Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.
Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.
Thursday, February 1, 2018
Guest blogger Zoe Dong '18J recently graduated from Smith College with a major in studio art. She was a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
This fall, Japanese-American photographer and collage artist Patrick Nagatani passed away on October 27, 2017 after a struggle with colon cancer. A nationally respected photographer with work held in museums across the country, Nagatani’s work dealt with themes of science, nuclear power, Japanese-American history, and New Mexican culture. He represented and explored these themes through otherworldly images, saturated prints and flat collages that were magical and sometimes unnerving. Though Nagatani’s work can be subtle and humorous at times, his political commentary is sharp and this pairing of social critique with fantasy is thoroughly engaging.
Nagatani was born in 1945 in Chicago to two Japanese-American parents. Both his mother and father were held in Japanese internment camps during World War II, and his extended family’s hometown was Hiroshima; he was born just days after the city was decimated by the atom bomb. Much of Nagatani’s work speaks to that same horrible legacy of nuclear war that America enacted on Japan, a power the country holds the possibility to enact still. Although he was never technically trained in photography, Nagatani started creating photographs when he was 31 and went on to receive an MFA from UCLA. He was a professor of photography at the University of New Mexico from 1987 to 2007.
The work of Nagatani’s that initially spoke to me was 'Effects of Nuclear Weapons', Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico (1990).To create this work, Nagatani overlaid several images on top of each other, but the word “collage” seems almost too trivial to apply here. Nagatani has placed Japanese children’s faces and the buckets that carry their ashes on top of a photograph of an American science museum; the exhibit coolly displays information about the scientific effects of nuclear war with no apparent mention of the actual loss of human life. It’s a tragic, biting accusation towards the American public and government who didn’t and still do not acknowledge the murders of a perceived “Other” from thousands of miles away by the power of nuclear bombs.
'Effects of Nuclear Weapons', Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, 1990. Ilfocolor print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2007:60-39.
This work is part of the series Nuclear Enchantment,which the Cunningham Center owns several works from. The series, through representations of different New Mexico landscapes, warns of the dangers of nuclear power and, occasionally with grim comedy, highlights the strangeness in America’s normalization of it.
Simulation/Simulation, the Trestle, Nuclear Effects (Electromagnetic Pulses), Simulation Facility, Air Force Weapons Laboratory, Kirtland A.F.B. Albuquerque, New Mexico from Nuclear Enchantment, 1990. Ilfocolor print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar.
Said Nagatani in an artist’s statement, “Are we a society so blinded by the powers of science that we will continue to support a destructive industry rather than seeking alternative solutions? Many of the photographs in Nuclear Enchantment are of actual sites presided over by a cast of ancient mythic figures...I want them to remind us of the spiritual poverty of the technical age.” In some images he incorporates parts of work from the famed 19th century woodblock artist Hiroshige, noting that his art “commented on Japan's transition from ancient Shintoism to Westernization - a path that ultimately led to Hiroshima.”
Golden Eagle, United Nuclear Corporation Uranium Mill and Tailings, Churchrock, New Mexico, 1990. Ilfocolor print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2007:60-40.
The Cunningham Center also owns the fascinating series Nagatani/Ryoichi Excavation,a surreal series that takes an elaborate, detailed look at what a fictional archaeologist’s findings might be. Nagatani worked on Hollywood productions, creating models for films such as Blade Runner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He used these model-making skills to create the intricate images that are so cunningly done they resemble fantastic hoaxes, shown as “evidence” of a secret, lost time when people worshiped cars. Of the project, Nagatani said “my interest [lies] in testing the realities that can exist within the realm of photography and physical documentation… I am interested in the potential of photography to tell a story.” The complexity of the narrative is striking, as is the technical and artistic skill in creating the images.
Bentley, Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England, from Ryoichi Excavations, 1987-2001. Toned gelatin silver print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2006:56-26.
Ryoichi's Flask and Journal, 1999. Chromogenic (Fuji Crystal Archive) print. Gift of Nicole Moretti Ungar, class of 1982, and Jon Ungar. SC 2011:71-41a.
Patrick Nagatani will be remembered as a gifted photographer and as a creative storyteller. His talent for creating fantasies with real political heft and thought was a unique one, and his confident, strange images reflect that.
Take a look at his works in the Cunningham Center collection and visit to see for yourself.
