Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S9 E4 | FULL EPISODE

The ICA Reopens, Artist Yinka Shonibare, and more

The ICA reopens its museum doors. See new art on the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The public park presents work by world-renowned artists including Catalina Delgado-Trunk and artist Yinka Shonibare. Shonibare discusses how his career took off and his latest work on view. Plus, the Westfield painter Imo Imeh honoring black lives lost, and the series of paintings by Jacob Lawrence at PEM.

AIRED: July 24, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

it's opening day for museums.

We have an inside look at the new normal.

>> I would describe it as a different experience

that is all focused on keeping visitors and staff safe

while still having the museum experience

that you love and know.

>> BOWEN: Then famed artist Yinka Shonibare

on how his career took off

and how he's most recently touched down

on Boston's Greenway.

>> As an artist, you don't want to be told

there are boundaries to your creativity, you know?

You want to have a space to actually explore.

>> BOWEN: Plus, the Westfield painter

honoring Black lives lost.

>> I feel like there's no way to make these things

without including yourself somehow, you know,

since it just comes with the territory.

>> BOWEN: And an ambitious series of paintings

by Jacob Lawrence

is reassembled for the first time in 60 years.

It's calledStruggle.

>> He looked for these actions

that people took in the struggle to build our democracy.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, the day many people, including me,

have been waiting for

is finally here.

With Massachusetts now in phase three of reopening,

museums can welcome back visitors.

Among the first to open was the I.C.A.,

which is where we went to go

to get a feel for the new normal.

My guide, I.C.A. deputy director Kelly Gifford.

Kelly Gifford, thank you so much for welcoming us.

This is a very excitingmoment.

We get to go back into museums now.

This must be a very exciting moment for you, too.

>> Yeah, it's incredible.

>> BOWEN: You're about to take us through,

but, but is it a vastly different experience?

How would you characterize it?

>> (exhales): I would describe it

as a different experience

that is all focused on keeping visitors and staff safe

while still having the museum experience

that you love and know.

>> BOWEN: So we will mask up... >> Yup.

>> BOWEN: We will socially distance

and work our way through the I.C.A.

>> Let's do it. >> BOWEN: (chuckles)

Like most museums across the state,

the I.C.A. closed abruptly in mid-March with the onset

of the COVID-19 crisis.

Four months later, the museum has cautiously reopened.

Staff, which the I.C.A. kept fully employed,

has been retrained for the new normal.

>> And these are throughout the galleries,

mainly in the doorways, where the space is more tight.

>> BOWEN: But visitors will need a bit of retraining, too.

>> We no longer are gonna have a bag and coat check,

but there is gonna be a self-check area

for people who want that.

And we're not going to have food and drink

inside the museum at this time.

>> BOWEN: No tickets, either-- at least paper ones--

and they must be purchased in advance.

>> So you walk up,

you'll see that there'll be a sign

letting you know that you can get, pull up your ticket

for contact, contactless entry.

And also, we've included

all of our education materials online, as well.

So you can take a quick picture of the QR code,

and then you have all the wall texts and labels

on your phone, as well.

>> BOWEN: Here you'll also find reminders

to maintain social distancing

and limits to the number of people in elevators.

But the galleries themselves do not feel all that different.

>> At first, we were thinking there would be

a prescribed route,

and we'd have people all go the same way.

But the way our galleries are set up and built,

low, low capacity of number of people that we're allowing in,

we decided that was going to possibly create

more pinch points.

So we are gonna let people

set their own journey in the galleries

and explore on their own.

>> BOWEN: Kelly, what about some of the things

that we can't necessarily see, like airflow?

>> Yes, so airflow is specifically important

to have a healthy building.

We have been working with our director of facilities

to look at our air filtration

and ensure that there's constant movement within the galleries.

So we've enhanced that, as well.

>> BOWEN: Still a conundrum is Kusama.

For the moment, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's

wildly popular Infinity Mirror Room

can't be seen past the polka dots.

