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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.

  • Wednesday, May 7, 2014

    Keїta’s Legacy

    Guest blogger Petru Bester is a Smith College student, class of 2015, with a major in Art History. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

    Seydou Keїta, Malian (1921 - 2001). Malian Woman, 1949 – 1951. Vintage gelatin silver print with hand tinting. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2013:50-2

    This semester, Dr. Amanda Gilvin, the Five College Mello Postdoctoral Fellow in African Art and Architecture for both Mount Holyoke and Smith College helped put together a temporary African art exhibition entitled Transformations in African Art, currently on view on the 3rd floor of the Museum.

    Involving her ARH 280 African Art Survey students, Professor Gilvin made the exhibition an interactive learning experience. She states that by working in conjunction with museum staff members:

    […] students learned about artworks in the SCMA collection, and just as importantly, they learned how to teach others about art in a museum gallery. Each student conducted independent research on an artwork and wrote a didactic label for the exhibition. Essential for art historical work, the skills needed to conduct research and write concisely will prove useful for all of the students, regardless of what career paths that they choose.The exhibition was also a fun opportunity for students to closely engage with an artwork in person.

    As a student in Amanda’s class, I was fortunate enough to be assigned Seydou Keїta’s Malian Woman (shown above), just one of many gorgeous objects on display.

    Building on the rich African tradition of portrait photography, Seydou Keїta, worked through the mid to late 20th century documenting Bamako society in Mali at a time of considerable social and political change. Resting in northwest Africa, the Republic of Mali has a long and complex history of extensive empires and colonial rule. What was then known as the Mali Federation gained independence from the French on June 20th, 1960. In August of the same year Senegal withdrew from the federation leaving the Sudanese Republic to form its own nation state, the Republic of Mali in September. The Pan-Africanist Modibo Keїta was the country’s first elected president.

    1961 airmail stamp featuring Modibo Keїta (not owned by SCMA)

    Born in 1921, Modibo Keїta’s relative, Seydou Keїta began his love affair with photography at a young age in 1935. In 1948 he opened a studio in the capital of Mail, Bamako. He worked from this studio until 1962 when he became the newly installed government’s official photographer. A successful coup d’état by Moussa Traoré in 1968 removed Modibo Keїta from power. Despite their relationship, however, Traore and his people kept Seydou on as their photographer. Modibo Keїta was imprisoned until his death in 1977. Seydou subsequently retired the same year.

    Both Modibo and Seydou remain cultural icons in Mali. In 1992 the Traoré regime was overthrown and Modibo Keїta’s legacy was revived: a monument to him was erected in Bamako on June 6th, 1999. Seydou’s memory far surpasses that of Modibo as his photographs still circulate around the world and are displayed within prominent museums and gallery spaces. The Smith College Museum of Art, in their recent effort to expand and solidify their African art collection, acquired Malian Woman, a rare hand tinted print from Seydou’s studio years.

     

    Seydou Keїta, Malian (1921 - 2001). Malian Woman, 1949 – 1951. Vintage gelatin silver print with hand tinting. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2013:50-2

    Seydou Keїta, throughout his successful career, produced an assortment of graphically intricate portraits of both individual and group sitters. This particular photograph displays Keїta’s ability to juxtapose decoratively patterned textiles. Here the floral background contrasts with the sitter’s geometric dress creating dynamic movement both within and between the textiles.

    Detail of Malian Woman

    The woman’s red tinted fingernails, earrings and headscarf serve to enhance the dimensionality of the print. Keїta is able to create formal images that somehow also maintain a sense of remarkable intimacy with his subjects. Speaking to his own ability Seydou Keїta quotes: “It’s easy to take a photo, but what really made a difference was that I always knew how to find the right position, and I was never wrong. Their head slightly turned, a serious face, the position of the hands . . . I was capable of making someone look really good.”

