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Problematic Visual Culture

What Artistic Depictions of Thanksgiving Get Wrong

by Liam Conner, class of 2025

National American Indian Heritage Month, since its inception in 1990, celebrates the past and present histories of Indigenous peoples and honors Tribal sovereignty and self-determination. In an attempt to acknowledge the United States’ colonization of formerly Tribal lands, the month recognizes the evils of colonialism and its effects on how we perceive American identity.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that has become a staple for all the wrong reasons. The feast-focused celebration now features early-morning 5Ks, televised parades, football games, and boxed stuffing (albeit the best kind). In classroom retellings of the holiday, we learn that the Puritan Pilgrims peacefully ate alongside their Native American counterparts solely because they developed a friendly relationship. Unfortunately, many accounts fail to mention painful truths, like how the feast coincided with various wars and battles for land. The contextual and historical exclusion of the crucial facts of this story not only allows for these traditions to remain prominent but also disregards the toilsome reality of Thanksgiving and its colonial undertone.

One way to visualize American misconceptions around Thanksgiving lore is to engage critically with depictions of the holiday in art. From Thanksgiving’s earliest representations in the 1800s to the modern clipart we can download on our computers, incorrect retellings inform some of art’s most seminal pieces. 

George Henry Durrie (New Haven, Connecticut, June 6, 1820-1863) Home to Thanksgiving, 1867, hand-colored lithograph, 14 ⅝ X 25 in. co. Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

One of the first published renderings of Thanksgiving dates to 1867, four years after Abraham Lincoln codified the holiday as a national celebration. In George Henry Durrie’s “Home to Thanksgiving,” a snow-covered farm and its inhabitants greet their guests from the city. Rural tranquility marked with a jovial yet modest celebration demonstrates the escapist nature of the holiday. The idea of leaving a bustling city for the peaceful countryside still prevails today, as relatives convene in a typically calm and welcoming home situated away from the day-to-day. 

While perfectly describing the current nature of Thanksgiving, Durrie’s painting does not reflect its origins in history and conflict. The people in this scene celebrate the holiday that began in 1863, not the 1621 feast that the current holiday attempts to resemble. In no way, however, was the first Thanksgiving utterly peaceful. Instead, the feast most likely celebrated a recent massacre of about seven hundred Pequot Indians or the newly agreed-upon, yet quickly broken, peace treaty between the local Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims.

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 8, 1863-1930) The First Thanksgiving, 1912 Oil on canvas.

Nearly fifty years later, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris’s painting “The First Thanksgiving” attempts to depict the holiday as dominated by the Pilgrims. They are postured above the Native Americans, standing up and feeding them as they sit on the ground. It is as though the Pilgrims were fully responsible for their bountiful harvests and societal advancement, leaving no thanks for the Natives, who were crucial to their survival.

Perhaps the most notable of these native guides is Squanto or Tisquantum. Tisquantum, a member of the Patuxet Tribe, was an English-speaking liaison between the Pilgrims in Plymouth and his own Tribe. His story is a prime example of how crucial facts are left out of the general public’s view of the holiday.  Many people tend to disregard the question of how Tisquantum learned the culture and language of the English. Many years before, European colonizers captured Tisquantum and sold him into slavery. Because of this enslavement, Tisquantum spent years in England, forced to adapt to the language and ideas of his colonizers.

Norman Rockwell (New York, New York, February 3, 1894-1978) Freedom from Want, 1943. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4″ x 35 1/2″. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.

A more contemporary look at Thanksgiving includes one of Norman Rockwell’s most famous pieces. “Freedom From Want,” part of a four-part series, displays a family sitting down to eat the Thanksgiving meal. Instead of gawking at the mouth-watering turkey, the family members smile at each other, grateful for their presence. They have no need for a bountiful meal; they just need each other.

Despite the wholesome and anti-materialist representation of this modern feast, the painting still disregards any historical context. The holiday may have signified familial love and gratitude, but that does not mean we should ignore its true and violent origins. Wars across the “new world” surrounded the time of the feast, making it nothing but cheerful. Therefore, depicting the holiday as strictly pleasant is wrong and misleading.

Before the colonization of the “new world,” there were approximately five million American Indians, but by 1800, this population had declined to only 600,000. European colonizers brought disease, quickly killing many Native peoples, yet the wars they waged were the most impactful. In a greedy search for land, colonizers decimated Native populations and enslaved the remaining survivors. As a result, Europeans and their colonial desires wiped many tribes completely out, one of them being the Massachusett, who resided on the very land that Boston College now inhabits. Because of this, a month of history is not enough, as many Native Americans call for reparations to begin amending the crimes of the colonizers.

While these famous works of art certainly depict a widespread misunderstanding of Thanksgiving, there are even false and problematic pieces like these on Boston College’s campus. In Gasson Hall’s rotunda, there are four large paintings on the upper walls created by Francis Schroen, SJ. Two of them display colonizers and their interactions with the local Tribes. 

While attempting to praise these saints, these religious images blatantly show how European colonizers forced Christianity onto the Native Americans. In the first image, it seems as though the holy figure leads the Natives in search of more land. He uses his domineering religion to colonize another land that is not his own. Similarly, the second image depicts a religious ceremony happening right in front of the Natives’ eyes. Placed in the background, they watch from afar, and the painter shows them gazing in a state of awe. The painting inflates the importance of Christianity, deeming it superior to the religion of the Natives. Again, on land that is not their own, the colonizers celebrate divine providence and the false sense of manifest destiny.

It is striking to see these paintings within the halls of Boston College, as they display extremely problematic scenes of colonization. To praise these saints that clearly imposed themselves and their religion on the native population is seemingly against the values of our institution. Unfortunately, this example is not limited to the walls of our own university. Reminders of the incorrect retellings of Thanksgiving and the colonization of the “new world” riddle themselves throughout the United States. Depictions through art are just one of the many ways our modern world ignores the horrific actions of the European colonizers. If we continue to acknowledge these works as accurate, we will never be able to honor the true history of our nation. Instead, we must know that these depictions are wrong and educate ourselves to the greatest extent.

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Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo Returns In Person

By Megan Streeter, Class of ‘24

Few things can get me out of bed early on the weekend, but when I heard that Boston University would be hosting the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE), I set multiple alarms. MICE has been bringing comic artists and fans together for 13 years, but this is the convention’s first meeting in person since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as BU’s first time acting as host. Stepping off the T on a chilly Saturday, unneeded pointed me toward an endless stream of students, adults, and parents with children in tow towards the Thurman Center, known as the “cultural hub” of Boston University.

Over two days of operation from October 22-23, MICE artists, writers, and publishers in the independent comics world spoke on panels, and led hands-on workshops on everything from character design and lettering to printing. All sessions were free of charge, making the event economically accessible. One of the panels I attended was titled “(Not-So) Funny Animal Comics.” Tak Toyoshima moderated the panel, which hosted four contemporary comics artists whose works feature “delightful and off-beat animal stories.” The roundtable discussion began with a short history of animal characters in comics, from early 1900s newspaper strips to Art Spiegelman’s 1980 graphic novel Maus, pages of which the McMullen Museum’s American Alternative Comics exhibition currently feature. Then, as the title suggests, the panel discussed both the funny and the not-so-funny, examining animal characters in comics as vehicles both for comedy and social commentary. 

MICE’s biggest draw was, arguably, its vendor hall. The hall gives space to hundreds of independent artists with a wide range of styles, subjects, and notoriety. Boston College senior Michal Miller said of her experience at MICE: “As I walked onto the convention floor, I was initially shocked by the number of artists in attendance and even more appalled when the first person I spotted was an author I’d met years earlier (at another convention) in New York City!” 

Included in the mix was a storyboard artist from Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, Boston University students displaying their works, and independent artists from all over the east coast. “Every single vendor there was so incredibly passionate about their work, and so much of it was incredibly strange and avant-garde and unique,” said Boston College junior Tommy Chen. The vendors sold not only comics but posters, prints, stickers, pins, even tabletop games of their own devising, and much more.While they have yet to set a date for 2023, you can learn more about MICE on their website and join their newsletter to receive updates. Can’t get enough of indie and alternative comics? Even if you missed MICE, you can still get a healthy dose of indie and alternative comics at the McMullen Museum’s American Alternative Comics exhibition, which will be open for the rest of the semester.

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Artists Across Comm Ave

Artists Across Comm Ave: Katie Garrett

Artists Across Comm Ave is a series that spotlights student artists at Boston College (across Commonwealth Avenue). The social media installments of this series can be found on the McMullen Museum’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

By Michaela Brant, class of ’23

Boston College senior Katie Garrett does more than study economics; she is also an avid sewer since childhood. She learned from her grandmother in California, who gave her a sewing machine, and believes that everyone should know the skill.

Katie’s love of sewing began with tailoring and mending clothes (although her very first creations were pencil pouches as valentines for her class—which she said were not long enough to fit pencils). If she got a hand-me-down or thrifted a piece of clothing that fit less than perfect, it did not mean it was trash. It just meant she had to make it her own. 

“That was my first love with sewing, was taking stuff in or making something a little shorter,” she said. “I didn’t really start to get into making clothes from scratch until probably the past two years. It felt like something I was never going to be able to do, but I think as you get into a hobby like that, it kind of takes over, and you’re like, ‘Totally, I could try this out.’” 

Traveling back and forth from California to Boston College every couple of months meant that Katie had to leave her sewing machine at home. At first, she found that sewing machines on campus were only available to students who had a connection to the Theatre Department’s costume operations. She needed another option if she wanted to keep sewing. 

Meanwhile, the Boston College Design and Innovation department sought to bring more design thinking to campus. So in the summer of 2021, the department installed a makerspace where students could use equipment (including sewing machines) to do their own projects in the basement of Higgins Hall, the home of several BC science departments and classes. Spending time down there, Katie realized she wanted to bring her passion for sewing to the rest of BC. Once the makerspace, renamed The Hatchery, moved to BC’s newest academic building at 245 Beacon Street, Katie saw her chance. The idea for Patches, a sewing and upcycling club, was born.

Starting a club on campus is not as simple as grabbing your friends and booking a room—it requires a process that includes meeting with the Board of Student Organizations (BSO), proving there is a need for the organization, and documenting interest. Because STITCH, a club of crafters primarily focused on knitting and crocheting, was deemed too similar to her idea for a sewing club, the BSO rejected her first application proposal sophomore year. Rather than let that derail her, she decided to reapply the following year and get creative in proving that students wanted and needed Patches on campus.

At the annual Boston College Arts Festival in April, not-yet-official Patches set up a booth to sell clothing and collect interested students’ emails. By the end of the day, they had sold almost all of their clothing and had a lengthy list of interested students’ emails. 

In the fall, once Patches was an official club, Katie tabled at the student involvement fair, gaining even more interested participants. The first general interest meeting, she said, drew about 60 people, even though it was at 9:00 pm on a rainy Monday night. 

Patches uses the sewing machines in The Hatchery for sewing meetings, meaning members need to take the safety orientation, then complete a sewing machine training. Katie is among the group of student workers at The Hatchery who leads training and helps people out during open hours. 

The hardest part of teaching people to sew, she said, is that they underestimate their skill level. She compared learning to sew to driving a car or following a recipe—once you get the hang of it, it feels natural.

Making clothes from scratch and upcycling, while it may seem small, is a way for Katie to resist the fast fashion industry and overconsumption. Textile waste is a vast pollutant worldwide. The EPA estimated in 2018 that the United States created 17 million tons of textile waste.

“My ability to sew is something I’m really grateful for,” she said, “because it allows me to be sustainable in a way that a lot of people don’t have the ability to be.”

Upcycling clothing is one way to divert textile waste from landfills or already overrun thrift stores. “It allows me to be more thoughtful about the ways that I consume,” said Katie, “which I just try to take advantage of.”

As an economics major, Katie hopes to work to regulate banks and financial technology companies in the future. Although she does not see sewing playing a role in her career, she knows she will be sewing for the rest of her life. 

Although the arts scene at Boston College can sometimes appear limited to traditionally popular forms, like music, theatre, dance, and visual arts, Katie and Patches are helping create artistic spaces for anyone interested. 

“People who do art, or who want to do art, or like art, give you that respect and encouragement, like, ‘No, that’s cool, you should keep doing it,’” she said. “And I feel like meeting people like that here, even though I wasn’t still sewing [as often], encouraged me to…sew now more than I ever have in my life.”

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Into the Collection Spotlight Uncategorized

Into the Collection Spotlight

Joseph Stapleton (1921-1994) Thinking of Duke Ellington, 1979 India ink on paper, 17 x 14 in.

By Liam Conner, class of ’25

Joseph Stapleton was one of the many artists who populated New York City following the wars of the early 20th century. As a member of Abstract Expressionism’s “second generation,” Stapleton and others were heavily influenced by international culture, social movements, and artistic creativity. As shown in Stapleton’s Thinking of Duke Ellington, the seemingly spontaneous and erratic brush strokes combined with what seems to be text throughout the border work to create a portrait of Duke Ellington like none other. Painted approximately five years after The Duke’s death, the work expresses his longstanding legacy through its aberration from form. Ellington’s music throughout his career was revolutionary, and this image articulates that with its quick and almost swing-like strokes that hop around the canvas. Heavily influenced by Japanese calligraphy, Stapleton unconventionally incorporates themes from throughout the world in the same way that Duke Ellington wrote music with Latin and European cultures in mind. Stapleton’s interpretation of the great composer in Thinking of Duke Ellington provides a look not only at his own era but also at the impact of Duke Ellington and his legacy on the greater artistic community.

Sources:

Duke Ellington: American Musician. See https://www.britannica.com/biography/Duke-Ellington#ref344119. Accessed 9/23/2022.

New in Artstor—Nearly 300 Self-portraits by Joseph Stapleton: A Unique Offering from a Second Generation Abstract Expressionist. See https://www.artstor.org/2019/11/05/new-in-artstor-nearly-300-self-portraits-by-joseph-stapleton/. Accessed 9/23/2022.

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Letter from the Co-Editor: Signing Off

Dear McMullen Community,

I am beyond grateful to have served as a Student Ambassador, member of the  Education and EDIA+ (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) committees, and co-chair of the Publications Committee over the past two years. I started working during the pandemic and have had the opportunity to witness the McMullen grow and adapt to the challenges of our society, including the struggle for racial justice. Additionally, I have been able to experience several exhibits, such as Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives and Taking Shape: Abstractions from the Arab World, 1950s – 1980s. The exhibits have introduced me to different forms of art from around the world and have made me think more critically. 

The McMullen is a place that has enriched me intellectually and personally. I have met some of the most passionate, creative, and kind people, and I am blessed to have many of them as not only colleagues but friends. In addition, I have had the opportunity to work with other McMullen Ambassadors, host workshops, and implement my own ideas through collaborations with student organizations that I belonged to, such as FACES, the anti-racism organization, and BC Bigs. From the good-humored security guards to our amazing supervisor Rachel, the McMullen has fostered a welcoming and intellectually-stimulating environment that provided me with skills that I will use in future academic and professional pursuits. 