>> We're working with a firm in Boston

that includes an epidemiologist

who's really gonna be looking at that space

and analyzing it to understand how it can be safe

for visitors and staff,

and what changes we can make to it

to ensure that it is safe.

>> I can tell you that, personally,

I'm overjoyed to be here.

I am so happy to be back, and it's going,

it's going super-well.

>> BOWEN: Jill Medvedow is the I.C.A.'s director.

Reopening has been a herculean effort, she says,

not to mention a vital one.

>> Like all the other nonprofits,

cultural institutions and nonprofits more broadly,

we took a big financial hit from being closed for four months,

so all... >> BOWEN: How big was the hit?

>> It was $2-plus million.

>> BOWEN: Medvedow says

she's been exchanging reopening strategies

with her counterparts in Boston and museums across the country.

The priority, though,

is the straight-up return to art

at a time when people want and need it more than ever.

At the I.C.A., visitors will find exhibitions

by two artists telling their stories:

Sterling Ruby, a maker in all manner of materials,

and Tschabalala Self,

painting and sculpting life and figures in textiles.

>> Through the work of artists, and work that is yet to be made,

it's going to help us make sense of this time.

That is what artists do.

They ask us to put ourself in someone else's shoes--

and I might say in someone else's body right now--

and to see the world differently.

So I think that it is the arts that are going to help us

make sense of what we've been through.

>> BOWEN: Next, the Rose Kennedy Greenway

is one of the few places in Boston where you can go

to find new art opening right now.

The public park is presenting works by world-renowned artists

including Catalina Delgado-Trunk and Yinka Shonibare.

We'll speak with Shonibare in a moment,

but first, a lay of the Greenway.

Looming large over Rings Fountain

on the Rose Kennedy Greenway

is a visual anthology of mythology.

This work, titled Global Connections:

Mesoamerican Myths,

the Domestication of Nourishment,

and Its Distribution,

was created by Catalina Delgado-Trunk,

a Mexican-American artist who specializes in cut paper.

Here, the paper has been blown up to massive proportions

to tell a larger-than-life creation story.

>> Her work is really based around the narratives

of Mesoamerican folklore, as well as food culture,

and how food kind of transcends boundaries.

And then as you make your way down into the artwork

located next to the fountains,

you'll see the production of work

and how food is actually produced and made.

>> BOWEN: Lucas Cowan is the curator of public art

on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

He says unveiling new public art,

even in the midst of a pandemic,

was a priority.

>> We are a democratic park, open to all.

And I think one of the really important aspects

of the public art program

is creating free, democratic artworks that can really speak

to the times of now.

And I think the works that we have here,

they're bringing new culture, cultural ideas or issues

that really need to be spoken about.

>> BOWEN: Also now on view is this flowing sculpture

by artist Yinka Shonibare.

Part of hisWind Sculptures series,

this solid, 22-foot-tall design

only appears to have been molded by the Greenway breeze,

and stands as a metaphor for cultural exchange.

I recently sat down with Shonibare via Zoom

to learn more about his work.

Yinka Shonibare, thank you so much for being with us.

You're coming to us from London today.

>> Yes, thank you for inviting me.

>> BOWEN: Well, let's talk about your piece, to start,

on the Greenway.

Before we even talk about what it looks like,

tell us what it does

and how your wind sculpture

engages or doesn't engage with the wind,

as the case may be.

>> Well, I mean,Wind Sculpture is a series I started

after I made a, uh, sculpture on Trafalgar Square.

And that was a ship in a bottle

with these kind of very windy sails.

And then I thought

that the actual sails themselves look amazing.

And, um, and so, you know, I want to find a way

to bring art to the public in a fun way,

but also art that's culturally meaningful.

So the fabrics I use on those sculptures

are based on, uh, batik.

And so that sculpture is a way of talking about something

that's actually relevant

and, uh, relevant to the identity of a lot of people,

but also a way to actually make

a really dynamic, uh, public sculpture

that's really colorful, that will, in a way,

interrupt the grayness, sometimes,

that you might find in modern cities.

>> BOWEN: I was really struck by something,

a way you described your art,

and the, and the engagement you hope that people will have

is a magical way.