    Detail of Malian Woman

    The mastery shown by Keїta is only one of the many reasons his work is so well acclaimed both within and beyond Africa. Affectionately called the “Father of African photography”, Keїta was not just innovative and instrumental in the technical and aesthetic development of portrait photography but he also, consciously or not, commented on the West’s conception of a fetishized exotic African identity. His work serves to debunk the ever popular “ethnographic” black-and-white images of naked, primitive Africans. Keїta directly opposes these images with portraits of hip, cosmopolitan Malian citizens. This acquisition, and thankfully its display, is therefore an invaluable one. Keїta’s legacy lives on, modestly hanging from a wall in a SCMA gallery.

    The exhibition “Transformations in African Art," and Malian Woman will be on view on the 3rd floor of the Museum until May 26, 2014, when the 2nd and 3rd floor galleries close for re-installation

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  • Tuesday, April 29, 2014

    Homage to Quevedo

    José Luis Cuevas, Mexican (1934 - ). El Viaje, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite, 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 1982:24-1

    José Luis Cuevas was born in Mexico City around 1933 above a paper factory that his grandfather managed. In his words, “perhaps because I was born in a paper mill and pencil factory, paper has always had a great fascination for me." Cuevas is considered a self-taught artist; while he did take some lessons at Escuela Nacional de Pintura y Escultura "La Esmeralda," Mexico City's famous art school, he left, either because he disagreed with the school's teaching methods, or perhaps due to a life-threatening bout with rheumatic fever that forced him to stay at home and recover.

    José Luis Cuevas, Mexican (1934 - ). Lo Feo de Este Mundo I, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite, 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 1982:24-3

    His older brother, in training to become a psychiatrist, worked at a public mental institution and as a teenager Cuevas would follow him to work and sketch the patients. He began to produce works that depicted the shunned sectors of society -- the mentally ill, the impoverished, the prostitutes -- those 'undesirables' he once saw from his childhood apartment window.

    José Luis Cuevas, Mexican (1934 - ). Lo Feo de Este Mundo II, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite, 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 1982:24-4

    As early as 1953, Cuevas’ art had caught the eye of José Gómez Sicre, the Cuban-born director of the Visual Arts Section of the Pan American Union (PAU). The PAU sought to strengthen the ties between the countries of the Americas, and also to prevent the spread of communism in the region. Gómez Sicre was on the lookout for up-and-coming young Mexican artists, particularly those who presented an alternative to Muralism, the entrenched Mexican style at the time.

    Muralism emerged after the 1910 Revolution, when José Vasconcelos, the Education Minister, commissioned artists to create wall murals that would promote the social and political messages of the Revolution for a mostly illiterate population. Diego Rivera was one Mexican artist who embraced this movement, and produced murals such as Market Scene below.

    Diego Rivera, Mexican (1886 - 1957). Market Scene, 1930. Water based paint on plaster fresco mounted on cement. Gift of Mrs. Dwight W. Morrow (Elizabeth Cutter, class of 1896). Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 1938:13-1

    Throughout the early 20th century, Muralism had dominated Mexican art. Many young artists became disenchanted, even stifled, by its straightforward vision of their nation. Cuevas’ complex, uncomfortable images were a strong departure from Muralism, and Gómez Sicre decided to take the young artist under his wing.

    By July 1954, Gómez Sicre had brought Cuevas to Washington D.C. and organized a show of his works (Cuevas was only twenty-one at the time).  All pieces were priced between $15-$40. The show sold out completely and launched Cuevas into the international arts scene. With Gómez Sicre’s help, he grew into a leading figure among the Ruptura (Rupture) artists -- a group of young Mexican artists who broke away from the Muralism tradition and its politics.

    José Luis Cuevas, Mexican (1934 - ). El Santo de la Guerra, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite, 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 1982:24-2

    Cuevas had long had an interest in European literature, and Gómez Sicre encouraged his young protégée to embrace these great works in his art. As Cuevas illustrated the works of Kafka and other European writers, he perhaps hoped to show that the Ruptura group and other Latin American artists could hold their own with these established masters.

    José Luis Cuevas, Mexican (1934 - ). Lo Feo de Este Mundo III, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite, 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 1982:24-5

    The Cunningham Center holds one of Cuevas’ literary portfolios, Homage to Quevedo. This suite of prints was inspired by the poetry of Francisco Gómez de Quevedo, a Spanish writer who worked in the seventeenth century. The resulting works are cryptic, complex and utterly engrossing.