Being a co-chair and member of the Publications Committee, the Terrace provided fellow Student Ambassadors and me with an outlet to critically analyze art, its nuances, and its role in our society. Through articles such as “Religious Art: Buddha is not Home Decor” and “Art as Resistance: Murals at the U.S. – Mexico Border,” I have recognized the role of art beyond something aesthetically pleasing and as a powerful tool for both social change and oppression. The publications team has engaged further in the idea of art as a tool of oppression through our series called “Problematic Visual Culture,” which discusses pieces of visual culture that perpetuate stereotypes and other forms of discrimination. We also ask questions about the ethics of how museums operate in the article “Museums and Ethics: A Series of Question.” I am grateful to have been a part of a platform that has encouraged critical thinking, new perspectives, and the inclusion of marginalized groups. Through the Terrace, the McMullen has been able to connect with issues facing communities beyond BC and uncover how important art is in the world.    

I will definitely be visiting the Terrace website in the future, but as a reader rather than a writer, and I am beyond excited to see the fantastic work of all the Student Ambassadors to come. Working here has been an amazing experience, and while it is sad to say goodbye, I am so excited to pass the Terrace over to the committee’s returning co-chair: Michaela Brant (‘23), and new co-chair Joy Cheng (‘23). 

Sincerely, 

Ivana Wijedasa ‘22

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Art as Resistance: Murals at the U.S. – Mexico Border

By Ivana Wijedasa, class of ‘22

During my senior year spring break, I visited a beach not part of a resort in Cancún filled with stressed college students in need of a vacation, but one lined by a wall – the U.S. – Mexico border wall. Although it would be my last college spring break, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to physically see the borderlands instead of solely reading about them in academic courses. Thus, I decided to spend the week on an educational trip to visit the border in San Diego and Tijuana as part of a course titled “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Borderlands and Human Mobility” taught by Professor Olayo-Méndez. The trip centered on utilizing different disciplines such as biology and theology to analyze and address issues at the border. In the case of art, the trip focused on paintings and murals, and how artists can use them as a tool of resistance against discriminatory migration policies at the border.

A place in San Diego that featured art from Chicanos—Mexican-Americans—in response to harsh migration policies and dehumanizing rhetoric towards migrants is Chicano Park. Immediately, the complexity and number of murals throughout the park overwhelmed me, and I stood in front of each mural for several minutes, admiring the mix of faces and phrases. A central theme of the murals focused on the injustice of migration policies, and I felt both sadness and frustration at the lack of humanity ascribed to migrants as I walked around the park. In the mural with many crosses, phrases such as “Love has no borders!” and “No border wall” are visible. The mural draws connections between religion and migrant rights. The presence of several crosses signifies how Christianity promotes a love for one’s neighbor, which the U.S. government obstructed with the construction of a border wall.

Photo from Chicano Park of a mural saying “Love has no borders!” and “No Border Wall” painted on a bridge pillar

In another mural photographed below, one artist painted on a pier under a bridge with the phrase “La tierra es de quien la trabaja con sus propias manos,” which roughly translates as “The land belongs to those who work it with their own hands.” There are images of migrant workers in the same mural, which illustrates how jobs tilling and farming the ground in America are often done by migrants who cross the border and should be allowed to remain on the land they work. Lastly, another mural in the park pictured below contains the phrase “Ningun ser humano es ilegal,” meaning “No human being is illegal.” The mural addresses the rhetoric surrounding Hispanic migrants at the border that describes them as “illegals” to dehumanize them and justify cruel migration policies. In addition to the murals in San Diego, more paintings and murals are featured across the border in Tijuana, addressing similar issues of dehumanization and injustice.

Photo on the left from Chicano Park of a mural featuring migrant workers painted on a pier. Photo on the right of a mural from Chicano Park saying “Ningun ser humano es ilegal.”

When we crossed the border to Tijuana, the colorful and mural-filled border wall on the Tijuana side surprised me. A wall that is a barrier to pursuing a better life and is constructed from racist and nationalist ideologies has become a form of art. In addition to the murals painted on it, the location of the wall also surprised me. In the photos below, the wall sits alongside a beach, where people frequently visit to spend leisure time under the rays of the sun. The wall is part of everyday life for the people of Tijuana, who cannot escape its presence even when trying to enjoy the beach. The dehumanizing wall is covered by paintings and phrases that advocate for migrants and address the injustice of the wall’s existence. For example, in the photo below, an upside-down American flag is painted alongside the phrase “Repatriate” as a reference to the deported veterans who served in the American military. The upside-down flag represents the hypocrisy of the U.S. government that permits undocumented migrants to serve in the military but not to live in the country.

Photo from Tijuana of the border wall on the beach in Friendship Park
Photo of the mural on the border wall with an upside-down American flag and the word “Repatriate”

Another feature of the border wall pictured below is the blue door with the word “love” painted in yellow within a red heart. Surrounding the door are phrases such as “mural de la hermandad” or “brotherhood wall,” as well as words including “love,” “peace,” and “liberty.” The door itself, which the government rarely opens, allows families who have been torn apart by the immigration system to meet for a few minutes and for some to hug each other for the first time. The remainder of the wall meeting the ocean features portraits of deported migrants as a way to humanize and put a face to people often characterized by numbers. The border wall art and the art at Chicano Park serve as reminders of the humanity of migrants and the injustice they face due to U.S. migration policies.  

Photo of the Love door in the border wall in Tijuana

Although we often view art as a pastime or something enjoyed for leisure, art is also a powerful tool of social change. The murals at Chicano Park and on the border wall in Tijuana provide us with important examples and serve as a reminder of the humanity of migrants and the discriminatory policies that we need to combat to ensure migrants’ humanity is recognized. Art is a tool of resistance, and hopefully, more artists and people will begin to realize that.

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From the Seven Hills of Rome to Chestnut Hill: On the Trail of Boston College’s St. Michael Statue

By Michaela Brant, class of ‘23

Featured image by Éamon Laughlin, class of ’22

When awe-struck visitors and hustling students enter Gasson Hall, Boston College’s most iconic Gothic building, they pass through a rotunda adorned with oil paintings, and in the center stands a towering sculpture. St. Michael, triumphant in his struggle with Satan, raises his brass sword to smite the devil and send him to the underworld. The action-packed scene depicted by this statue would not be amiss  in a comic book. Motion is chiseled into the marble, transforming solid stone into fluid forms and lythe bodies straining against one another. The folds of Michael’s robe flowing behind him and the intricate decorations of Lucifer’s serpentine tail truly bring the marble to life. This important piece of Boston College and Gasson Hall history has a pathway that spans centuries and takes us from an artist’s studio in the heart of Rome to the parlors of Boston’s 19th-century elite, to right here in the Heights. 

Lucifer lays prone at Michael’s feet near vanquished, and he tries to raise himself upright, not yet defeated. You can almost hear Lucifer cry out a ferocious roar as he looks back at his assailant, face full of frustration and left fist clenched. He uses the other hand to steady himself as he prepares a retaliatory strike. Although a paradox, one cannot help but admire the demon for his stubbornness and refusal to stay down. The Archangel Michael stands victorious but takes no joy in his work. Their battle is not simple, but a civil war. Lucifer was once a powerful angel, and Michael casting him out represents a conflict between former allies and friends. The artist’s masterful carving inserts the emotion and gravitas of this conflict and forces the viewer to reckon with this struggle for the fate of heaven and earth. As one gazes down from the towering Michael to the foundation of the statue, the decorations forming the base are equally impressive. Three sides of the base feature intricately carved scenes of St. Michael. When he carries Moses’s body to heaven, drives away a demon from Moses’ dead body, and he meets and blesses the prophet Daniel in the Tigris River. After one stops and absorbs this majestic sight, it conjures more questions—who made this work? What inspired it? And how did it get here?

Scipione Tadolini

The iconography of St. Michael remains a constant in the Catholic tradition of statuary. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the statue’s creator, Scipione Tadolini, was commissioned to bring this favorite biblical story to life. Tadolini, a middle-class sculptor based in Rome, lived from 1822 until 1893 and came from a family of artists. His mother, Serafina Passamonti Tadolini, painted miniatures. His father, Adamo Tadolini, was also a sculptor and a favorite assistant of the great Neoclassical, Venetian-born artist Antonio Canova. Canova helped Adamo establish his own studio, where he trained his sons, and which Scipione took over upon Adamo’s death. Four generations of Tadolinis worked in this historic Rome street studio until it closed in the 1960s. The studio is now home to the Canova-Tadolini museum and café, where patrons can sip on chianti and dine on fresh-made pasta, all the while admiring beautiful marble sculptures. 

There is not much recorded information about the life of Tadolini himself, but what we have gathered focuses mainly on his art. From looking at his pieces over the years, it is clear that white marble was Tadolini’s material of choice. Tadolini studied at the Accademia in Rome and then gained recognition for his sculptures from prominent institutions in Italy and beyond. He created several portraits and ecclesiastical sculptures for Roman churches and sculpted an equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar for the city of Lima, Peru. He also was well known for his figure sculptures, and in the early 1850s, he gained notoriety for making several marble works from the same model, La schiava greca (The Greek Slave)

Photo courtesy of Richard Redding Antiques Ltd., richardreddingantiques.com 

The Statue’s Path

The life of Gardner Brewer, the statue’s patron, began in Boston in 1806. Brewer came to be one of the wealthiest merchants in Boston, following in the footsteps of his father, Thomas Brewer. He worked as a distiller and then became involved in the dry-goods trade, founding the house of Gardner Brewer & Co. Through this dry-goods business, Brewer accumulated a fortune estimated at several million dollars by the time of his death. With such a substantial fortune, the Brewers were eclectic collectors of art. They filled their home with American pottery, European decorative art, Etruscan gems, Japanese screens, oriental jade, and rare jewelry from France and India. The Brewer family bequeathed most of this collection of worldly art to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Additionally, shortly before Brewer passed away in 1874, he gifted a beautiful fountain to the city of Boston. The Brewer Fountain now stands in the Boston Common and has been running since June 3, 1868.

In 1865, Brewer contacted Tadolini and asked him to convert his vision of St. Michael overcoming Satan into stone. Brewer paid $28,000 for the statue and insisted that Tadolini accompany it on its journey to America. Tadolini, always a perfectionist, took four years to complete the statue, which was one of his largest and most ambitious works. In 1869, Tadolini accompanied the statue across the Atlantic to Boston, where Brewer had the statue installed in the great hall of his Beacon Street Home. The city of Boston has since torn down his house at 29 Beacon Street to build an extension of the Massachusetts State House.Unfortunately, Brewer only had five years to enjoy the statue. After Brewer’s death, the St. Michael statue passed into the hands of an art dealer. It remained in storage for many years until an anonymous benefactor purchased it for Boston College in 1909 in the name of Charles Lane, S.J., who was a prefect of the Church of Immaculate Conception and minister of Boston College High School. The acquisition was announced in April 1909, and the statue arrived at Boston College soon after.

Image courtesy of O’Neill Library, Boston College

Gasson Hall: Traditions and Contexts

Gasson Hall is both the center of and backdrop for many highlights of BC life. Several rooms in Gasson Hall bring students together for academic and extracurricular events. Gasson 305, the home of the Fulton Debate Society, is both a classroom and a mini auditorium. A list of debate winners since 1890 adorns one wall, and the spirit of both learning and performance continues outside of the classroom—the same room is the site of panel discussions and comedy shows. Closer to the St. Michael statue, Gasson 100, or “the Irish room,” hosts guest speakers, chamber music concerts, and student admissions programming.

Not only does Gasson Hall play host to a multitude of BC traditions, but the shaded Linden Lane that leads up to the hall is also one of the most Instagrammed locations in the country. Visitors and graduates pose for photographs framed by lush trees in front of the bronze eagle sculpture with Gasson’s gothic spires in the background. Students snap photos walking to and from class in sunshine and snow alike. Freshman process down Linden Lane for “first flight,” and seniors process the opposite way for commencement. Boston College students cherish Gasson Hall and the memories it gives to them. And the St. Michael statue stands just beyond the doors, a silent witness to it all. 

A Boston College Stylus article from April 1909 describes the newly acquired St. Michael statue as “a great gift to Boston College.” Since then, Boston College has undergone many changes—not the least of which are admitting women and people of color. The university continues to evolve academically, with adding an engineering department and the Schiller Institute of Integrated Science and Society, and socially, with students pushing for increased resources for marginalized communities. No matter how the school has changed, the beautiful art and architecture have made Boston College Boston College, one of the nation’s most beautiful campuses and a place that people associate with service and commitment to Jesuit values. Today, the St. Michael statue resides in a space that continues to give to Boston College students—memories, traditions, and hopefully, a place to call home. 

Acknowledgments

Thank you to all the student ambassadors at the McMullen Museum of Art who played a role in the process of writing and researching this article: Chris Rizzo, Ivana Wijedasa, Matthew DiBenedetto, Adrianna Zhao, Zoey Zheng, and Ethan Starr. Thank you also to Rachel Brody and Emily Coello for their guidance and editing.

References

The Answer Wall. “What Does the Gasson Hall Mean to BC Students?” Boston College Libraries, July 30, 2018. https://library.bc.edu/answerwall/2018/07/30/what-does-the-gasson-hall-mean-to-bc-students/. Accessed 3/7/2022.

Andreozzi, Brenna. “The Magnificent Site on Commonwealth Avenue: Father Gasson’s Bell Tower Brings Boston College to New Heights.” John J. Burns Library’s Blog, October 19, 2015. https://johnjburnslibrary.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/the-magnificent-site-on-commonwealth-avenue-father-gassons-bell-tower-brings-boston-college-to-new-heights/. Accessed 3/7/2022.

Nisbet, Gary. “Scipione Tadolini (1822-92).” Glasgow – City of Sculpture, see http://www.glasgowsculpture.com/pg_biography.php?sub=tadolini_s. Accessed 2/1/2022.

Christie’s. “The Opulent Eye – 19th Century Furniture, Sculpture, Works of Art, Ceramics & Carpets.” Live Auction 12029 [2016]. Scipione Tadolini (Italian 1822-1892/3) La schiava greca (The Greek Slave), see https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6001605. Accessed 2/1/2022.

Richard Redding Antiques Ltd. “Sold Objects.” A Classical Statue of The Greek Slave or La schiava greca by Scipione Tadolini, Rome, dated 1860,” see https://www.richardreddingantiques.com/sold/9527/. Accessed 2/1/2022.

Willard, Ashton Rollins. History of Modern Italian Art. United Kingdom: Longmans, Green, 1900. https://www.google.com/books/edition/History_of_Modern_Italian_Art/oZdGAAAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1. Accessed 3/7/2022.

“Changes Among Boston Jesuits” The Sacred Heart Review, Volume 59, Number 30. July 27, 1918. https://newspapers.bc.edu/?a=d&d=BOSTONSH19180727-01.2.11&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——-. Accessed 3/7/2022.

YouFine Art and Sculpture. “Ornaments of Scipione Tadolini Outdoor Garden White Marble Life Size Statue for Sale-MOKK-231,” see https://www.cnstatue.com/ornaments-of-scipione-tadolini-outdoor-garden-white-marble-life-size-statue-for-sale-mokk-231.html. Accessed 3/7/2022.

Trainor, Tessa. “Gasson’s historical artwork under wraps.” The Heights, November 15, 2010. https://newspapers.bc.edu/?a=d&d=bcheights20101115-01.2.70&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——. Accessed 3/7/2022.

Kelly, Joseph E. “A great art gift to Boston College.” The Stylus. April 1909. https://newspapers.bc.edu/?a=d&d=stylus19090401-01.2.2&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN——-. Accessed 3/7/2022.