That's a magical word, what do you mean by that?

>> Oftentimes, people can be sometimes, uh,

intimidated by art, or maybe think, "It's not for me."

But if you can find a playful way

to actually bring people in,

you know, we all remember from, from childhood

how important play and magic is.

If you can find that, that magical side of it,

and then you can actually make it accessible,

then people may want to ask further questions.

And so, you know, you can start with something that's magical

and playful on the surface,

but then you can move on

to actually being able to teach history, identity,

and then you find that our, our collective stories

are embedded in these works.

>> BOWEN: Well, to talk a little bit about your story,

I was so fascinated to learn about how you came about your,

your maverick streak as a young student.

You're raised-- born in England,

go to Nigeria, where you're raised,

and you're told that you have to make African art

as a teacher looks at you, and you said no.

>> Yes, when I was at college,

I was making work about kinda global issues.

And, um, my tutor at the time said,

"Why aren't you making authentic African art?"

And then I thought, "Well, you know,

I'm a citizen of the world, like everybody else."

Of course, I don't mind making art that, uh

you know, that, that actually has my story in it.

I don't mind that, but I want to feel

that I can actually have the same freedom

to travel and make work

about whatever I want to make work about.

>> BOWEN: What do you think art's role is

in a moment like this?

We talked about your piece at the outset

in getting people to think.

But is there a place for art to be made right now,

just in this moment, to have the conversation in this moment,

and not taking the longer time to digest

and be contemplative about it?

>> Well, I mean, I think there's always room for both, you know.

Artists need to respond to what's going on.

And I think both things can actually coexist.

But I think art is very important

in, in understanding a moment in history.

You know, if you look at a lot of historical art,

you can pretty much figure out, you know,

what was going on at the time.

So artists are, are in a way, like,

almost like historians of time.

>> BOWEN: Well, keeping that in mind, that history,

we see, uh, here in this country,

and in this city, in Boston,

statues that have very much come under question

that represent history,

but that are also created by artists.

I know it's happening in your country.

We've seen statues topple into the Thames.

Do you believe that those statues should come down?

>> If people were slave owners

and they expressed the views

that we don't necessarily agree with now,

you know, that will be based on community consensus.

Because, you know, you might be offending

one half of your population by keeping those statues there.

The statues shouldn't be destroyed.

Uh, they should be placed in museums

so that people can actually learn about our pasts.

And I think that's a very important point,

because we don't want people to forget

and then repeat the same mistakes.

So I think there is room, uh,

to create spaces where we can all learn about our pasts.

But I certainly wouldn't advocate a mass vandalism.

That's not, um, what I would advocate.

>> BOWEN: And finally, before I let you go,

I have to ask you a question about,

we saw your piece The American Library

at an exhibition here about migration

at the Institute of Contemporary Art,

where you had volumes that represented the lives

of so many Americans that we know,

know so well.

Um, but their own stories of migration

and their heritage were vital.

But there was also a volume of Donald Trump in there.

And I had been wondering, ever since I saw that,

about why you included the, the president--

such a polarizing figure, of course--

inThe American Library.

>> Well, I mean that, I think, you know, Donald Trump

is also part of American history,

and he shares the immigrant story.

And so I'm not really going to make a judgment about,

you know, about people.

You know, I just want to, to have the facts, you know?

I mean, he also shares that, uh...

You know, that migration story, uh, his heritage.

And I think it's, um, you know, quite, um, appropriate,

that he's, he's part of that story,

because that is Donald Trump's story.

>> BOWEN: Well, Yinka Shonibare,

thank you so much for joining us today.

We really appreciate it, nice to see you.

>> Yeah, thank you.

>> BOWEN: Set your calendar now for music

and more museum openings.

It's time now for Arts This Week.

Sunday, the Tanglewood summer tradition is transformed.

Enjoy an encore performance of Ravel'sShéhérazade

at the Tanglewood Online Festival.

See the longtime relationship painter John Singer Sargent had

with African American model Thomas McKeller

at the newly reopened Gardner Museum Wednesday.