    José Luis Cuevas, Mexican (1934 - ). Condicion Humana II, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite, 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 1982:24-7

    Unlike his earliest portraits, these later works flesh out entire scenes, with figures interacting with each other within dimly-lit settings. They appear as self-sustained narratives in their own right, although what exactly is happening remains enigmatic.

    José Luis Cuevas, Mexican (1934 - ). La Vida, from the Homage to Quevedo Suite, 1969. Lithograph printed in color on Arches wove paper. Gift of Donna Kargman Donaghy, class of 1959, and Walter E. Donaghy. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 1982:24-8

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  • Wednesday, April 23, 2014

    Death in Stasis

    Guest blogger Nicole Downer is a Smith College student, class of 2014, majoring in American Studies. She curated the show Death in Stasis, featuring post-mortem photography, as the capstone project for her Museums Concentration.

    An important note before you begin:The following blog post includes photographs of deceased individuals, including children. Please be aware if you are sensitive to such imagery.

    Paul Nadar (French 1856 - 1939) and Gaspard Felix Tournachon (French  1820 – 1910). Victor Hugo on His Deathbed, 1885. Carbon print on paper. Purchased with the gift of the Smith College Museum of Art Visiting Committee in honor of Charles Chetham. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1989:13

    Death was a fact of life during the Victorian era. People coped with loss through the creation of images of the deceased. The tradition of post-mortem portraiture dates back to as early as the end of the Middle Ages. Deathbed or memorial portraits and death masks were the last images produced of loved ones. Through the new technology of photography, Victorians endeavored to create the illusion of life after death.  Post-mortem and memorial portraiture was used to mourn the loss of family members as well as revered public figures.

    The Victorians had a more intimate relationship with death than we do now. Death was a part of life and people tended to die in homes rather than hospitals. Mourning the dead was a complex and lengthy ordeal. Depending on the relationship to the deceased, one could be in mourning for up to two years.

    D.N. Wheeler (American) Interior with child in coffin, ca. 1867. Toned gelatin silver print mounted on paperboard as a carte de visite. Purchased with the Rita Rich Fraad, class of 1937, Fund for American Art and the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2009:25-1

    For women, mourning involved strict dress codes which limited the colors and materials a woman could wear. Widows could remain in mourning for the rest of their lives as Queen Victoria did after the death of her husband Albert.

    Unknown (American). Deceased child with hand painted flowers, ca. 1865. Tintype with hand coloring in 1/2 book-style case. Purchased with the Rita Rich Fraad, class of 1937, Fund for American Art and the fund in honor of Charles Chetham.Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2009:25-2

    Victorians honored the dead through clothing and remembered the dead through objects and art. Death culture influenced all aspects of Victorian life. Clothing, art, photography, and literature of the time period all reflect the closeness people had with death.

    Unknown (American). Deceased child in blue dress with hands crossed over chest, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype in book-style case. Purchased with the Rita Rich Fraad, class of 1937, Fund for American Art and the fund in honor of Charles Chetham. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2009:25-3

    Photographing the dead was a common practice in the Victorian era. Journals of photography offered advice to photographers on how to pose bodies and set up lighting. Posing adults for post-mortem photographs often involved propping the body on a stand. It was common to open or paint on eyes to make the body appear alive. Most post-mortem photographs were of children due to high infant mortality rates.

    Detail of Deceased child in blue dress with hands crossed over chest, ca. 1850

    Post-mortem photography provided families with an image of their lost loved ones who had not been previously photographed. The majority of these photographs were of children and infants. The Victorians had a close relationship with death because of high mortality rates. Death and mourning were a large part of Victorian culture. The works displayed in this exhibition show Victorian mourning through art and photography.

    Taking a photograph in the Victorian age was an expensive and time consuming process. Many people, especially children, did not have a photograph taken before they died. Post-mortem photographs gave families an image to remember a lost loved one.

    By the twentieth century, advances in photographic technology made post-mortem portraits irrelevant. Photographs became easier and cheaper to take. Most people in the twentieth century had many pictures of their friends and family. We still use photographs to remember our lost loved ones but we no longer have the need for post-mortem portraits.

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