Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Labor We Wear And The Enduring Soul At MIA - Art To Make You Think

The Minneapolis Institute of Art was my last real outing before the Covid quarantine lockdown began last Spring, when I was super impressed with the immigration exhibit, When Home Won't Let You Stay. Well, MIA is back open, and back with another excellent, eye opening exhibit called The Labor We Wear, by artist Rachel Breen. 

The show serves to bring attention to the relationship between garment labor workers and the fashion that we wear - and very much take for granted. 

My Mom is both an artist and a seamstress (her day job most of her life), so this was a perfect show to bring her to, and the perfect situation to get her out of the house for. MIA is great for social distancing, we barely saw another soul the whole afternoon. You must have a reservation at a given time slot, you must wear a mask, and it all felt very safe - plus the art is great! 

The show is a couple of rooms, both festooned with large-scale installations of parts of clothing. You never think about button plackets, but you do when there's an entire wall of them.

Sleeves took up another whole wall, and were accompanied by stories of historical disasters in both Bangladesh and New York City that killed thousands of garment workers trapped by fire. 

It's awful to think about, especially when you realize that those workers were being paid pennies so that you could go get a cheap, disposable shirt - that in turn poisons the environment. 

We've sure got a lot of work to do in this world to make it better for everyone ...

The toll that the garment industry takes on both humans and the environment is something that we really have to figure out. I LOVE clothes, and I definitely share in the blame of participating in throw-away fashion, and am actively trying to be better about my shopping choices. Thrifting, upcycling, clothing swaps, donating, and investing in pieces that can stand the test of time are a few of the ways we can do better by our global citizens and planet. We can always be better. 

MIA has a massive collection of art, and there is a lot to cover. We had also booked a time slot at the Walker Art Center on this Art Day, so we couldn't fully dig into all that MIA has to offer, but we did get to check out another great show currently on display at MIA - The Enduring Soul. This exhibit by African and African American artists shows the relationship between ancestors and the living, and between the seen and the unseen.

With all that has been going on in Minneapolis this year in the name of racial equality and social justice, this show also couldn't be better suited or timed for the moment. MIA impressing yet again. Carrying on with the fabric theme, The Enduring Soul opens with a huge piece called Carousel Merge, 1971 by Sam Gilliam. Its drapes and flexibility suggests the improvisation of jazz, a major influence on African American artists of the time. Hep! 

We loved Soundsuit, 2010 by Nick Cave (not the musician). The soundsuit is meant to create a protective layer for the wearer, to protect them from prejudice. Though they look like a lot of fun, with jack-in-the-boxes and other kid noisemakers, the intent behind it is actually quite dark - and shows yet another example of how we all can and must do better for our fellow world citizens.

Thank You Jesus for Paul Robeson (and for Nicholas Murray's Photograph - 1926, 1995 by Emma Amos examines the Black body as a source of power and beauty. A gorgeous piece, that draws inspiration from the Civil Rights struggle that we are still very much actively fighting. 

Kevin Beasley's Queen of the Night, 2018 was a multi-media sculpture of the sort I love - the description said, "Housedresses, kaftans, do-rags, Tshirts, CDs, hair rollers, clothespins, hair extensions (tumble weave), fake gold dookie chain, resin" - all serving to conjure up images of the strong Black females in the artist's life. It also references the "Burney Relief", a clay relief from ancient Babylonia - only that nude, winged goddess did not get to have a halo made out of cds. 

Kwame Brathwaite showed his awesome Untitled (Black Is Beautiful Poster from 1970), 1970 (printed 2018), and the photos backed up the statement they created. Beautifully.

An Egungun ceremonial outfit, 1930-1950 by a Yoruba artist hung from the ceiling, with its multiple strands of fibers symbolizing strands of DNA as it serves as a manifestation to their ancestors. Cool.

African Americans have been through so much in this country - and it continues to this hour. There is nothing we can do to make it up to them, not even reparations would make a dent in the collective trauma inflicted on this entire race of people for the entirety of this nation's history. But we can start trying. We can celebrate their art, their traditions, and their very lives - because they MATTER. SO MUCH. It's heartbreaking to think that we are still having to take to the streets to demand racial equality at this stage of our history - but here we are. And we won't stop. Crossroads Marker with Little Hand, Reaching, 2015 by Renée Stout reminds us of the slave passage, and the voyages to this country that began in chains. Watching the nightly news reminds us that these chains are still unbroken - and it's up to all of us to destroy them together. Heavy ... but necessary to confront. NOW.

Mom is a fan of the classics, and we had about 20 minutes to run upstairs and see some of her old favorites, like Olive Trees, 1889 by Vincent van Gogh ...

... and a beautiful Tahitian Landscape, 1891 by Paul Gaugin.

There was so much more to see, and I made a solemn promise to Mom that we would return on a gloomy day to take it all in, but we had to get to the Walker for our next art time slot! Art Day! I love MIA, and I love that they have been bringing such great, thought provoking art to the People - for free - and doing such a great job of having IMPORTANT shows, not just fluff for the masses. I truly appreciate it, and I know I'm not alone. And I can't wait to see what you'll do next! Thanks, MIA!

The Labor We Wear -  July 18, 2020 - November 1, 2020 MIA

The Enduring Soul - October 26, 2019 - April 4, 2021 MIA


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