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Arpita Singh. Indian, 1947-. This Could be Us, You, or Anybody Else. 2007. Etching and aquatint printed in color on heavyweight, slightly textured, white paper. Gift of Bridget Moore, Class of 1979. SC 2014:27-1. Click here for larger image.
Movement is a point of change. When we move - in abstract or tangible ways, voluntary or forced - we engage with the changing of place, time, people, and culture. The artworks presented in this show reflect on this movement and the change it produces. As the viewer moves through this diverse display they also navigate several dichotomies: the singular/many, the imagined/ real, permanence/absence, and creation/destruction. While curating this collection I found myself resisting these dichotomies. What movement does best is connect these different points. We oscillate between oneness and multitude, between imaginaries and realities, hover indeterminately between permanence and absence, creation and destruction. Trying to take one piece in this collection to exemplify one or the other creates dissonance: they all contain echoes of their “opposite”. Knowing this, what does it mean to move? And how can the art presented here allow us to go beyond questions of dichotomy, and instead move toward realizations of the self?
Thursday, January 11, 2018
For my first on the job project, I was to learn about Latin American artists whose work would be exhibited in “Color and Heat”, a print show to be displayed in the Cunningham Center corridor. I was asked to write the wall text for several pieces, including the colorful screen-print “Bolívar y Juana Azurduy”. I had done broad research on all the artists in the exhibit, but I chose to write about an artist for whom I found very little information. But her work grabbed my attention with its bright colors and the heroic Simón Bolívar on his white horse. A uniformity in the smiles of every figure illustrated made me wonder if there was another story behind those fixed expressions. I suspected “Bolívar y Juana Azurduy” was not as straightforward as it seemed.
Carmen Baptista. Bolivian, 1936–. Bolívar y Juana Azurduy. 1985. Screenprint in color on medium thick, moderately textured, white Arches paper. Gift of Marius and Suzanne Sznajderman in memory of Bernard Barken Kaufman.
The artist Carmen Baptista was completely unknown to me, and there was little information available on her life and work. We obtained a two-page article directly from an archive in Switzerland, and a leaflet from one of her exhibitions in Bolivia that was given by the donor. So I began to focus solely on the print. The heroic rendering of Bolívar–whose name I associate with courage, and liberation since my grade-school days in Mexico– was not the most prominent element of the print. I felt it was the intimate gesture, the greeting between him and Juana Azurduy. I had never heard of Azurduy —so I began my study there. Azurduy was a guerrilla leader in the region soon to be named Bolivia. She fought alongside her husband Padilla who was also a prominent figure in the fight against the Spanish crown. Azurduy led armies of men and women into battle and defeated multiple strong Spanish brigades. In Juana Azurduy’s campaign for independence, she lost her personal wealth, her husband, and all but one of her children.
The Bolivian nation was established in 1925, but Azurduy did not receive a grain of recognition for her leadership or sacrifice. Her status as a pivotal military leader went ignored, and she never returned to her previous status as a well-to-do woman, she was left a poor widow with her only surviving child. Although she attempted several times to receive some sort of compensation for her bravery in the fight for the now independent nation, she was denied remuneration until the Liberator Simón Bolívar intervened on her behalf. When Simón Bolívar by invitation of the Bolivian president visited the picturesque town of Sucre in Chuquisaca, Bolívar insisted on meeting the forgotten hero Juana Azurduy. Historical accounts tell that shortly after his arrival in Bolivia, he was accompanied by a few of his closest soldiers and the Bolivian leader on a visit to the home of Azurduy. Upon their meeting, Bolívar expressed gratitude to Juana Azurduy for her great courage, but he was astonished at the miserable condition in which she was living. He told his men and the Bolivian leader “this country should not be named Bolivia in my honor, but Padilla or Azurduy, because it was them who made it free”. He then insisted she be promoted to Colonel and be granted a small pension for the rest of her life. Juana Azurduy lived a hard life even with the well-deserved pension she finally received later in life. Her historical importance was undermined after the independence because she was a woman, and even to this day, she is relatively unknown outside of Bolivia and its neighboring countries.
Learning about revolutionary leaders of the Americas was an essential part of my school days in Mexico; I was taught to commemorate the heroes that fought or influenced our independence. Although women played fundamental roles in the revolutions throughout Latin America —Bolivia, Perú, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panamá, and México, etc— they are seldom mentioned. It is a ‘liberating’ experience to have a story unfold through research, and greater still to feel that the artist herself has revealed something to you through her work. Baptista’s print attempts to right a wrong and honor the woman who led armies and fought for liberation.