The groundbreaking Boston's Apollo show

has been extended to mid-September.

The Providence Fringe Festival presents a digital version

ofJennie Must Die Thursday.

The play is a cross between Greek tragedy

andThe Real Housewives.

Get cracking Friday.

It's Fabergé eggs at the Museum of Russian Icons'

newly opened exhibition Tradition and Opulence:

Easter in Imperial Russia.

>> ♪ Baby here I am

♪ On a railroad track

>> BOWEN: Saturday marks the 60th anniversary

of Aretha Franklin's first recording session

with Columbia Records.

She was just 18 when she madeAretha.

Artist and Westfield State professor Imo Imeh

has spent most of his career focusing

on the lives of Black people in America.

In 2018, he created a live art exhibition called17 Years Boy,

which centered on the death of Trayvon Martin.

In recent months, he's been working

on a new piece titled Lead Me to Rest.

Producer Ross Lippman

from our sister station WGBY in Springfield

visited Imeh in his studio.

>> It's been three months since Pivot Media

has opened its doors to visitors.

Today, an exception is being made.

>> I'm going to take both of them in.

>> For Imo Imeh.

>> Hi, Jim.

Yeah, man, I got a big one for you here, this is good.

>> One of Imeh's newest paintings is being photographed.

>> This is a little more 3-D than you usually do.

>> The canvas is unlike anything I do now.

>> Its title isLead Me to Rest.

>> Well, I have always been a sucker

for a technical challenge.

>> The painting is part of a series

Imeh has been working on...

(gentle music playing in background)

At his studio in Holyoke.

>> I've been an artist for as long as...

I know? I can remember. (chuckles)

And...

My work now has a...

A strong lean toward social justice.

That's what, I guess, it, it appears.

I feel like there's no way to make these things

without including yourself somehow, you know,

since it just comes with the territory.

>> Larger-than-life drawings and paintings of Black men

line the walls of Imeh's studio,

their faces and hands serving as focal points.

>> I can't see up close.

I have to step back in order to actually see it,

um, to see what I'm working on.

I have to... to dance. (laughs)

>> Imeh says each is connected by a story.

>>Lead Me to Rest is part of a larger, uh, series

that I'm currently developing titledBenediction.

Benediction features these...

I can only describe them as angel monuments.

These, um, gigantic, larger-than-life

large-scale figures that appear to be Black men.

Figures that are angelic beings that have been,

that have been cast down to Earth, uh,

and bound in the skin and the guise of Black men

to serve as witnesses of what Black men and Black boys

are dealing with on-- in, in the world today.

(singing along to recording)

>> As the country took to the streets to protest

in the wake of George Floyd's death,

Imeh was completing Lead Me to Rest.

(music playing)

His art, so it seemed, had played out in real life.

>> I'm here, and my mom called me and was, like,

"How could you have known?

How did you know this was going to happen?"

Lead Me to Rest was all I could think of with this image.

That is the title of this image.

This cry to God

for this angel, you know, the angel there,

representing a Black man,

this cry to his father,

"Please take me to a place of rest,

"because I am bound to this Black body for a period of time,

"and it's too much.

"The pressure is too great.

The pain is too strong."

>> A pain Imeh has carried for years

intensified in recent weeks.

>> People are beginning to notice things

that Black and brown people have been screaming about

for generations.

For years, for years.

In my short life, 40 years.

For years, people have been screaming about these issues.

♪ Oh, I hate the way you tease me ♪

>> Now Imeh turns toward continuing

theBenediction series.

>> ♪ Smile again

>> He hopes it can further provide

context and perspective...

>> ♪ Take you away with me

>> To the Black experience in America.

>> I, I feel extremely blessed, um,

to, to have created something that can speak to a moment

that's as significant as this one.

I feel very, very blessed.

I think it's extremely important for those of us

who have platforms to use them

for the greatest potential good.

That is from the highest offices in the land

to my little platform.

I wish everybody did.

The world would be a very, very different place.

