Kara Walker and Rutgers MFA artists present “Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association”

A collaboration between Mason Gross School of the Arts and the university's Zimmerli Art Museum provides a window into the working process of American contemporary artist Kara Walker and a cohort of Rutgers students in a project that explores the history of the United States as a slave-owning nation and the shadows that it continues to cast over the 21st century. The public is invited to a free reception and performances (including a gospel choir) on Friday, April 21, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the museum, to learn more about the project from the artist and students.

During the recent spring break, the group embarked on a pilgrimage to Walker’s ancestral home, Georgia, visiting charged sites in an investigation of stories and spaces that define the American South and its impact across the nation. Upon their return, the group mounted their response—an immersive installation called “Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association,” on view at the Zimmerli through July 2, 2017.

Walker was named Tepper Chair in Visual Arts at Mason Gross School of the Arts in 2015. This five-year residency provides visual arts students the opportunity to work alongside the prolific and often provocative artist, in a creative endeavor rooted in research and collaboration. The cohort is currently examining themes of memory, memorials, and monuments.

In conjunction with the project, Kara Walker’s An Unpeopled Land in Unchartered Waters (2010) is on view in the museum lobby through June 23, 2017. This series of six prints produced by etching, drypoint, lift ground, spit bite, and aquatint was printed by Gregory Burnet of Burnet Editions, New York, in an edition of 30. The foremost image, No World, produced in a separate edition of 25, is currently on view at the British Museum in a historic collections’ show focusing on American printmaking.

Walker’s ongoing collaboration with Rutgers students has generated a shared inquiry through discussions, cross-disciplinary lectures, and a project centered on imagining an American monument to slavery. Since the fall, Memory, Memorials, and Monuments has developed as a multi-disciplinary seminar around diverse narratives from the era of slavery to the present. Contributing MFA student artist Yu Rim Chung says: “The trip to Georgia made clearer to me the importance of artists grappling with America’s troubled racial history, and of being cognizant of how [the history is] told and who is in control of the narrative. Voices must be given to these painful histories, but the way they’re told is just as crucial to their meaning and the dialogue that results from their telling.”

The current installation acts as both a living memorial and a cabinet of curiosities, incorporating found objects, ephemera, and personal observations from visits to local residences, historic sites, government offices, and cemeteries. Their organic and visceral documentation resulted in soundscapes, videos, photographs, spontaneous drawings, and mixed media assemblages. The installation provides a space for voices and stories that would have remained absent as the group attempts to “contribute to a more expansive and inclusive patchwork quilt of the Old and New Souths,” as indicated by the group’s statement in the gallery. MFA participant Jack Hogan says: “It was an unforgettable trip. Kara Walker’s generosity is invaluable to me when I consider how to operate as an artist—and as a model for being a human as well.”

An Unpeopled Land in Unchartered Waters is on loan, courtesy of Kara Walker and Sikkema Jenkins, New York.

The Tepper Chair in Visual Arts was established through the gracious support of Marlene Tepper. Research for Memory, Memorials, and Monuments was funded by Rutgers University Chancellor Richard Edwards. Participants in the project include: Sam Ashford, Anita Bakshi, Gerry Beegan, Sedrick Chisom, Yu Rim Chung, Julian Gilbert-Davis, Ethan Green, Jack Hogan, Daonne Huff, Kate John-Alder, Ari Marcopoulos, Renana Neuman, Cassandra Oliveras-Moreno, Ali Osborn, Bea Orlandi, Jett Strauss, Catalina Tuca, and Kara Walker.They express special thanks to Rutgers University professors Richard Alomar, Anita Bakshi, Mia Bay, Brittney Cooper, Kate John-Alder, and Evie Shockley; Willie Huff, Larry Walker, Gwen Walker, Joel Rogers, Marcy Breffle, and the Heard County Historical Society.

Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and select first Tuesdays of the month, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.

Caption: "Auburn Avenue," by Catalina Tuca.

Posted April 2017.