There are only a few days left for the public to see the “Us Them We | Race Ethnicity Identity” at the Worcester Art Museum, Toby Sisson feels he has achieved a personal goal. Professor Clark, director of the studio art program and co-curator of the exhibition wanted to show students that they can find a universal message in art despite differences in race, gender or nationality.
“I had always hoped that students would see works of art created by a diverse number of artists who did not necessarily share their lived experience or racial or ethnic identity and would be able to identify with the ideas contained in these works. “, she says. “It was a great opportunity for the students to explore their own identity and how it related to the ideas expressed by people they thought were different from them, to discover how much they had in common.”
“Us Them We” is a tiered exhibition that explores how contemporary artists since the mid-1970s have used devices such as text, juxtaposition, motif and seriality to explore sociopolitical concepts in their work. . Sisson and Nancy Burns, Stoddard Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Worcester Art Museum, co-curated the exhibition and collaborated on Sisson’s Spring 2021 course on Contemporary Directions.
The exhibit opened in February and Sisson encourages the community to visit before it closes on June 16 this Sunday. It features photographs, prints, paintings and sculptures by dozens of artists as well as a tandem exhibition featuring the works of 11 students from the Contemporary Directions course.
As the students explored their concept of identity, Sisson had an epiphany.
“It is assumed that the way we solve problems, arrive at our ideas or draw conclusions is probably similar for many people. But one of my revelations was that my students were forming their sense of self and identity in a somewhat different way than mine,” she says. “I learned to think more deeply about how people develop their identity formation and how that can change and evolve over time.”
Sisson led tours of the exhibit, brought friends and colleagues to see the show, and hosted online events. On June 16, she gives a presentation on the exhibition at the Clark University Black Alumni Association. The virtual event celebrating Juneteenth is free.
Viewers of the exhibit told Sisson they felt inspired to reflect on the intersections of race, gender, ethnicity, language, religion, and political perspectives.
“It gave the audience the opportunity to reflect on different sides of themselves in an illuminating and enriching way,” Sisson said.
The pieces in the exhibit are made up of items ranging from salvaged tools and synthetic hair to more common art materials like oils and photographs.
“The beauty of the exhibit itself was really important,” Sisson says. “I often tell my students that part of the goal of creating artwork is to transform your materials. You want to create ideas that feel like they’re greater than the sum of their parts. »
Anyone visiting the exhibit through Sunday can pick up a booklet containing a Q&A with Sisson and Burns, images of student work and an essay by Kimberly Juanita Brown, a professor at Dartmouth College who studies the links between African American and African Diaspora Literature and Visual Culture Studies. She gave a science talk at the museum earlier this spring.
Sisson says the experience of “Us Them We” is something she will reflect on in future classes.
“I’m always interested in this intersection between my own creative research practice, public and community service, and teaching,” she says. “Anytime you can pull it all together, that’s a win.”