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Art in Focus: “Martin Parr” with Professors Monsignor Liam Bergin and Joshua Snyder

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. In addition, each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the second installment in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different photographs and themes from the Martin Parr: Time and Place exhibition. For this episode, we have invited Professors Monsignor Liam Bergin and Joshua Snyder of the Theology Department to discuss Catholicism in Ireland and how Martin Parr’s photograph “The Pope Gives Mass at Phoenix Park, Dublin,” documents Pope John II’s historic visit in 1979.

The Pope Gives Mass at Phoenix Park, Dublin, 1979 © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

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Art in Focus: “Aftermath” with Professors Mark Cooper and Jane Cassidy

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. In addition, each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is a special installment in the Art in Focus series, where Student Ambassador Christopher Rizzo interviews the co-artists who created Aftermath, an installation on view in the winter. For this episode, Professors Mark Cooper and Jane Cassidy of the Art, Art History, and Film Department discuss their roles as collaborators in the creation of Aftermath and how the piece offers a critique on “fast-fashion” and global economic trends based on throwaway consumption. 

Aftermath has now traveled on to the ACCelerate Creativity + Innovation Festival, where it will be exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in April 2022. 
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Podcast Archive Uncategorized

Art in Focus: “Martin Parr” with Professors Robert Savage and Sean McGraw

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. In addition, each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the first installment in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different photographs and themes from the Martin Parr: Time and Place exhibition. For this episode, we have invited Professor Robert Savage of the History Department and Visiting Professor Sean McGraw of the Political Science Department to discuss how Martin Parr’s photographs capture an Ireland in transition through history, politics, and culture.

St Mary’s Holy Well, Killargue, County Leitrim, 1981 © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Sandy Row Bonfire, Belfast, 2016 © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

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Museums and Ethics: A Series of Questions

As part of our initiative to be more reflective on our role in upholding systems of oppression, we have compiled a list of questions from the Student Ambassadors and McMullen Museum staff addressing the intersection between museums and ethics. There is a lively debate over the ethics of museums and the pieces that they showcase, especially in the Western world, where many objects on display were stolen during periods of colonization. Additionally, museums often charge entry fees or offer membership privileges that limit access to art to only those who can afford it. Many museums participate in perpetuating racial and class divisions, but despite this, they also can combat them. The intersection of museums and ethics is a complicated topic that we do not have all the answers to; therefore, we hope to bring attention to this issue and spark conversation by gathering questions to reflect upon and consider as workers at the McMullen Museum. We encourage you to look at our questions below and join us in our reflection on the nuanced existence and operation of museums.

Questions: 

  1. How do countries that have colonized other countries deal with the return of artifacts or the politics of displaying art from the countries they colonized?
  2. What sort of representation do museums engage in (i.e., artists and the subject matter of works)? What is the value of this representation?
  3. Who are museums for? Is there a sort of elitism connected to museums? 
  4. Should museums display works of art that are problematic? 
  5. Is it ethical to have a fixed cost associated with entrance? (i.e., in London, you pay as much as you can, but in the U.S. can be upwards of $20 per person)
  6. How do museums decolonize their collecting, display, curatorial, and education practices?
  7. As public funding to museums decreases over time, how do museums balance the need to attract wealthy patrons with aims to make museum management more inclusive and equitable? 
  8. Does the mission and priorities of an academic museum like the McMullen Museum differ from public museums like the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston?
  9. Does the use of technology in exhibitions and programming encourage or hinder access?
  10. Should the McMullen Museum model itself as a temple for quiet reflection and reverence of art or a forum to discuss and debate what is displayed? Can it be both?
  11. Is spectacle inherent in museum exhibition practice? If so, does this compromise or hinder learning?
  12. Whose stories should museums tell? Whose values should they highlight? What objects deserve attention? And who decides?
  13. Do museums have a responsibility to enter the discourse on current affairs?
  14. Can museums be objective in their interpretation practices?
  15. What objects should be collected, and is it ever ethical to deaccession (remove from a collection to sell) objects?
Photo of the McMullen Museum of Art

Featured Image Credit: Tom Lobo-Brennan

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Problematic Visual Culture Uncategorized

Problematic Visual Culture: Hair Removal Advertisements & Beauty Standards

By Joy Cheng, class of ‘23

Do you know where our beauty standard of the 21st century comes from and why we shave?  What we find attractive today is rooted in the advertisement boom of the 1950s. Along with the rise of fashion styles like short sleeves and bikinis, companies advertised hair removal products and perpetuated beauty standards of hair removal, especially for women.1 We should, therefore, be wary of the constant exposure and pressure from advertising agencies of profit-hungry companies that harmfully dictate shaving and hair removal trends.

When we think of advertisements, the words “visual culture” are not usually the first thing to pop into our minds. However, advertisements often are forms of visual culture—like paintings, photographs, or videos and it is through these mediums that advertisers can associate beauty and happiness with hair removal. When we see ads like the one below, we often compare ourselves with these models—desiring to be happy, proud, and feeling good about our bodies. We draw an interesting connection between being beautiful and shaving; “if I want to be just like that model, I should shave my body hair too!” As a result, we come to the conclusion that “if I want to shave my body hair, I’ll need to buy a razor.” In other words, advertisements are a form of visual culture that attempts to influence consumers’ actions in a way that leads them to purchase products. As a result, corporations promote hair removal, making products like razors a necessity to gain profits.

Pictured above is a 1978 magazine ad for the hair removal product Nair.

In the modern digital age, we are more exposed to advertising than ever before. Advertising is omnipresent, from billboards on the highway to Instagram ads to full-page spreads in newspapers and magazines. Sometimes advertisements are not evident at first glance—a shelf of sleek Gillette razors at CVS is a form of advertising too. With ‘winner of Allure’ or ‘best of 2021’ signs, our eyes are bound to pay attention to these catchphrases. Yet, most of the time, we do not realize how they influence our thoughts. With so much exposure to advertising, it is no wonder that we begin to internalize the messages they present. As we internalize messages about hair removal, we may perceive ourselves as ugly for having body hair—even though body hair is perfectly normal! The goal of advertising is to sell products and capitalize on both real and manufactured insecurities. By perpetuating beauty standards of hair removal, advertisers influence women’s self-perception in unhealthy ways by telling people that they need to shave in order to be beautiful.

Advertising taglines reveal explicit attempts to create beauty standards for hair removal. For example, one ad from the 1900s asks us, “are you going to permit unsightly hair on your face, arms, underarms, and limbs to spoil the freedom which awaits you at the beach?” while another reads, “summer dress and modern dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.”2 These ads are trying to generate shame about our body hair—it is something shameful that spoils our fun and how others perceive us. We see similar ideas in modern-day ads, like a Gillette Venus advertisement that states, “you’re a woman, shave like one,” implying that shaving is necessary for women.3 The message is consistent throughout decades—we need to eliminate body hair because it impedes us from being viewed as beautiful.

Gillette’s advertisement for Venus Embrace Razor in 2012.

Today, people are challenging the notion that we need to shave to be beautiful. Body hair is becoming more and more accepted as beautiful, and we see that some celebrities are confronting conventional beauty norms that mainstream culture imposes onto us. Julia Michaels, a singer, announced on Twitter that she is “not shaving [her] armpits ever again… social norms can eat an eggplant.”4Mo’Nique, a comedian, says, “I tried shaving one time, and it was uncomfortable and painful… I said never again would I do that to myself.”5 Beyond celebrities, we see public opinions moving towards body hair acceptance through movements like #Januhairy, a social media campaign encouraging women to grow their body hair for the month of January.

Left: Pictured above Mo’Nique showing off her unshaven legs at the Golden Globes in 2017. Photo courtesy of Getty Images. Right: Instagram account showing support for #Januhairy movement.

Beyond celebrities and popular sentiment, there are also emerging shaving companies that promote body hair acceptance. One such company is Billie, a razor company, which states that “what you do with [your hair] is up to you – grow it, get rid of it, or comb it.”6 Another company, Estrid, is running a “Super Hairoes” campaign to help women feel more comfortable about their body hair.7Although we could be cynical about the whole thing and claim that these companies are just trying to profit from public sentiment, it does do its part in bringing us to question certain status quos and their origins. Even though they sell hair removal products, they are not trying to generate insecurity about body hair and profit from it. Rather, they are trying to support consumers with their own choices about body hair. I think this is what we need—advertising that supports our body hair choices rather than enforcing uncomfortable beauty standards.

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In Case You Missed It Museum Events

In Case You Missed It: Spring 2022 Lunar New Year Celebration

Photographs and captions prepared by Sunny Lee, class of ’22

On Saturday, February 5th, 2022, the McMullen hosted a Lunar New Year event with Boston College’s Asian student organizations. This event was open to the public, and it was fabulous to see many students and members of the local community enjoying their time in the festive halls of the Museum. The Asian Caucus, Chinese Students Association, Korean Students Association, Taiwanese Cultural Organization, and the Vietnamese Student Association presented New Year’s food from various countries, games, and opportunities to make New Year’s decorations to celebrate Lunar New Year. The games played were Go, Mahjong, and Feilong. Additionally, attendees tried their hands at decorating red envelopes, fortune-telling, origami, and making Chinese lanterns and New Year’s knots. 

Board members of the Vietnamese Students Association (VSA) Gina Yoo and Vivienne Le smile for the camera while preparing to serve Vietnamese cuisine.

Left: The mouthwatering dumplings the Chinese Student Association (CSA) brought were a popular hit among the attendees. Right: The Taiwanese Culture Organization (TCO) brought delicious egg tarts and crackers that are popular staples at Asian supermarkets.

The button-making machines worked by McMullen Student Ambassadors allowed participants to create their own button pins.

Right: participants in the game room busied themselves with the various traditional Asian games provided, such as Mahjong and Go. Left: attendees used their artistry and dexterity in creating paper crafts such as a Chinese lantern ornament.

If you did not have the chance to catch our TikTok video on social media, you can watch it here!

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Art in Focus: “Mariano” with Professors Oliver Wunsch and Kevin Lotery

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the second installment of two in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema exhibition. For this episode, we have invited Assistant Professors Oliver Wunsch and Kevin Lotery of the Art, Art History, and Film Department to discuss a series of three sketches commissioned by the Cuban government for an airport mural.

Mariano Rodríguez (Havana, Cuba, August 24, 1912-1990) boceto para mural Historia de la Aviación | sketch for mural History of Aviation, ca. 1954 
ink and watercolor on board | tinta y acuarela sobre cartón, 12.1 ✕ 30.3″
Col. Fundación Mariano Rodríguez
Mariano Rodríguez (Havana, Cuba, August 24, 1912-1990) boceto para mural Historia de la Aviación | sketch for mural History of Aviation, ca. 1954 
ink and watercolor on board | tinta y acuarela sobre cartón, 11 ✕ 30.3″
Col. Fundación Mariano Rodríguez 
Mariano Rodríguez (Havana, Cuba, August 24, 1912-1990) boceto para mural Historia de la Aviación | sketch for mural History of Aviation, ca. 1954 
ink and watercolor on board | tinta y acuarela sobre cartón, 14.3 ✕ 30″
Col. Fundación Mariano Rodríguez

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Religious Art: Buddha is not Home Decor

By Ivana Wijedasa, class of ‘22

Art is a significant component of many religions: from the geometric patterns along the walls of mosques and the golden crafted statues of Hindu gods to the stained glass windows of churches. However, the art belonging to Buddhism has become a source of decoration for non-believers, especially in Western countries. For example, you have likely seen a statue of Lord Buddha on a friend’s desk or a poster hanging with a meditative image of Buddha saying, “Let that sh** go.” 

Having a Buddhist mother and a Catholic father, I’ve questioned why aspects of Buddhism have become a part of popular culture and home decor for non-believers while symbols of Christianity and other religions have not. My observations have led me to wonder: What is the popular appeal in displaying the arts of Buddhism? Is Buddhist art as home decor a form of appropriation? Today we view art as something to be enjoyed by the general public, but perhaps, in the case of religious iconography and art, only practitioners of the religion and those who understand its intricacies should be allowed to display these forms of art.

The visual appearance and the fundamental values that Buddhist art represents appeal to people. The mandala, a symbolic image of the universe in Tibetan Buddhism, is displayed on tapestries hanging on dorm walls of non-Buddhist students. It consists of intricate circular patterns, geometric patterns, and symbols, including a lotus flower, wheel, or sun to represent balance or a perfect universe. Mandalas are a meditation tool to transform ordinary minds into enlightened ones and to assist with healing. They are not just an exotic form of art to be displayed carelessly. If a non-Buddhist uses a mandala as decoration, there should be both respect and understanding of its meaning. 

The most common religious iconographic image found displayed in the homes of non-believers is the statue of Lord Buddha. For many, the appeal in this artistic icon stems from a vague understanding of Buddhism as a peaceful religion that emphasizes meditation and enlightenment. For others, the statue of Lord Buddha only holds aesthetic appeal as a form of trendy decoration. The typical statue features Lord Buddha sitting with his legs crossed and his hands in various positions ranging from down on his lap or together as if praying. In Buddhism, each stance of Lord Buddha has meaning; most importantly, the statue represents the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha. For example, the sitting pose of Lord Buddha represents teaching, meditation, or an attempt to reach enlightenment. On the other hand, the standing stance of Lord Buddha represents a rise from meditation to teach the Four Noble Truths or to repel conflict. 

Artists created the first icons of Lord Buddha centuries after the death of Siddhartha, and they did not represent his physical attributes accurately. Instead, each image represents the spirit of the teachings of Buddha. These teachings include beliefs in reincarnation, karma, a refrain from harming all living creatures, and the practice of meditation to achieve an enlightened state of mind. Therefore, there is so much more to the artistic elements of Buddhism that get lost when used simply as decor.      

Photo of a statue of Lord Buddha at a temple in Princeton, New Jersey. Photo Credit: Malik Lyons (link here).

My mom is Buddhist and has expressed her unease with the sacred objects of her religion being used as home decor by people who have no knowledge of Buddhist teachings. Art is deeply ingrained in religion and is a tangible form to represent what is often intangible such as the universe, gods, or teachings. In navigating the consumption of art, the meaning of religious icons and symbols should be thoroughly understood and align with one’s values before being displayed. In addition, we should be conscientious of how Western culture appropriates different elements of Buddhism such as meditation. It is crucial to understand what Buddhism is and what its symbols represent so that there is an appreciation for the faith when it is displayed.   

Sources

Perkins, McKenzie. “Buddha Statues: Meaning of Postures and Poses.” Learn Religions. January 13, 2020. https://www.learnreligions.com/buddha-statues-meaning-of-postures-and-poses-4781351

Piontko, Lauren. “Buddhism is my religion, not your decorations.” The Temple News. September 5, 2017. https://temple-news.com/buddhism-religion-not-decorations/

“Sacred mandala.” BBC. November 23, 2009. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/customs/mandala.shtml

“What is a Mandala? History, Symbolism, and Uses.” Invaluable. December 18, 2019. https://www.invaluable.com/blog/what-is-a-mandala/

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Art in Focus: “Mariano” Interview with the Curator Elizabeth Thompson Goizueta

Dr. Elizabeth Thompson Goizueta giving a speach at the Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema Patrons Opening. Photo by Meegan Minahan, class of ‘22.

