Contributing authors Angelina Chau, Tristan Phan, Maha Sidi, and Alice Vilenski are first-year students at Northeastern University in Boston.
VoCA is pleased to present this blog post in conjunction with Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History, Gloria Sutton’s Spring 2022 Honors Seminar, The Art of Visual Intelligence at Northeastern University. This interdisciplinary course combines the powers of observation (formal description, visual data) with techniques of interpretation to sharpen perceptual awareness allowing students to develop compelling analysis of visual phenomena.
Last month, VoCA Blog published the first part of this interview with curator Abigail Satinsky, which focused on the intent of the artist when creating activist art, in relation to the exhibition Art for the Future: Artists Call and Central American Solidarities (January 20-April 24, 2022) at Tufts University Art Galleries. This second part of the interview delves into the curatorial decisions of the exhibition, focusing on the museum as an institution and the preservation of the artist’s original goals through specific curatorial choices.
Since much of the documentation and ephemera on view in Art for the Future came from personal archives or museum holdings (including the Museum of Modern Art Library), we acknowledge that what was and was not included in the Tufts University Art Galleries had an impact on the story that the art was telling.
Can you talk about presenting this work in a distinctly university setting? Knowing the exhibition can never present a complete view of a solidarity movement made up of many individuals, what aims were made to uphold the original message of Artists Call, especially since the exhibition spans several decades? What elements were important to include to help ensure that the movement is presented in an accurate and informative manner?
This exhibition was always conceived for a university setting and Tufts University Art Galleries specifically, where our curatorial vision includes making projects both pedagogical and broadly relevant to general audiences. That’s what I really like about university galleries, that you have capacity to do deeply researched projects that contribute to the art and art historical field, while also being a public space on campus for multiple audiences. When Erina Duganne (my co-curator on the exhibition) came to me with her research and the archives she discovered at the Museum of Modern Art, we put together an exhibition that followed all the threads we could of this diverse and expansive movement and tried to share with our audiences the complexity of this endeavor. It is never possible to be truly accurate as to the who, what, where, and how of social movements because they are built on multiple and competing perspectives and lived experiences and should be. So what we tried to do as curators, especially as curators that are white without personal ties to Central America, is to bring multiple perspectives on this story – whether that was through inviting artists to look at the archives with us and make contributions to the catalogue, or bringing contemporary Central American artists’ work in dialogue with Artists Call to make other archives and narratives known, or interviewing Central American artists and organizers in the area, or sharing artist and organizer archives such as Lucy R. Lippard, Sabra Moore and Josely Carvalho. All of these various initiatives were important to us to bring together in this space in dialogue and to honor this expansive project.
We are interested in some of the curatorial decisions made regarding dividing the exhibition across multiple venues. Can you talk about why and how you chose to split the works between your locations?
Artists Call was a multi-venue project, with over 30 exhibitions and 1100 artists participating, at various locations across New York City. So it was a natural idea to build off Tufts University Art Galleries multiple venues – with one exhibition at the SMFA at Tufts art school in Boston and one on the main campus at Medford. At Medford, which is a bit more of an institutional venue with institutional capacity, we included the Museum of Modern Art collections as well as other large-scale works and loans, and artist commissions. This venue speaks to the deep research of the project and its intertwined narratives with canonical art histories. At the SMFA, we have the great fortune to be in a community of makers and thought that artist archives, posters, Latin American mail art, and artworks that are process-driven and expansive could greatly inspire their work. But we wanted both venues to give the context of Artists Call and be an experience in and of itself, so that a visitor could go to either or both to see the project. Both sites have multiple contemporary artist projects included, and address intergenerational solidarity for audiences.
During our visit, we noticed the LGBTQ+ pieces Ban_deras by collaborators Elyla (Fredman Barahona) and Christian Lord, and Jerri Allyn’s recording of Queer Revolution and felt as though they stood out, considering the context of the rest of the gallery. What was the connection between the LGBTQ+ movement and Artists Call’s anti-war/anti US intervention sentiment?
The thematic section Feeling Solidarity was built around the lived experiences of the Central American revolution and US intervention, and wasn’t specifically about LGBTQ+ issues and rights, but there are some works that pointedly address them including the pairing of Jerri Allyn’s performance recording of Queer Revolution from the time of Artists Call, and the contemporary work Ban_deras by collaborators Elyla (Fredman Barahona) and Christian Lord. Both of these works are in some ways about intergenerational queer solidarity, which to us references how LGBTQ+ communities have always been there and often have suffered from marginalization and repression and those stories demand to be told. We included this work because those communities are already a part of these movements, their experiences are as much a part of building transnational solidarity as anything else.
In the brochure and in our discussion, you raised an issue that is specific to Artists Call and artist activist campaigns more broadly: “How can one make space for others without taking up space.” How can we create that distinction between those who create for the movement versus those who create for themselves? As the curators of the show, how are you balancing the idea of making space for others while advancing your own curatorial claims?
This is a really vital question, and deserves ongoing, critical interrogation. Solidarity to me, building off theorists such as Robin D.G. Kelley who writes beautifully on solidarity politics, does not mean putting myself in someone else’s shoes because that displaces them. In other words, it is not empathy and it is not a transaction. It is listening, it is a long-term commitment to relationships, interconnected struggle, and people’s self-determination, it is mutuality and the ethical distribution of resources. The art-world doesn’t necessarily operate on these principles! As curators, operating within the confines and possibilities of the institutions of art, we wanted to be in dialogue with these committed artists to bring alternative narratives to light, to reflect on structural challenges and make space to learn and inspire future action. That is not necessarily a claim, it is an ongoing project that I hope I get to keep learning from.
Thank you to Abigail Satinsky for taking the time to answer our questions.
To learn more about Art for the Future: Artists Call and Central American Solidarities, visit: https://artgalleries.tufts.edu/exhibitions/6-art-for-the-future-artists-call-and-central-american-solidarities and see the recently published exhibition catalogue written by Abigail: https://www.artbook.com/9781941753392.html