>> BOWEN: As we mentioned earlier in the show,

museums in Massachusetts have begun re-opening,

including the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

And it has extended its exhibition

of Jacob Lawrence's sprawling seriesStruggle,

an effort the artist began in the 1950s

to frame early American history as he saw it.

Over two years, Lawrence painted a series of 30 panels,

from Patrick Henry's struggle to reconcile

the co-existence of liberty and slavery

to the harrowing push for westward expansion.

Here at the Peabody Essex Museum,

these panels are together

for the first time in more than 60 years.

>> We have assembled and tracked

and researched and investigated.

It's been a little bit like being a detective.

>> BOWEN: Austen Barron Bailly is one of the show's curators.

Six years in the making,

the exhibition features most of the original works.

>> There are panels that remain completely unlocated.

And those are either in private hands or lost.

>> BOWEN: The whereabouts of five paintings is unknown,

although the hunt is on.

This one, Panel 19, turned up at a New York auction

as Bailly was working on the show.

That must have been ridiculously exciting.

>> It was incredibly exciting.

These are the accidents of history

that have informed this show--

that even informed Lawrence's work.

>> BOWEN: A darling of the modern art world,

Lawrence was 37 when he beganStruggle.

By the time he put paint to canvas,

Lawrence had spent more than five years

researching American history,

combing through historical records,

and teasing out quotations that would serve as his prompt.

>> He looked for the voices of Founding Fathers.

He looked for these actions that people took

in the struggle to build our democracy.

And he offers it up as a way,

through these incredible paintings, to draw you in.

>> BOWEN: Lawrence's take on history is an intimate one.

Where Paul Revere gave us the Boston Massacre

in full-blown battle,

Lawrence delivered us straight to its first victim.

Where Emmanuel Leutze gave us

a valiant George Washington crossing the Delaware,

Lawrence delivers despair.

>> Cold, suffering, choppy weather,

hints of blood, robed men trying to stay warm.

Hands, emphasizing these hands trying to row across,

silently, steadfastly.

>> BOWEN: Each panel is relatively small,

just 12 by 16 inches,

and Lawrence routinely wrote notes about his process

on the backs of the works,

all as it related toStruggle.

Despite Lawrence's wishes to keep the series together

at an institution,

the paintings were ultimately sold off in the late 1950s.

But Lawrence later considered the work a turning point,

where he found a way to depict humanity.

>> And he offers it up as a way,

through these incredible paintings, to draw you in

and examine and think about your proximity to those stories

and your relationship to them.

>> I think about someone like Jacob at a time

where artists like him had very little opportunity

to experience themselves as an artist.

I'm sure it came with a lot of challenges and obstacles

beyond his ability to create what he created.

>> BOWEN: A widely exhibited artist himself,

Derrick Adams says Lawrence, who died in 2000,

has influenced his career more than any other painter.

The exhibition closes with an installation Adams created

after sifting through Lawrence's archives.

It's an imaginary studio, filled with photographs

never before shown publicly.

The chair is Lawrence's,

oriented, it seems, for quiet contemplation,

and facing a ladder

perhaps lifting Lawrence out of struggle.

>> You know, the ladder, I think, has to do with just

the idea of the plight, his career,

the plight of humanity.

Jacob, you know, starting

from this very familiar place of being seated and thinking.

And then that part of kind of ascending.

He's no longer with us,

but there's things that kind of

give us a bigger picture of who Jacob was.

>> BOWEN: Which is of an artist defined, in part, by struggle.

And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, we head toward the light in New Bedford.

AndState vs. Natasha Banina, a new live play

you can view from your home via Zoom.

>> I want real love,

I want bridal veil and chocolate candies,

and I want all of our girls to follow us in a line,

and for all of them to be dying of envy.

>> BOWEN: Also, a programming note before we leave you,

a new PBS arts program debuts this week.

Beyond the Canvas presents the best arts reporting

from thePBS NewsHour.

You can catch it Sunday night at 10:30 right here on WGBH 2.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen, thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can visit us online at wgbh.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioWGBH.

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