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the first installment of two in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema exhibition. For this episode, Student Ambassador Meegan Minahan, class of ‘22, speaks with the curator and Boston College professor Elizabeth Thompson Goizueta on her experiences working in collaboration with the McMullen and reflections on Mariano’s career as an artist. 

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In Case You Missed It

In Case You Missed It: Fall 2021 “Art After Dark: Grotesquerie of Lights”

By Luis Rivera, class of ‘23

Photos by Sasha Jouldjian, class of ‘24

On Friday, October 22nd, the McMullen Museum welcomed all to celebrate the spooky season and this semester’s exhibition: Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema

Following a frightening year without Art After Dark, its reincarnation brought life to the museum and Boston College community. Under the waning gibbous, students enjoyed a game of manhunt, told ghost stories, and occasionally rolled down the front lawn’s hill. Those who dared to get lost in the fog became fascinated by BC visual media professor Jane Cassidy’s immersive installation on the back lawn. 

As art lovers entered the McMullen, live performances from members of the Boston College Music Guild greeted them. On the first floor, visitors made fall LED lanterns out of black cardstock and transparent colored vellum. The smell of apple cider and donuts in the adjacent room stimulated their senses, as well as the sights and sounds of The Host above them. 

The Immersive Projection Pop-Up Exhibition on the second floor showcased the magic of Boston College students. The projections added a new layer to the Mariano exhibit. Additionally, painters illuminated the dark terrace by creating glow-in-the-dark pieces that glistened under black lights. 

The third floor celebrated the richness of Cuba. Thrill-seekers anxiously waited for their numbers during Loteria Cubana. Women and roosters watched jugadores play Cubilete and Cuban Dominoes in the Monan Gallery. 

It was a pleasure reviving Art After Dark with all those who contributed and attended. Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema will be available for viewing until December 5th, 2021. Watch out for more thrills at the McMullen in the near future by going to our events calendar

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Halloween: The Art of the Grotesque

By Amina Cassis, class of ’23

Mariano Rodríguez (Havana, Cuba, August 24, 1912 -1990) Mozambique, 1965, Oil on canvas, 35 ✕ 30. Col. Fundación Mariano Rodríguez.

From cubism to abstract expressionism, many different art styles influenced Cuban artist Mariano Rodríguez as he traveled widely in his lifetime. Unfortunately, however, here in the United States, our exposure to his work has been limited due to challenging political relations with Cuba. Luckily, for those who would like the opportunity to view his artwork, our current exhibition at the McMullen Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema, features many of his impressive paintings and drawings.


In honor and keeping with the Halloween season, it seems fitting to consider his Baroque Grotesque work from the 1960s. His painting “Mozambique” is typical of this style; it invokes a sense of mystery, darkness, and strangeness. The grotesque art form often involves the mixing of animal, human, and plant forms. The subject in this painting appears half-human and half-animal (dog? fox?). The creature’s facial expression is one of intensity and intelligence. We can see the human images of a face and hand behind the orange creature. The vivid Halloween orange is juxtaposed with the somber charcoal background, which grounds and locks in our attention. The creature is not frightening but somewhat mysterious and fantastic. Great art is meant to invoke a human response, and with this painting, our response and interpretation are highly personal. This painting easily grabs the viewers’ attention, and one’s reaction is influenced by his or her own imagination and sensibilities.

Francis Bacon (Dublin, Ireland, October 28, 1909 – Madrid, Spain, 1992) Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944, oil paint and pastel on Sundeala fiberboard, 94 × 74 cm each. Tate Britain, London.

Artist Francis Bacon may have been a contemporary artist who influenced Mariano’s grotesque period. One work in particular by Bacon, the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, embodies the grotesque art form. He created this painting in 1944, following one of the most devastating years during WWII. He painted a horrific triptych of anthropomorphic, disembodied, faceless creatures writhing in agony. Bacon’s images go beyond the historical and religious significance of the Crucifixion; his images symbolize extreme universal human suffering. He evokes images of the brutality of the slaughterhouse and death. We can see slabs of meat in the left panel and the butchered carcass of an animal in the right panel. The bloody man in the center panel further depicts the inevitability of death. Bacon’s work is dark, disturbing, and filled with despair. The grotesque art form presents freakish images that often disgust, frighten, and confuse us. We can’t relate what we see to standards of normalcy. However off-putting a painting is visually, many are still drawn to it, perhaps because of the visceral emotion it evokes. We all struggle with the concept of beauty and perfection. Grotesque art must appeal to that part of our psyche that recognizes the truth of human imperfection.

Pablo Picasso (Málaga, Spain, October 25, 1881 – Mougins, France, April 8, 1973) The Woman Weeping, 1937, 61 x 50 cm. Tate Modern, London.

Pablo Picasso also explored universal human suffering in his painting, The Woman Weeping. This painting is part of a series that expressed Picasso’s distress over the Spanish Civil War. The image evokes the Mater Dolorosa, the weeping Virgin, a traditional image in Spanish art, often represented by graphic presentations of tears and pain. His model for this painting was his mistress, and it symbolized the grief experienced by mothers and sisters following the death of loved ones in wartime. When asked about this painting, Picasso said, “women are suffering machines.” The fragmented features and the use of acid green and purple heighten the emotional intensity of the painting. It has become a visual representation of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of desire for peace.

Hieronymous Bosch (Duchy of Brabant, Burgundian Netherlands c. – 1516), The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail from the center panel), 1503–1504, oil on oak panels, 205.5 × 384.9 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted by Hieronymous Bosch, is yet another triptych and example of the grotesque and fantastical. This series of painted oak panels represents a sequential narrative of man’s fall from grace. The left panel shows God presenting Eve to Adam in this initial state of innocence, surrounded by exotic and grotesque animals. The center panel depicts a panorama of male and female naked forms engaged in all types of lustful and creative sexual abandon. Fantastical creatures, real animals, and engorged fruits all take part in the carnal celebration. Finally, the right panel illustrates Hell as the ultimate punishment for man’s carnal sins. The setting is a dark night devoid of natural beauty. The figures are brutalized and tortured in retribution for their failings. 

James Ensor (Ostend, Belgium, April 1860 – 1949), Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man, 1891, oil on canvas 59 × 74 cm. Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, Antwerp.

Finally, we can’t let Halloween go by without mentioning the artist James Ensor and his famous painting entitled Skeletons Fighting over a Hanged Man. He utilized the grotesque art form to depict two skeletons fighting over a dead body on the floor and the dead man hanging between them labeled ‘civet’ (hare stew). Ensor creates humor and the macabre by depicting the skeletons in masks and women’s clothing; their weapons are a broom and umbrella. The scene is twisted, full of aggressive imagery and sarcasm. Art critics offer two main interpretations of this work. Some say that the two skeletons represent the artist’s wife and mistress fighting over him. Other critics support the view that the skeletons represent his critics, and he is the powerless prize, and the people waiting in the wings are his divided fan base. Interpretations aside, the mood is dark and disillusioned and seems to comment on the absurdity of life. Ensor did not see ‘art’ as pretty decoration but rather as a means to explore the ugliness of the human condition. 

The grotesque presents the opportunity for artists to push the limits of what society deems acceptable by placing on display and exploring dark subject matters that make us uncomfortable. From different artists and vastly different periods, all these paintings are perfect accompaniments to the spirit, mystery, and spookiness of the Halloween season.

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Looking Back: the Met Gala, Covid, and Black Lives Matter

By Amina Cassis, class of ’23

The Met Gala 2021, “fashion’s biggest night out,” was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 13th. The museum usually holds this fundraising event in May, but with Covid-19  looming last spring, they decided to delay the event. The guest list included celebrities, fashion icons, and new designers who agreed to the vaccine mandate. Some of the impressive star-studded guests strolling down the red carpet were Rihanna, Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Simone Biles. The co-chairs of the 2021 Met Gala included Billie Eilish, Timothée Chalamet, Naomi Osaka, and Amanda Gorman. The Costume Institute’s theme for Part One of the exhibit is “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” and the goal was to establish a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on its expressive qualities. Part Two will open on May 5, 2022 with the theme “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.”

Photograph: Ringer Illustration.

The curated fashion displays for this year’s event were organized around a patchwork quilt, begun in 1856, and housed in the Met’s American Wing. This quilt served as a metaphor for the United States and its varied cultural identities. The museum invited guests to present themselves in original fashion which would reflect this metaphor. It is not surprising that several guests used fashion to express political statements. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) wore a white gown with the message, “Tax the Rich,” in bold, red lettering emblazoned across her back. Aurora James designed the gown and is also the founder of the 15% Pledge, which asks major retailers to devote at least 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses in order to achieve economic justice. Sephora, West Elm, and Vogue have agreed to partake in this pledge. On the red carpet, Congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez happily reported that as of present, consumers had directed  $10 billion dollars towards Black businesses. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney wore a gown in the suffragette colors of green, white, and violet with a train printed with the words, “Equal Rights for Women.” She carried a clutch bearing the letters ERA, reflecting the equal rights amendment.

AOC before the Met Gala / Photograph: Jun Lu. 

Cara Delevigne wore a shirt with the message “Peg the Patriarchy” to express her desire for women’s empowerment and gender equality. Billie Eilish wore an Oscar de la Renta gown, reminiscent of the glamour of Marilyn Monroe, on the stipulation that the fashion house terminate all fur sales. Megan Rapinoe, the soccer olympian, wore a bright red pantsuit and a royal blue shirt with silver stars. Her bag read “In Gay We Trust.” Another new face brought Indigenous representation at her first Met Gala invitation. Quannah Chasinghorse is a 19 year-old model of Han Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota ancestry that recently took the modeling industry by storm after her first New York Fashion Week. Chasinghorse, an Alaskan activist, proudly reclaimed her culture and represented her Indigenous pride wearing a dress designed by Peter Dundas, who made sure that her heritage was accurately captured. 

Quannah Chasinghorse at the Met Gala / Photograph: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP.

Police arresting a Black woman at the “Defund the Police” protest on September 13th Photograph: The Sun/ AFP.

Amid all the glitz and glamour inside the Met, a far greater political drama was occurring outside its steps. A Black Lives Matter protest was in full swing; reporters described it as an “autonomous group of NYC abolitionists who believe that policing does not protect and serve communities.” The protesters were incensed that state funds allocated $11 billion in resources to the NYPD and that Mayor Bill de Blasio attended the gala. De Blasio has enabled abuse from the NYPD, especially with how he handled the death of Eric Garner at the hands of the police. They called for police accountability and that this money should go to Black and brown communities in need of support. 

Image depicts protesters kneeling and raising their fists for Black Lives Matter / Photograph: Clay Banks on Unsplash.


The aftermath of the George Floyd protests sparked hope for a long awaited progressive change in the justice system and in the police force nationwide, but many politicians have already disregarded these calls for action. The media also gave minimal coverage to the fact that many were tackled, zip-tied, and arrested during these protests. Protestors should have the right to express their First Amendment rights without being brutalized by police officers, which is, ironically, the very system they are trying to protest against. Some protesters felt that resuming the Gala did not indicate a move to normalcy, but rather, a willingness to overlook inequality. For them, the Gala was not a celebration; it merely represented a party for the privileged who were all too willing to ignore the call for social justice right outside. Many influential people and politicians were able to show their form of protest for other issues in America. However, there needs to be an actual initiative for these problems without the performative flair, and that starts with giving adequate attention and support for these important causes.

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In Case You Missed It

In Case You Missed It: ASO Taste of Africa

By Dana Connolly, class of ’22

The African Students Association of Boston College brought live programming back to the McMullen in style last Saturday with their annual Taste of Africa celebration. The program, led by new student leaders of the ASO, was the first significant, in-person event hosted by BC students at the McMullen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The night began as students gathered on the museum’s scenic lawn facing Commonwealth Avenue. Groups of students reunited, introduced themselves, laughed, and stared longingly at the tantalizing tin foil catering trays of food. BC ASO has regularly hosted Taste of Africa each year, often collaborating with nearby Black student organizations like those at Harvard. The menu featured dishes representing the various African cultural organizations on campus, from injera to jollof rice. 

After more than one hundred students had arrived, the ASO representatives introduced themselves and their new positions in the group, led by Edil Mohamed, LSEHD ’22, co-president of BC ASO. Afterward, the ASO brought out the ladies of F.I.S.T.S., BC’s only all-women step team. However, as their performance proved, F.I.S.T.S. is much more than a dance group—they are a family. The crowd was hyped to see live dance performances again. 

The line for food was long and filled with hungry patrons. While some groups ate, others congregated beneath the massive tent, fortuitously left standing after a wedding the night before. Students could not resist the alluring music provided by DJ Wonka, a local talent and the proprietor of The Chocolate Factory (@djwonka_ on Instagram). When the catering trays were scraped clean, the ice-buckets melted, and the sun set on McMullen’s backyard, the party continued with dancing and laughter. 


Be sure to check out upcoming events at the McMullen by visiting our website.

Below are some photos taken at this year’s Taste of Africa by Sasha Wong, class of ’24.

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Uncategorized

A Letter from the Editors

Welcome back to the McMullen Museum and The Terrace! As the co-chairs of the Publications Committee, we want to extend a warm welcome to our visitors and readership. This year, we are excited to be open to the public again with a few protocols in place, such as a mask mandate regardless of vaccination status. However, you no longer have to make appointments when visiting the museum, so we hope to see you soon, checking out our fantastic exhibit or studying on the terrace! 

Our exhibit through December is Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema which features the Cuban artist Mariano Rodríguez. Mariano, a modernist painter, references Cuban national identity in his work, sometimes symbolized by el gallo (rooster), and draws connections between abstraction and reality. He went through several changes in style throughout his career, as seen in the paintings and drawings in our galleries. In addition, many of his works exhibited here are on display for the first time in the United States.

During the 2020-2021 school year, The Terrace began to focus more on art as it relates to social issues—how does art perpetuate systems of oppression? How does art fit into our world, and vice versa? As a result, we began a series called ‘Problematic Visual Culture,’ which specifically aims to address these questions.  

As editors of The Terrace, our utmost goal is to craft and publish engaging articles for and about our community, whether it be the McMullen Museum, Boston College, or Greater Boston. We will continue our commitment to using our experiences with art to spotlight social justice issues and amplify marginalized voices. Additionally, we welcome submissions from all students across campus, which can be arranged by contacting Rachel Chamberlain. We hope that our readers feel a little closer to the McMullen and to each other through the process of reading our content.

We are excited to present numerous upcoming events at the museum, some virtual and some in person. Our own Museum Student Ambassadors will be hosting our popular “Into the Collection” series on October 25th, featuring the art of Roberto Estopiñán. The presentation will be virtual, but the works discussed will be on display in the museum the following day, October 26. There are numerous other upcoming events as well. For a full calendar, click here. If you have any questions or are interested in working with the McMullen Museum on events or projects, contact Rachel Chamberlain at rachel.chamberlain@bc.edu

We thank you for being readers of The Terrace and for being part of The McMullen community.

