remaining 4×4 in. squares. Stuff with quilt batting to make a small quilt.
Carrie Mae Weems reminds us to think about the presence of race in everyday objects, particularly in connection to the commodification of Black bodies.
Look around your kitchen for food items. Can you find any items that feature a person on the brand or logo? What figures are particularly noticeable? How has the brand indicated the race or ethnicity of the person presented? How are they depicted? Why do you think the brand made that choice?
Reflect on and write responses to the following prompts:
- Was there something that you learned today that you had not thought about before?
- Was there a specific piece that really spoke to you?
- Was there a particular piece that challenged you or any initial assumptions?
The last thing we encourage you to do is to visit other works of art at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and other museum institutions? How is race and gender portrayed in their exhibitions, and specifically, how are Black women represented?
We hope you enjoyed engaging with this exhibition, and encourage you to share your thoughts with family, friends and colleagues to bring these important themes to as wide an audience as possible.