Sincerely,
Ivana Wijedasa, ‘22, and Michaela Brant, ‘23

The Co-Chairs for the Publications Committee. Michaela Brant is pictured on the left and Ivana Wijedasa on the right.
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Uncategorized

Letter from the Co-Editors: Signing off

Dear McMullen Community, 

The past two years as Student Ambassadors and co-chairs of the Publications Committee have been incredible. We’ve had the opportunity to see several exhibits come and go, meet wonderful friends, and acquire knowledge and skills that will serve us throughout our academic and professional futures. We’ve been able to engage with art and helped continue to cultivate an atmosphere of curiosity and inclusion, encouraging our visitors to question their perspectives and open themselves to new points of view. We have published a wide array of articles during our tenure as co-editors and put together a series of works, such as our Problematic Visual Cultural series that focuses on the unjust systems at work behind the art and media we enjoy.

We’ve been exposed to parts of the world that we never knew existed, further expanding our world views and getting to marvel and appreciate extremely diverse works of art. We’ve written and read content about a wide range of topics and shared them with you, such as titles like “Orientalism and Expedition Photography,” “The Art of Food,” and “Fashion, Art, and Social Justice Podcast.” 

During the past academic year, the McMullen Museum has given greater attention to the role that diversity, equity, and inclusion play in institutions like museums and universities. In addition to the McMullen’s new EDI committee, we at The Terrace have been making sure that we use our platform for good, spreading information and awareness on topics we care about. The Terrace has always been committed to being a place where students’ voices can be amplified and heard by the community. We will continue to commit ourselves to further social justice and calling out and addressing injustices we experience, either here on-campus or beyond. We hope that new ventures, including the podcasts and the Problematic Visual pieces series, continue to shed light on unique perspectives of art and raise awareness of ongoing dissonances between the world and its artistic styles.

 Working here has been an invaluable experience, and while it’s sad to say goodbye, we’re so excited to pass the Terrace onto the committee’s new co-chairs: Ivana Wijedasa (‘22) and Michaela Brant (‘23). 

Sincerely, 

Alex Hull and Arvin Mohapatra

Categories
Problematic Visual Culture

Problematic Visual Culture: Orientalism and Expedition Photography

By Michaela Brant, class of ‘23

The Problematic Visual Culture series seeks to highlight works of art, film, and other media that display and perpetuate harmful, discriminatory ideas. The series also aims to address the effects of these works on our individual and collective biases.

On April 22, 121 people logged onto a Zoom webinar to hear Assistant Director Diana Larsen and student ambassadors Ata Chowdry, Matt DiBenedetto, Ethan Starr, and Peyton Wilson (from the Collections Management Committee) present their research on items in the McMullen’s permanent collection. The presentation centered around expedition photography in the Middle East and North Africa, and how the photos and practices embody the idea of Orientalism. 

DiBenedetto contextualized the discussion through the framework of Edward W. Said, a literary theorist who coined the term “Orientalism” in his 1978 book of the same name. “The Orient,” while it often refers generally to the areas east of the Mediterranean Sea and Southeast Europe (the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa), does not technically refer to an actual geographic region. Instead, “the Orient” is a region of imagination. It is a place for Europeans to project their curiosities, fascinations, and anxieties. DiBenedetto summarized that the point of the “Orient” (East) and the “Occident” (West) was to create two disparate essences. This binary was key for the rationalization and subsequent explosion of European imperialism and colonialism. European powers were able to convince people that places in the “Orient” needed to be “civilized” by “benevolent” countries. 

Larsen discussed that Orientalist works began as propaganda paintings to display non-European regions in a light that justified imperialism and colonialism. By the late 1800s, these works also became popular decoration and tourists’ souvenirs. Expedition photographers accompanied royal family members and the wealthy on trips to photograph “the Orient.” One example of an expedition photographer that Larsen gave was Francis Bedford. Born in London, Bedford began his career photographing architecture mainly in England during the 1850s to sell to middle-class tourists. The Queen of England hired him to travel with Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, on his trip to the Middle East, where Bedford photographed landscapes, architecture, and figures.

Bedford and other photographers of this time, capitalized on the abundance of sun in the region, making the manipulation of contrast between light and dark easier while producing photographic prints. According to Larsen, this contrast added mystery and provided the viewer with a “tantalizing glimpse of the Orient.” The problem with these expeditions and resulting photographs was that the monarchy funded them to justify imperialism and colonialism, providing a constructed, idyllic view of these regions and people. 

Schroeder & Cie. (Zürich, Switzerland), Karnak: Way of the Sphinxes and the Pylon of Euergetes II, c. 1870-75. Image courtesy McMullen Museum of Art.

DiBenedetto tied these scholarly ideas about Orientalism to the Swiss company Schroeder & Cie.’s photograph Karnak: Way of the Sphinxes and the Pylon of Euergetes II. The photo depicts Karnak, a massive and complex religious center of the Kingdom of Thebes in Egypt. DiBenedetto pointed out the positioning of the Egyptians on the road versus the European expeditioner on the side. He noted how the photograph seemed posed, and the separation between the two groups of people visually reinforces the binary of East versus West and other Egyptians. Additionally, the location of the photograph, and the ruins in the background, leave out the signifiers of the vibrant modern society of Egypt in the 19th century. Between the distinct othering of the Egyptians and the intentional background construction, this photograph suggests that Europeans of this time had a moral obligation to “civilize” Egypt.

Unknown, Rue de la Casbah d’Alger c. 1870s. Image courtesy McMullen Museum of Art.

Wilson chose a photograph by an unknown photographer, titled Rue de la Casbah d’Alger. Algeria was France’s oldest North African colonial holding. Wilson invited the audience to consider the composition of the photograph: the subject is isolated from any other people or structures that could give a sense of the vibrant society in Algiers. The social and geographical contexts that would make French presence there problematic were wholly left out. French occupation of Algiers led to the destruction of religious spaces, turning them into Christian churches and military buildings. Again, photographs like this disregard the reality of “the Orient.” This image is stripped of its context and is used to reinforce French imperial and colonial agendas through staging Algerian society in opposition to European values. 

C. and G. Zangaki (Greece), Arabs Posing in Front of Suez Canal at Suez City c. 1885. Image courtesy McMullen Museum of Art.

Chowdry presented a photograph from 1885 by the two Greek brothers, the Zangakis, who photographed Europe and the Middle East. Chowdry used this opportunity to tie the history of the Suez Canal into the concept of Orientalism. The location of the Canal played an essential role in the “Scramble for Africa,” as Britain and France fought over who would control the land. Europe developed imperialist interests in India and China (especially in the South Pacific for France) once they realized they could connect the Mediterranean and Red Seas, allowing for shorter trips to Asia. England seized control of Egypt in 1882—and the troops that had invaded and occupied it did not leave until 1956. The construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt, which put Egyptian workers like those in the photograph in immense danger, allowed Westerners to have more control over the East as both colonizers and tourists. With little to no real benefit to the Egyptians, the Canal became a symbol of British and French imperialism. The photograph and the Canal are yet more examples of Europeans capitalizing on the sentiments of fascination and entitlement cultivated around Asia. 

Avraham Hay (Baghdad, Iraq, 1944), The Wilderness of Sinai, 1986. Image courtesy McMullen Museum of Art.

Starr rounded out the presentation with a more recent photograph, Avraham Hay’s The Wilderness of Sinai, which the McMullen featured in a 1996 exhibition. This photograph, among others, was originally paired with engravings by J. M. W. Turner, a Romantic artist. The carvings and photographs are from similar visual perspectives. However, Hay is operating as a documentarian. His objective, said Starr, was to show the facts on the ground, contrary to other photographers from earlier in the presentation. Since Hay is both from and lives in the region being documented, he has a unique perspective. However, there are still questions to be asked with this work. How do we consider this work in the context of today’s conflict between Israel and Palestine? What do we make of the presence of a church in this photograph, and who has a claim to this site? Although on the outer limits of Orientalism, this photograph still invites us to ask questions about where and from whom the work originated.

This “Into the Collection” event, which McMullen Museum Director Professor Nancy Netzer called “absolutely dazzling,” was the most attended of its kind this year. If you missed it, you can watch the full talk here. This event highlights the importance of thinking critically about the origins of different artworks within our museum’s holdings. All art is intentional, so it is important to consider the historical, political, and social contexts surrounding a work. Whether in a museum, on the internet, or anywhere else, DiBenedetto said it best: “the images that we encounter in daily life are more than meet the eye.”

Works cited:

Edward W. Said, Orientalism, (New York: Vintage Books, 1979).

Diana Larsen, Ata Chowdry, Matt DiBenedetto, Ethan Starr, and Peyton Wilson, “Into the Collection: Orientalism and Expedition Photography,” April 22, 2021, McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm2TPPQK3-4&t=2724s. 

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Podcast Archive Uncategorized

Art in Focus: “Taking Shape” with Professors Peter Krause and Ali Banuazizi

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the third installment in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the “Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s” exhibition. For this episode, we have invited Associate Professor Peter Krause and Professor Ali Banuazizi of the Political Science Department to discuss how artwork within the exhibition relates to nationalist movements and cultural identity.

Abdallah Benanteur (Mostaganem, Algeria, 1931–Ivry-sur-Seine, France, 2017), To Monet, Giverny, 1983, oil on canvas, 47¼ × 47¼ in. Courtesy the Barjeel Art Foundation.

Kamal Boullata (Jerusalem, Palestine, 1942–Berlin, Germany, 2019), Fi-I Bid Kan-al-Kalima (In the Beginning Was the Word), 1983, silkscreen, 35¼ × 28⅜ × 1¼ in. Courtesy the Barjeel Art Foundation.

If you did not have the chance to catch our trailer for this podcast on social media, you can watch it here!

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Podcast Archive Uncategorized

Art in Focus: “Taking Shape” with Boston College Professor Dana Sajdi and College of the Holy Cross Professor Sahar Bazzaz

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the third installment in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the “Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s” exhibition. For this episode, we have invited Associate Professor Dana Sajdi of  Boston College’s History Department and colleague Professor Sahar Bazzaz of the College of Holy Cross’s History Department to discuss how artworks within the exhibition mirror moments in history.

Left: Professors Sahar Bazzaz and Dana Sajdi in London during the summer of 2015. Right: Portrait painted by Professor Bazzaz of Professor Sajdi based on the photograph to the left.  Oil on canvas, 18 x 23 in.

Kamal Boullata (Jerusalem, Palestine, 1942–Berlin, Germany, 2019) La Ana Illa Ana (There Is No “I” but “I”), 1983, silkscreen, 35¼ × 28⅜ × 1¼ in. Image courtesy the Barjeel Art Foundation.

Kamal Boullata (Jerusalem, Palestine, 1942–Berlin, Germany, 2019) Lam Alif, 1983, silkscreen, 35¼ × 28⅜ × 1¼ in. Image courtesy the Barjeel Art Foundation.

Omar ibn Said, The Life of Omar ben Saeed, called Morro, a Fullah Slave in Fayetteville, N.C. Owned by Governor Owen (1831). Images of manuscript courtesy the Library of Congress.  

Najat Makki (Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 1956–) Window, 1987, henna and acrylic on paper, 18⅞ × 12¼ in. Image courtesy the Barjeel Art Foundation.

Left: Utagawa Hiroshige (Edo, Japan, 1797–Japan, 1858) Plum Estate, Kameido (Kameido Umeyashiki), No. 30 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 11th month of 1857, woodblock print, sheet: 14 3/16 x 9 1/4 in. (36 x 23.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Anna Ferris, 30.1478.30 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 30.1478.30_PS1.jpg). Right: Vincent van Gogh (Zundert, Netherlands, 1853–Auvers-sur-Oise, France, 1890), Flowering Plum Orchard (after Hiroshige), October-November 1887, oil on canvas, 55.6 cm x 46.8 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation).

Weltkarte des Idrisi vom Jahr, Charta Rogeriana. Originally drawn by Muhammad al-Idrisi, 1154. Facsimile by Konrad Miller, 1928. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

If you did not have the chance to catch our trailer for this podcast on social media, you can watch it here!

Categories
Problematic Visual Culture

Problematic Visual Culture: “Pentagon Pictures: What is the Military-Entertainment Complex?”

By Dana Connolly, class of ‘22

In an article recently published in Harper’s Magazine, the acclaimed director wrote that the art of moviemaking has been “systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator,” that is, movies have become “content.” In the patois of marketing and business analytics, “content” is any media that is rapidly shared through the internet, consumed, and dismissed without critical thought. TikToks, celebrity endorsements, YouTube videos of cats, Twitch streams, viral memes, tweets, and everything in between. The torrent of readily available, instantly gratifying visual media on the internet is by no means less legitimate than movies and literature. However, the endless flood of “content” may be hindering our ability to critically engage with visual media—making us more susceptible to bias and propaganda as a result. 

In the kingdom of “content,” profitability reigns supreme. For that reason, major Hollywood blockbusters are becoming increasingly more expensive to produce. Production companies are happy to overspend on the assumption that bigger sets, better visual effects, and star actors will reap greater rewards at the box office or on streaming services during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not only must these movies wow audiences, but they must also compete with the constant barrage of other, more instantaneous media like Snapchat or Youtube. 

Image from Patty Jenkins, 2020, Wonder Woman 1984, Atlas Entertainment.

Film producers want to make as much money as possible without overspending their precious millions of dollars. For planned blockbusters like Wonder Woman 1984 and WandaVision, a surefire way to keep production costs down is to partner with the United States Department of Defense (DoD). Most moviegoers are completely unaware of the Pentagon’s involvement with the film industry, and the U.S. military would like to keep it that way. As of 2016, the Department of Defense has helped produced more than 410 movies, including classics like James Bond’s License to Kill, biographical thrillers such as Captain Phillips, and many more popular movies like Transformers: Dark Age of the Moon. The most successful entry in the DoD’s oeuvre is Top Gun. Directed by Jerry Bruckheimer in collaboration with the Pentagon, Top Gun was a massive box office success and grossed $356.8 million from a budget of $15 million. However, the return on investment for the US Navy was even greater. The well-timed release of Top Gun led to a 500% increase in young men signing up to become naval aviators and, crucially, portrayed the pro-military, colonialist themes to help rehabilitate the U.S. military’s post-Vietnam public image.

The agreement is dead simple. Films that portray the U.S. military in a positive light receive taxpayer funding, set locations, and military consultation from the Department of Defense. However, the specific criteria for film selection and military involvement are still highly classified. I personally don’t think that the Department of Defense should influence the film industry. Some critics argue that in the competitive movie market, the military-entertainment complex is a necessary evil. If that is true, why the total lack of transparency from the Department of Defense? If taxpayers must line the pockets of the film industry, don’t we deserve to know where our money is going and how much is being spent? On social media, we know the individuals behind the screen and can evaluate biases using our own judgement. For movies backed by wealthy producers, funded by the Pentagon without any government transparency, American moviegoers cannot critically evaluate the ideological undertones of movies.

Image from Clint Eastwood dir., 2014, American Sniper, Warner Bros.

More importantly, when audiences return to the movie theaters, will we treat these movies the same as any other piece of content? As it stands, the Department of Defense wields its power to toy with the narratives of major blockbusters to benefit their public image. There are no checks and balances for a government agency able to alter the narratives on important historical events like the Vietnam or Iraq War. As it stands now, American audiences risk absorbing hawkish, colonial ideologies from popular films. If we allow the Pentagon into our theatres and streaming services, what will be next?

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Uncategorized

The Art of Food

By Ivana Wijedasa, class of ’22

Art is everywhere, from the photos and posters on your wall to the street signs that you pass on your way to work. More subtly, but perhaps most importantly, art exists in the very thing that sustains us: food. In the culinary world, strawberries are transformed into roses, chocolate molded into sculptures, and cake shaped into everyday objects (popularized by a recent Tik Tok trend “Is it real or is it cake?”). Food has become a medium for artwork in numerous different ways, from intricately decorated cakes to decaying bananas. 

The image depicts strawberries that have been delicately cut to appear as roses. Photograph: Nathan Congleton, TODAY.

There is a common saying that cooking is chemistry, but I want to focus on the phrase “food is art.” Culinary means “related to cooking,” and arts refers to any broad area of interest. Therefore, culinary arts refer to the art of preparing, cooking, presenting, and serving food. The presentation of food has always intrigued me the most. On popular cooking shows like “Chopped,” time constraints are no excuse for poor presentation. There is an art to food in not only how it tastes, but perhaps, more significantly, in how it looks. A new popular phrase that demonstrates this is “phone eats first.” Today many people take pictures of their food before they eat it, to both save to admire later and share on social media for others to see. Self-proclaimed foods have come to value food for its aesthetic appeal over its taste. One of the clearest examples of this is in the craft of cake making.      

The popularity of cake decorating and sculpting is evident through the many shows that revolve around it, such as Cake Boss, The Great British Bake Off, and Ace of Cakes. The process of constructing cakes into a form of art is one that requires patience and a lot of time. The Alice in Wonderland inspired cake pictured below represents the artistic techniques bakers employ in creating cakes that resemble art more than food. Before decorating this cake, the sculpting of it is essential. The cake is composed of four teacups stacked upon one another, balancing asymmetrically. The construction and balance of the cake takes on a process similar to creating sculptures. This process perhaps requires more precision than traditional sculptures, as the material used is a sponge-like, crumbly cake, in contrast to solid stone or marble. The baker uses fondant to construct figures that resemble the characters from the movie and in transforming the sculpted cake into teacups. This cake demonstrates the painstakingly detailed artistic elements of cake decorating. 

Photograph: Mike McCarey, Mike’s Amazing Cakes. 

The influence of art in cake making is not just evident in their visual appeal and construction, but also in the message that they display. The trend “is it real or is it cake?” popularized on TikTok has demonstrated the power of art in food to make the viewer question reality. It focuses on the prospect of deception and the connection between reality and fictitious worlds. Similar to the purpose of traditional forms of artwork, it highlights the limitations of our eyes and makes us question the truth of what we see. In the image below, we see an example of a hyperrealist illusion cake created by Natalie Sideserf. At first glance, the image on the left side appears to be a regular onion ready to be chopped up and sauteed. However, as the image on the right reveals, it is actually a cake. 

Photograph: Natalie Sideserf, Sideserf Cake Studio 

Beyond the art of food that is visible in our homes and on social media, the artist Dieter Roth uses food in an unconventional, yet insightful way. He examines the symbolic nature of food’s temporariness in comparison to human life. In a talk hosted by Harvard on March 31, titled “Food in Art,” the speakers discussed how Roth uses decomposing and rotten food as material in his art. Two examples of Roth’s work with food that the lecture mentioned include his “Pocket Room” and “Chocolate Lion (Self-Portrait as a Lion).” The “Pocket Room” consists of a slice of banana pressed onto a card with a rubber-stamped image of a table placed in a plastic playing-card box. The banana slices have gradually grown mold and decomposed. In “Chocolate Lion,” the artist uses chocolate to construct the figure of a lion. Roth uses chocolate as a material to represent himself and to manifest the truth of his human body with how it ages, deteriorates, and turns to dust. Roth chose chocolate because it is known for its immediate consumption and not longevity—just as life is not permanent but temporary.

Roth draws connections between art and food in his physical use of food as material in his artwork and in its deeper representation of life. Art is often associated with its most represented forms as paintings, sculptures, or drawings, which museums display, such as our very own McMullen. But evidently, art takes on more unconventional forms in food. Perhaps art in food will encourage us to examine the less traditional and unexpected forms of art in our everyday lives. 

On the left: Dieter Roth (Hanover, Germany, 1930–Basel, Switzerland 1998), Pocket Room, 1969, banana slice tacked to stamped paper in a plastic box stored within a custom-made cardboard box. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, ©️ Dieter Roth Estate/Hauser & Wirth. On the right: Dieter Roth (Hanover, Germany, 1930–Basel, Switzerland 1998), Chocolate Lion [Self-Portrait as a Lion], 1971, marbled chocolate. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, ©️ Dieter Roth Estate/Hauser & Wirth.

Works Cited

Dellatto, Marisa. “What Does the ‘Is It Cake?’ Meme Trend Mean on Twitter and TikTok?” New York Post (blog), July14, 2020. https://nypost.com/2020/07/14/what-does-the-is-it-cake-meme-trend-on-twitter-and-tiktok-mean/

Ruby Awburn, Lauren Hanson, Leonie Mueller, and Julie Wertz. “Food in Art.” Lecture, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 31, 2021. 

“What Is Culinary Arts?” Accessed April 20, 2021. https://hospitalityinsights.ehl.edu/culinary-arts

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Podcast Archive

Art in Focus: “Taking Shape” Interview with the Barjeel Art Foundation founder Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi and Curator Suheyla Takesh Part II

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the second installment of a two-part interview in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s exhibition. For this episode, Student Ambassador Ata Chowdhry, class of ‘21, speaks with the Barjeel Art Foundation founder and Boston College visiting instructor in the Islamic Civilization & Societies Program Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi and curator Suheyla Takesh to discuss themes of gender, identity, and social activism within the exhibition.

Menhat Helmy (Helwan, Egypt, 1925–Cairo, Egypt, 2004), Space Exploration/Universe, 1973, oil on canvas, 38½ × 38½ in.  Copyright/Courtesy of the Barjeel Art Foundation.

If you did not have the chance to catch our trailer for this podcast on social media, you can watch it here!

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Podcast Archive Student Ambassador Winter Series Uncategorized

Art in Focus: “Taking Shape” Interview with the Barjeel Art Foundation Founder Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi and Curator Suheyla Takesh Part I

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the first installment of a two-part interview in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the Taking Shape: Abstraction from the Arab World, 1950s–1980s exhibition. For this episode, Student Ambassador Ata Chowdhry, class of ‘21, speaks with the Barjeel Art Foundation founder and Boston College visiting instructor in the Islamic Civilization & Societies Program Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi and curator Suheyla Takesh to compare and contrast the role of art collector and curator.

If you did not have the chance to catch our trailer for this podcast on social media, you can watch it here!

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McMullen AAPI Solidarity Statement

Dear members of our local Boston College community and beyond, 

The McMullen Museum of Art stands in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community during these disheartening times and condemns all forms of racism and hate. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, there has been a spike in the rate of senseless violence against the AAPI community. It has been exceptionally mentally exhausting for the Asian community to repeatedly witness news of their people being discriminated against, attacked, and murdered. It is even more frustrating to see the lack of bystander involvement in these occurrences. 

On March 29, 2021, a 65-year-old Asian woman, while walking to church, was punched and stomped on several times in broad daylight in New York City. Video footage shows two guards who watched the attack close the door on the victim lying on the floor instead of helping her. 

As these hate crimes intensify, we ask you to acknowledge them and show your solidarity by taking action in the form of educating yourself with the resources attached, spreading awareness, donating, supporting your Asian friends, uplifting and amplifying Asian voices, speaking against discrimination, and calling out the use of harmful stereotypes. 

Our nation has a long history of prejudice against Asians, from propagating the “Yellow Peril” narrative that painted Asians as a menace to society perpetuating the model minority myth that portrays Asians as too successful to be discriminated against. The Asian community does not deserve to live in fear and anger. A white male murdered six Asian women in a spa shooting in Atlanta. An 84-year-old Thai man was killed on the street in San Francisco. A 61-year-old Filipino man was slashed across the face in a New York subway. These heartbreaking instances are just the tip of the iceberg of recent anti-Asian violence. The Asian community is angry, in pain, and traumatized. 

We must take action together to fight against the surge of anti-Asian violence and change the debilitating hate that plagues our society today through education, awareness, and the support of Asian voices.

Sincerely, 

The Student Ambassadors of the McMullen Museum of Art 

Anti-Racism Resources to Specifically Support the AAPI community

Categories
Problematic Visual Culture

Museum Current: “The Power of Place: Public Art and Indigenous Representations”

By Alex Hull, class of ’21

On Wednesday, March 17th, Jami Powell, Associate Curator of Native American Art at the Hood Museum of Art and Native American Studies Lecturer at Dartmouth College, joined the McMullen to speak about her role as the first curator of Native American art at the Hood, misrepresentations of Native and indigenous peoples in art, and the responsibilities that museums have in dismantling these harmful misrepresentations. Powell mentioned that one of her main goals is to “disrupt the false binaries we have of Native American people” (Powell). This is a challenging project to undertake since so many of the representations she speaks of persist widely throughout our culture, despite progress being made in how we see Native peoples. These false binaries in American art, media, and even history are not only incorrect, but are actively harmful to indigenous individuals and communities. Powell says, “the power relations embodied within these images are deeply entangled and omnipresent within many of the spaces we occupy each day.”

Powell spoke about her own experience as a member of the Osage Nation, as an anthropologist, and as a curator. Citing her own experience as both a visitor and curator, she noticed many microaggressions against indigenous people in museum settings. During her time at the Field Museum in Chicago, she raised concerns about the depictions of Native peoples through the way the art was presented and was ignored by museum staff. She went on to speak about the harmful representations of indigenous people at Dartmouth, where she is currently employed. A series of murals named the Hovey Murals, tell the fictitious story of the founding of Dartmouth, based on a Dartmouth drinking song, in which a white settler paid an indigenous tribe with barrels of rum for the land that the college would be built on. The University realized that these murals contradicted the values it wanted to uphold as an educational institution, so the murals have been removed and will soon be placed in the Hood Museum of Art, where they can be viewed and studied from a place that acknowledges their history, as well as their false and negative depictions of Native Americans. 

Walter Beach Humphrey (Elkhorn, Wisconsin, 1892–Glens Falls, New York 1966) Hovey Murals (the first panel), 1938, mural, oil on canvas adhered to wall. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. Image courtesy Dartmouth News.

Powell then spoke of the role and responsibility of museums in dismantling harmful representations of indigenous people in art. Museums are upheld in our culture as institutions of knowledge and education; people trust them to provide the public with true, valuable information. The art that museums showcase and the perspectives they display shape the way that their visitors view art more broadly. Historically, art museums in the United States have perpetuated harmful images of indigenous people, and people of color are now responsible for engaging in action and conversation that works to display history accurately, that gives a space for artists of color to showcase their work. Therefore, museums should be taking on the responsibility of thinking about and changing the way they display art and the artists they choose to represent. An example of a museum currently self-reflecting on its history and collection is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the Great Hall, the museum has installed a diptych by Kent Monkman, titled “mistikôsiwak,” which translates in English to “Wooden Boat People.” This piece challenges the artistic canon and art history itself, as Monkman reworks depictions of indigenous people in the Met’s collection.

Kent Monkman (First Nations, Cree, born Saint Marys, Ontario 1965) mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People): Welcoming the Newcomers, 2019, acrylic on canvas,11 × 22 ft. (335.3 × 670.6 cm). © Kent Monkman, image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Kent Monkman (First Nations, Cree, born Saint Marys, Ontario 1965) mistikôsiwak (Wooden Boat People): Resurgence of the People, 2019, acrylic on canvas,11 × 22 ft. (335.3 × 670.6 cm). © Kent Monkman, image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Powell says, “It’s not always about taking things down, museums should be about celebrating the creative expression and knowledge…that comes from populations around the globe” (Powell). The Hood Museum of Art changed the spatial layout of the museum, placing the African and African diaspora art in the front rooms, before the European art. Also, some exhibitions have been combined temporally and geographically, with pieces from different places and time periods being placed near each other. These actions are essential to disrupting the traditional Eurocentric focus of museums, allowing for new ways of seeing art, and giving a voice to those artists who have been silenced in the past.  

References: 

Powell, Jamie. “The Power of Place: Public Art and Indigenous Representations.” Lecture, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, March 17, 2021. 

Humphrey, Walter Beach. Hovey Murals. 1938. Oil on Canvas. Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. 

Monkman, Kent. Welcoming the Newcomers. 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 132 x 264 in. (335.28 x 670.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

Monkman, Kent. Resurgence of the People. 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 132 x 264 in. (335.28 x 670.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Categories
Problematic Visual Culture

Problematic Visual Culture: Orientalism in American Action Films

The Problematic Visual Culture series seeks to highlight works of art, film, and other media that display and perpetuate harmful, discriminatory ideas. The series also aims to address the effects of these works on our individual and collective biases.

A white American man is a protagonist, and Muslim terrorists are the antagonist. Can you guess the movie being described in this plotline? Most likely, many movies popped into your head, ranging from True Lies, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, and even to Iron Man. The stereotype of Muslims—specifically from the Middle East—as terrorists have infiltrated the Hollywood film industry for decades. This process of othering Middle Eastern people and declaring the vast territory that encompasses Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and many other countries as the “Middle East” has its roots in the ideology of Orientalism. 

Although many American films perpetuate stereotypes, I will focus on a more in-depth analysis of Orientalism in the American action film genre by deconstructing the movie American Sniper. I will begin by analyzing the plot of American Sniper and connect it through addressing the origins of Orientalism as an academic discipline described by Edward Said. American Sniper is an example of how art is used to perpetuate divisions and stereotypes in our society. In direct contrast, our current exhibit Taking Shape: Abstractions from the Arab World, 1950s-1980s uses art to break stereotypical boundaries and present the complex reality of marginalized groups.  

The action and war drama American Sniper, made in 2014, recounts the true story of a U.S. Navy SEAL named Chris Kyle. The movie depicts the life of Chris Kyle, who is known as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. Inspired by the August 1998 terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, Chris joins the U.S. Navy and is deployed to Iraq. The movie takes place during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the first scene depicts a woman in a head covering holding a grenade, who Chris kills. The movie continues to present similar imagery of the Iraqi people as villains and a threat to American safety. Kyle and his fellow SEALs are searching for an al Qaeda leader in an evacuated city in Iraq, and they are told that any military-aged male who is still in the city should be a threat. When one of Kyle’s fellow SEALs expresses regret about the war, he reminds him that they are patriots serving their country and protecting their families. The movie depicts Chris as a hero and patriot helping America fight against terrorism or, more realistically, Islam, as American society conflates the two. 

Beyond dismissing the fact that the U.S. instigated this war, American Sniper embodies how problematic American media is, as it exacerbates the issue of terrorism and perpetuates the image that all Muslims are foes. American Sniper participates in the othering of Middle Eastern people that Edward Said calls “Orientalism.” Said defines Orientalism as the academic discipline representing institutionalized Western knowledge of the Orient, resulting in a collection of images and vocabularies in different forms such as museums, paintings, novels, movies, etc. The Orient is a construction made by the West where the Orient or “the other” becomes the opposite of the West. The West views itself as rational and superior, and therefore, in its obverse, the Orient is irrational and inferior. These characteristics of irrationality and inferiority attributed to the Orient resulted in the implication of certain types of political action to be taken by the West, including colonialism, domination, and military invasions.  

Orientalism is not based on the reality of people in the geographical region that it entails; instead, it is based on this promotion of an “other” and a manifestation of all the qualities that the West deems as bad. In American Sniper, this ideology is apparent as immense amounts of violence is glorified against Middle Easterners and made into entertainment. This violence is “justified” as Hollywood portrays Middle Easterners as villains and threats to the American way of life. The viewer is meant to fall for the historically fantastical concept that all Middle Easterners are terrorists threatening American security, while the American military men loaded with guns and shooting down hundreds of Iraqi citizens are seen as patriots and heroes. This is clear when Chris dismisses his companion’s doubts about the war by saying that they are patriots who are protecting their country. In reality, the so-called “patriots” have fallen for an ideology that associates all the problems of America with the Middle East, a distraction to the real internal issues that our society suffers from. 

Issues of discrimination and “othering” in our society are not only rooted in political institutions but also in the culture and the art that we consume. Perhaps, a new movement needs to emerge in which visual culture and art no longer perpetuate discriminatory ideologies such as Orientalism but are made to represent the complex realities of people’s diversity beyond their attributed stereotypes. 

Image Credit: El Tecolote. The image represents a use of art to depict the Islamophobia present in the U.S. and the violence used in response to it. 

1 Said, Edward W. Orientalism. First ed., Pantheon Books, 1978.

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CURRENTS Presents: Artist Talk with Nyeema Morgan

McMullen Student Ambassador Sunny Lee reflects on the meaning of artist Nyeema Morgan’s work during a CURRENTS Presents virtual lecture.

On February 18th, 2021, Boston College’s Art, Art History, and Film Department welcomed American interdisciplinary and conceptual artist Nyeema Morgan to share the thoughts and meanings behind her work during a CURRENTS Presents virtual lecture. 

Although Morgan works with sculpting and print-based works, she mainly identifies as a drawer. The Chicago based artist defines drawing as the delineation of space. When Morgan looks at the world, instead of spaces, she sees distinct edges, contours, and lines. She shares that this is her way of organizing and perceiving information. Her creative process begins with using observations of the world and questions that help her brainstorm meaning, prompting her to make diverse artworks. 

One of the works she shared is Forty-Seven Easy Poundcakes Like Grandma Use To Make. Morgan began this series during her time as a graduate student at California College of Arts in 2007 and completed it in 2012. This series consists of forty-six pound cake recipes, including her grandmother’s, typed up and drawn over with lines. The lines negate certain parts of the recipes in what she described as a “rule-based process.” Each drawing took her around six to seven hours to create. Her observation that inspired this creation is that her grandmother’s “easy pound cake is the quintessential pound cake. All others are of a lesser quality.” This observation led her to inquire how our lives mold our understanding of the world and the extent to which one thing can change before it becomes classified as another. 

In Morgan’s most recent show, THE STEM. THE FLOWER. THE ROOT. THE SEED, she presents works that examine power dynamics, specifically the relationship between gender and identity. Morgan began her creative process with the observation that women’s right to vote, as a result of the suffrage movement, did not secure the right for all women. She thus asked herself “how do I make a work that embodies offense and defense,” and “how do I implicate the viewer?” The result is her sculpture installation, The Flower (No. 4), where sculpted hands protrude from the museum’s wall holding staffs. The pieces are positioned in an arc to make the viewer feel surrounded. Morgan’s intention is for the viewer to take an identical newsprint sheet which is draped on each staff. Printed on each sheet are stories of women, both fictional and nonfictional, concerned with how the lives of BIPOC and queer women vary from mainstream perceptions of women. The majority of the stories are contrived from Morgan’s own memory. 

In Morgan’s career, she has found herself contemplating her role as an artist, specifically what she wants from her art and the art world. She ponders her place in art history as a Black female artist and how her contributions are rewarded or not rewarded in the field. To learn more about Morgan and her art, you can check out the CURRENTS Presents: Nyeema Morgan recording on the McMullen Museum’s YouTube channel or visit her website at https://www.nyeemamorgan.com/.

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Uncategorized

Fashion, Art & Social Justice: “My Brother’s Friend” Podcast

By Nisha Momin’21 and Sofia Yepes’21 

This past spring, during another mundane day in quarantine, we were left longing for the days of study abroad in Cape Town and Madrid–full of great food, great art, and great fashion. Nostalgic for these experiences, we hopped on a call, and together, we started a podcast that would allow us to discover all the world’s creativity without stepping foot outside. We called this podcast My Brother’s Friend, which represents how random mutual relationships are the primary way people discover new brands, music, restaurants, and artists. 

The original aim of My Brother’s Friend was to show how culture infiltrates fashion, and how different brands reflect their community. Our first guest, Loyiso Ndlondo from Cape Town, explained that their resourceful youth rely on thrifting and re-purposing to express themselves. Our second guest, Rafhael Castro from Brazil, talked about how his brand ZYPER combines colors of the 90s tech boom with the playfulness of Brazilian beaches. Our third guest, Mariia Melnykk from Ukraine, gave us insight into the emerging post-Soviet Union fashion industry. 

As our network continued to grow, our conversations evolved. We became more comfortable speaking about the intersectionality of politics and art, and how fashion can be a tool for social justice. Meera Albaba, a Palestinian fashion designer, uses her work as a designer and entrepreneur to reclaim the artistic liberty of Palestinians living under siege in Gaza. Anwar Bougroug, owner of the fashion label, Bougroug, is paving the way for Moroccan youth to transcend traditional gender norms.  

Meera Adnan
Anwar Bougroug

Not only do Anwar and Meera use their work to depict progressive images and styles artistically, but their impact is crucial to their communities as well. For example, Anwar designs his clothing to be genderless, drawing attention to the taboo concept of gender in the MENA region. His brand further evokes change in the community by relying on the work of Moroccan artisans, restoring quality craftsmanship to an industry that notoriously capitalizes on cheap labor and environmental destruction. In our interview, Anwar explains how these artisans are an integral part of the design process. He says, “I’ve learned that the artisans are also designers. They are creative people, and you can’t just see them as manufacturers. They help me improve the product by working with the fabrics and details.” To produce ethically or unethically is out of the question for Anwar. He makes an active choice to preserve the environment, pay fair wages, and produce art in a sustainable way. Bougroug is just one example of how an artist can use their craft to evoke cultural and economic change.

Photo by @bougroug on Instagram.
Photo by @bougroug on Instagram.

For Meera, fashion is more than the clothes we wear on our backs. Fashion is a form of art, and art is a fundamental right that Palestinians have had to forgo while living under siege. They are living with limited resources and mobility and experience bouts of extreme violence daily. Meera explained that art is the last thing that anyone can think about when living under these conditions. The Palestinian youth are being deprived of concerts, museums, and other forms of creative consumption that many of us take for granted. By proving her resilience, dedication, and passion for creating clothing through her brand, MEERA ADNAN, she is reclaiming her artistic narrative and her right to creative expression. With all odds stacked against her and her success as an entrepreneur, the existence of Meera’s company is a form of protest in and of itself. Maintaining her brand has not been easy, as her production facilities are in Jordan, and amidst the pandemic, she’s faced even tighter restrictions. Nevertheless, she has persevered. 

Photo by @meera_adnan on Instagram.

We share with you the account of Anwar and Meera so that together we can may look at fashion as a form of art, and as a form of art with a vast reach politically, culturally, and economically. If you are interested in hearing Anwar and Meera’s story firsthand, check out My Brother’s Friend, available on all major streaming platforms. 

Links: 

Meera’s Brand: https://meeraadnan.com/

Anwar’s Brand: https://www.bougroug.com/

My Brother’s Friend: https://anchor.fm/mybrothersfriend

Our instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mybrothersfriend/

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Anti-Racism Resource List

As we continue in our fight against racism and commitment to educating ourselves and others on the social, racial, and economic issues of our time, we wished to provide some resources that speak on these important topics. Below is a brief list of different media (books, films, articles, etc) that focus on the subject of racial injustice and inequity, as well as some that connect these issues to topics in museum studies and art history.

To Read:

To Watch:

  • George Tillman Jr., dir. The Hate U Give. 2018; 20th Century Fox. Available on Hulu and Prime Video.
  • Ava DuVernay, dir. Selma. 2018; Paramount. Available on Hulu, Prime Video.
  • Destin Daniel Cretton, dir. Just Mercy. 2019; Warner Bros. Pictures. Available on HBOMax and Hulu.
  • Ava DuVernay, dir. 13th. 2016; Netflix. Available on Netflix.
  • Gus Van Sant, dir. Milk. 2008; Axon Films. Available on Prime Video.
  • Nate Parker, dir. American Skin. 2021; Eagle Pictures. Available on Prime Video.
  • Spike Lee, dir. Do the Right Thing. 1989; 40 Acres and a Mule Films. Available on Hulu.
  • Charles Burnett, dir. Killer of Sheep. 1978; Milestone Films. Available on Milestone Films.
  • Simon Frederick, writer. They Gotta Have Us. 2018; Netflix. Available on Netflix.
  • Cory Bowles, dir. Black Cop. 2017; Blac Op Films. Available on Youtube.
  • Reinaldo Marcus Green, dir. Monsters and Men. 2018; Sight Unseen Pictures. Available on Hulu.
  • Kief Davidson, dir. Kassim the Dream. 2008; Available on Youtube.
  • Kenny Leon, dir. American Son. 2019; Simpson Street. Available on Netflix.
  • Ava DuVernay, creator. When They See Us. 2019; Netflix. Available on Netflix.
  • Justin Simien, creator. Dear White People. 2017; Code Red Films. Available on Netflix.
  • Beyoncé, dir. Homecoming. 2018; Parkwood Entertainment. Available on Netflix.
  • Goran Olsson, dir. The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975. 2011; Louverture Films. Available on Youtube.

To Listen:

  • Meraji, Shereen Marisol; Demby, Gene, hosts. Code Switch. NPR, 2013.
  • Biewen, John, producer. Seeing White, Scene On Radio, 2017.
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Podcast Archive

Art in Focus: “Indian Ocean Current” an interview with one of the curators, Professor Prasannan Parthasarathi

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the last of four episodes in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the “Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives” exhibition.  For this episode, we have invited Professor Prasannan Parthasarathi of the History Department to speak on his experience as a co-curator of the exhibition with Student Ambassador Nisha Momin Class of 2021.

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Podcast Archive

Art in Focus: “Indian Ocean Current” with Professors María de los Ángeles Picone and Sylvia Sellers-García

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the third of four episodes in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the “Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives” exhibition.  For this episode, we have invited Professors María de los Ángeles Picone and Sylvia Sellers-García of the History Department to speak on art created by Shilpa Gupta. They discuss how their work on Latin America and borders intersects with Gupta’s installation and wall drawing pieces, the Speaking Wall and Untitled (There Is No Border Here).

Untitled (There Is No Border Here), 2005–06
wall drawing with self-adhesive tape, 118 x 118 in.
Copyright Shilpa Gupta, courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, and La Habana

Speaking Wall, 2009–10
interactive sensor-based sound installation: LCD screen, bricks, headphones, 8:00 interaction loop, 118 x 118 x 118 in.
Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar
Copyright Shilpa Gupta, courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, and La Habana
Photo: Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar

If you did not have the chance to catch our trailer for this podcast on social media. You can watch it here!

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Podcast Archive

Art in Focus: “Indian Ocean Current” with Professors Mara Willard and Andrew Grant

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

The following podcast is the second of four episodes in the Art in Focus series, where we explore different themes and artwork from the “Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives” exhibition.  For this episode, we have invited Professors Mara Willard and Andrew Grant of the International Studies Program to speak on art created by Shiraz Bayjoo, Nicholas Hlobo, and Hajra Waheed. They discuss how religion and geography meet at a crossroad within this exhibit’s artwork.

Madagascar, 2017
acrylic on board, resin, metal, 9.4 x 6.7 x 6.1 in.
Copyright Shiraz Bayjoo, courtesy of the artist and Ed Cross Fine Art, London

Extraordinary Quarantines #15, 2014
giclée print, 20 x 20 in./24 x 24 in. (with border)
Copyright Shiraz Bayjoo, courtesy of the artist and Ed Cross Fine Art, London

Untitled (MAP), 2016 (edition 1/6)
infographic print on vellum, 304 x 25 in. (unfolded)/191.9 x 25 in. (folded)
Copyright Hajra Waheed, courtesy of the artist

Untitled (MAP), 2016 (edition 1/6)
infographic print on vellum, 304 x 25 in. (unfolded)/191.9 x 25 in. (folded)
Copyright Hajra Waheed, courtesy of the artist

Ngumgudu nemizano, 2008
rubber inner tube, ribbon, rubber boots, and vinyl, c. 47.2 x 39.4 x 47.2 in.
Collection of Midori Yamamura and Luis H. Francia
Copyright Nicholas Hlobo, courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul
Photo: Matthew Herrmann

If you did not have the chance to catch our trailer for this podcast on social media. You can watch it here!

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Podcast Archive

Art in Focus: “Indian Ocean Current” with Professors Laura Hake and Heather Olins

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a unique perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” to highlight art’s expansive reach and interdisciplinary nature.

In the next four episodes of the Art in Focus podcasts series, we will explore different themes and artwork from the “Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives” exhibition. For this episode, we have invited Professors Laura Hake and Heather Olins of the Biology Department to speak on art created by Penny Siopsis. They discuss how to use art as a pedagogical tool and the importance of creating narratives in science.

Warm Waters [3], 2018–19
glue, ink, and oil on paper, 9.1 x 11.8 in.
Copyright Penny Siopis, courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Cape Town

Warm Waters [8], 2018–19
glue, ink, and oil on paper, 13.2 x 9.3 in.
Copyright Penny Siopis, courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Cape Town

Warm Waters [17], 2018–19
glue, ink, and oil on paper, 11.8 x 8.9 in.
Copyright Penny Siopis, courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Cape Town

If you did not have the chance to catch our trailer for this podcast on social media. You can watch it here!

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Professor Luke Jorgensen’s creative dramatic works with “Indian Ocean Current”

McMullen Student Ambassador Dana Connolly reflects on Professor Jorgensen’s interactions with the museum to fuel his creative endeavors in the classroom.

Pictured above: Professor Luke Jorgensen, Associate Professor of the Practice of Theatre at Boston College

Professor Luke Jorgensen, BC ‘91, whether demonstrating children’s improvisation exercises, sharing anecdotes from his twenty-five years of experience on and off the stage, or declaiming “MORE THEATRE!” between student performances, throws every item in his theatrical bag of tricks to create electrifying drama classes. Once a year, he plans a field trip for his Creative Dramatics classes to the McMullen Museum for a change of scenery. 

While the quiet, reflective McMullen Museum hardly seems like a suitable venue to capture theatrical lightning in a bottle, Jorgensen has integrated museum education into his classes for years, each time beginning anew with the McMullen’s changing exhibitions. This Fall, the McMullen Museum reopened Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives, a multifaceted exhibition of videos, collages, paintings, sculptures, interactive installations, and photographs by contemporary artists whose work reflects the changing landscape of the Indian Ocean and surrounding geography. 

After the abrupt transition to remote learning last Spring, Jorgensen was eager to bring his classes back to the McMullen to explore the exhibit. For this visit, he brought a class to Indian Ocean Current to demonstrate creative dramatics. For the unfamiliar, creative dramatics is “an improvisational, non-exhibitional, process-centered form of drama in which participants are guided by a leader to imagine, enact, and reflect upon human experience.”1 Using creative drama exercises, students create new works, entirely without scripts or cues, using only the exhibition and their imaginations. 

From a kindergarten classroom to upper-level theatre courses at Boston College, creative dramatics empowers young people to take risks, devise new theatrical experiences, and develop their artistic eye through recreating for the stage their shared human experiences. At the museum, the vocabulary of a creative dramatics work is less explicit; Jorgensen loves to teach what he calls “happenings,” a short written, devised, or performed piece written collaboratively by a class of drama students. For Indian Ocean Current, Jorgensen let his class loose in the museum. He tasked them with collectively writing short stories—thirteen stories for thirteen students—in response to pieces from the exhibition that created vivid mental images and stories, the kindling of creative dramatics work to come.  

Jorgensen loves the chain reaction effect of devised theatre pieces like these. In his words, devised theatre captures the “immediate reaction to a piece of art,” empowering the actor to build upon the original work in a collaborative process. Students react to a piece in the museum and use their classmates’ reactions to spark new ideas, reopening the stories behind Indian Ocean Current and continuing them through live performance. During his class, students in Jorgensen’s class used Wangechi Mutu’s digital piece, Amazing Grace, to collaboratively write a story about live zoo animals inexplicably washing up on the shore of a small coastal town.

Jorgensen’s dream for collaboration between the Boston College Theatre Department and the McMullen Museum is something to behold: a (socially distanced) site-specific devised theatre piece accompanied by student musicians and performed throughout the McMullen galleries. Actors and audience members could move freely through different spaces, encounter new scenes and “happenings.” Luke’s description echoes the inventive Macbeth adaptation, Sleep No More, which premiered in nearby Brookline at the abandoned Old Lincoln School. The immersive experience of site-specific theatre creates exciting and authentic dramatic experiences. 

Though the future of live theatre is uncertain, Luke Jorgensen has high hopes for the theatre students and faculty at Boston College. For now, he’ll happily keep the ghost light lit until all audiences can return to the theater.

Sources Cited:

 1 Davis, Jed H., and Tom Behm. 1978. Terminology of drama/theatre with and for children: A redefinition. Children’s Theatre Review XXVII (1): 10-11. 

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Films We’re Watching: Movies about Art

by Alex Hull

COVID has made it difficult for people to go out and view art, either at museums, through travel, or gatherings with others.  However, during and after quarantine, most of us have taken to watching more movies than we have ever before (I have, anyway).  Here are four films that explore art, artists, and art history that I think are worth watching.


The Painter and the Thief (2020) dir. Benjamin Ree

Image courtesy: rogererbert.com

The Painter and the Thief is a film about an unlikely friendship that begins between a young Czech artist, Barbora Kysilkova, and Karl Bertil-Nordland, a criminal.  When one of Barbora’s paintings is stolen from a gallery, she decides to track down the thief and meets Bertil, the man who stole her painting.  She asks if she can paint his portrait and the finished product changes Bertil’s life from the moment he sees it.  This story is rich with emotion and tension, asking viewers to question art’s value to its viewers, respective artists, and who they dedicate their art to.  This film reveals the more painful sides of the artistic process and the formation of ideas, and the real power that art can have over its viewers.  I wanted to watch this whole film over again immediately once the credits rolled.  Available on Hulu.


Loving Vincent (2017) dir. Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman

Image courtesy: albanymuseum.com

This movie submerges you within the mystery surrounding Vincent Van Gogh’s death and one man’s obsession in uncovering the truth.  The story is arranged in a series of meetings with several characters who provide pieces of information about Vincent, which sometimes causes the film to feel slow at times.  However, the animation style, which imitates that of Van Gogh’s paintings, makes the film captivating.  125 painters from around the world worked on painting over the original live-action footage which gives the scenes a unique sense of animated movement.  I appreciated Loving Vincent because it shows how classical methods such as painting can be transformed in unexpected and beautiful ways using modern media like film.  Available on Hulu.


Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) dir. Céline Sciamma

Image courtesy: newstatesman.com

Commissioned in secret, a young painter named Marianne heads to an isolated island to paint Héloïse, a stubborn bride who has refused to pose for her wedding portrait.  The two fall in love as they await Héloïse’s dreaded wedding day.  The film focuses on painting as an act of intimacy and as an instrument of memory.  Art works in the background of this heart-wrenching and impossible love story between two women.  The film asks what it means to hold an authentic image of someone in their mind, as painting becomes a vital, rebellious, and secretive act. Art becomes critical in this story, and the only way Marienne can hold on to Héloïse.  Available on Hulu.


Beyond the Visible––Hilma af Klint (2020) dir. Halina Dyrschka

Image courtesy goldcoastarts.org

Beyond the Visible is a documentary about the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), a modernist painter, virtually unknown during her time, who has had a considerable impact on the art world.  Many of her paintings were far ahead of her time, and as specified in her will, none would be shown until twenty years after her death.  Her style includes vibrant colors and often engages elements of geometry.  This documentary looks at her work and personal life, highlighting her interest in science and spiritualism.  I had never heard of Hilma af Klint before, but after watching this documentary, I have found a new favorite artist. Available on Amazon Prime.

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McMullen Museum Student Ambassador Statement of Solidarity and Commitment

We, the McMullen Student Ambassadors, stand in solidarity with Black Students at Boston College and unequivocally and directly denounce all forms of racism, hatred, intolerance, and violence against the Black communities on campus and in society-at-large. We recognize that racism is real and manifests in many forms, most prominently as anti-Black police brutality and violence. Throughout global and U.S. history, the institution of racism is rooted in a legacy of colonialism, slavery, and dominance of Black and Brown people. We have not properly grappled with these institutions or their legacies, and their effects reverberate around the country and the world. As a result, racism and colorism are embedded in the structures of society, including our academic institutions.

We remain in solidarity with the Black and Indigenous communities in the U.S. and around the world. We recognize the recent injustices against Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, among countless other victims of anti-Black violence, and outwardly condemn these injustices. We recognize the lasting and compounding effects of generational trauma within the Black community, which marks a great failure of this country to uphold liberty and justice for all. 

As such, we are committed to combating these direct and indirect forms of racism, as well as intersecting injustices including, but not limited to: colorism, homophobia, transphobia, misogynoir, ableism, fatphobia, and classism within our community here at the museum, at Boston College, and beyond. Below are the following policies that we, as Student Ambassadors, have promised to adopt to combat the systematic disease of racism:

  1. We have created and will maintain an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee, composed of the McMullen Manager of Education, the McMullen Programming Graduate Assistant, and Student Ambassadors to bring EDI to the forefront of all of our work, interactions, and efforts at the McMullen Museum.
  2. We aim to amplify black voices in our daily interactions and promotions of art, museums, and academia via social media, Student Ambassador hiring, exhibition programming, and outreach.
  3. We commit to having tough conversations with peers, colleagues, and community members around racial justice and social justice, and will encourage them to do their own research on matters as well as take AADS courses, as well as participate in the Forum on Racial Justice at Boston College’s numerous programs.
  4. We will call out and report incidents of racism when they happen.
  5. We will reach out directly to diverse student organizations on campus to provide resources, collaborate on programming, and encourage members to apply to become a Student Ambassador.
  6. We will alter our Student Ambassador hiring process to take into account diversity instead of being color blind by including a question on race/ethnicity in our application form.
  7. We will continue to encourage feedback amongst our peers, listen to their experiences, and recognize their concerns. We acknowledge that the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion will require indefinite attention and continued critical self-reflection.
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The Museum of Fine Arts’ Journey Toward Inclusion

Since the killing of George Floyd and the following national reckoning for racial justice, institutions of all kinds have raised their standards. Many of these institutions, including museums, have been working in recent years towards inclusivity. The racial violence that occurred over the summer made it clear that these institutions need to take more direct and visible actions towards equality. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has risen to the occasion by pushing toward “a more inclusive MFA,” as stated on their website.1

The MFA’s commitment to inclusivity reaches back almost a year before the murder of George Floyd, to May 2019. A group of middle schoolers and chaperones from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy visited the museum and filed a complaint. While visiting the museum, they encountered racism and verbal abuse from staff and visitors. In response, the MFA instituted unconscious bias and conflict resolution training with its staff, barred two visitors from the museum, and organized meetings with students and staff from the Davis Leadership Academy.

Since that incident, the MFA has shown a strong commitment to making the museum more welcoming and inclusive. In July 2019, the museum announced that they would be hosting four paid teen scholars from Boston to “build curatorial skills, enabling the interns to develop the themes of their exhibition, select and study the works of art, and collaborate on the design, interpretation, and programming.” In September, nearly four months after the Davis Leadership Academy visit, the museum rolled out an extensive plan to improve the school group experience and create “an environment where all young people trust that they will feel safe and celebrated.” The updates position students and teachers as participants rather than visitors and provide school groups with resources and designated staff to make their visit more welcoming and rewarding.

At the close of 2019, the MFA announced a new position within their Division of Learning and Community Engagement: the Senior Director of Belonging and Inclusion. Along with making the MFA more inclusive for all, the position included reaching out and deepening connections with the museum’s current audiences, as well as “diverse yet historically underrepresented audiences.” Over the summer of 2020, Rosa Rodriguez-Williams was appointed as Senior Director of Belonging and Inclusion, with a start date of September 9, 2020. Ms. Rodriguez-Williams received a  M.A, in social work from Boston College.

On June 1, in response to George Floyd’s murder, the MFA released a public message of support. In the rest of its summer update, the museum also outlined its resolve to examine its internal policies and culture, engage a diversity consultant to evaluate the museum, and institute paid college internships to diversify the museum field. The update also contained a nod to Ms. Rodriguez-Williams, stating that her work will “play a critical role in delivering on the MFA’s promise to be a Museum for all of Boston.” In an email to The Terrace, Rodriguez-Williams said she plans to “prioritize the visitor’s experience to foster belonging and be a Museum where everyone who walks through our doors feels seen, valued and respected.”

Rodriguez-Williams also attributed her “desire to lead within organizations” to her experience as a student here at Boston College. She described her time at BC as a formative period responsible for “laying [the] groundwork that set me up for success and my heart for inclusion.” She is grateful for her time at the Boston College School of Social Work, where she “matured personally and evolved professionally as a social worker.” For Rodriguez-Williams, “Impacting the world, through my work with organizations and the people in them is not only an honor but a privilege.”

The MFA’s recognition of its own shortcomings, its efforts to be better in the future, and its specific action items are commendable. Institutional racism exists in every facet of life, and therefore needs to be dismantled on each of those levels. The MFA is committed in the fight against racism and should serve as an inspiration and example to the broader community. The fight for racial justice is ongoing, but actions like these taken by the MFA get us closer to our ultimate goals of equality and inclusion. 

“Toward a More Inclusive MFA” Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. https://www.mfa.org/about/toward-a-more-inclusive-mfa 

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Beauty and Pain: Street Art’s Contribution to Gentrification

Student Ambassador Ivana Wijedasa reflects on her time in Madrid, Spain and speaks about the effects of street art on communities.

My eyes fixated on a large mural depicting bright rainbow colors and the head of a monkey with the illusion of being 3-Dimensional. The mural painted against the building’s wall, whose original purpose, beyond displaying this work of art, is unknown. The colorful mural is hard to miss amongst a street filled with monotonous gray and red brick buildings. Street Art has become increasingly popular over time and was originally a form of social and political commentary through graffiti and murals. In Spain, “political street art has a long history as a communication tool in times of political changes.”1 During the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, Pablo Picasso painted the Guernica. This mural has become one of the most popular examples of artwork portraying a political message as it criticizes war and the leadership of Franco.2 In the present day, street art and murals continue to convey political messages. Catalonians in Northern Spain have used graffiti to write words such as “Libertad”or “Freedom” on buildings to reiterate their calls for independence.3 However, street art has also veered towards becoming a tool for gentrification as developers commission murals and paintings to beautify neighborhoods and enhance their physical appeal.4 

The beauty of street art is unquestionable. It draws people’s attention and can transform a dull, grey, impoverished community into a bustling, bright tourist attraction. However, with the increasing popularity of beautiful street art comes the pain and possibility of gentrification. 

Photo by Ivana Wijedasa (Madrid, Spain) 

In the summer of 2019, I studied abroad in Madrid, and took a course entitled “Spanish Art History: From Al-Andalus to Picasso.” As a part of our class, we took a street art tour in the neighborhood of Lavapiés.  Lavapiés is a diverse community which is home to the Spanish working class and immigrants from South America, the Middle East, and various other regions. The population of Lavapiés consists of a large portion of immigrants and elderly people who are from lower-income backgrounds.5 As a result, the infrastructure of the neighborhood has typically been neglected by property owners, resulting in low quality housing. As a way to improve the physical appearance of this underserved community, developers contracted artists to paint murals on the deteriorating buildings. When we walked down the neighborhood streets, we were in awe of the unusual designs and figures painted throughout the town. Occasionally, we would stop and admire the art while the tour guide gave us an interpretation of what the artwork was supposed to mean or a little background on the artist. While stopped by one mural, a lady passing by on her bike came to a halt as she saw us, a group of 20 students, touring her neighborhood. I cannot recall the exact words the lady told us as she spoke in Spanish, but my professor later explained that her words consisted of complaints about us touring her neighborhood. She professed her concern of not being able to live there anymore as housing prices were increasing due to people like us touring her hometown to see the street art.    

Photo by Ivana Wijedasa (Madrid, Spain)

The increase in housing prices that this lady was experiencing was due to gentrification caused by the addition of beautiful street art to her low-income neighborhood. According to the Urban Displacement Project, gentrification is defined as “a process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood —by means of real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in – as well as demographic change.”6  Developers commission artists to create murals on the sides of buildings to reel in upper-class white adults.7 In this case, the investment in street art for Lavapiés had contributed to economic changes in the neighborhood by attracting higher-income residents to a typically lower-income area.  Resulting in rising house prices and potential displacement of former residents who can no longer afford to live there.

Photo courtesy Catherine McGloin

The use of street art as a means of gentrification is not unique to a small neighborhood in Spain, but happens around the world, including in our very own city of Boston. Areas such as Dorchester, Roxbury, and South Boston are among those that have gentrified partly due to the presence of street art.8 Now, as you admire beautiful street art, it is also important to recognize its contribution to gentrification and the pain of its beauty. Perhaps, new forms of policy need to emerge to prevent art from becoming a tool of displacement. 

1 Jonna Tolonen. 2017. “Power of Paint: Political Street Art Confronts the Authorities .” SAUC.

2 Editors, History.com. 2010. “Picasso’s “Guernica” is returned to Spain.” History. February 9. Accessed October 6, 2020. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/guernica-returned-to-spain.

3 Alfonso L. Congostrina. 2019. “Thousands of Officers on Hand to Protect Real Madrid-Barcelona Match.” El País. December 18. Accessed October 6, 2020. https://english.elpais.com/elpais/2019/12/18/inenglish/1576662885_210080.html.

4 Bojan Maric. 2014. “The History of Street Art.” WideWalls. July 29. Accessed September 26, 2020. https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/the-history-of-street-art.

5 Matthew Isaiah Feinberg. 2011. Lavapiés, Madrid as Twenty-First Century Urban Spectacle. PhD Thesis, University of Kentucky.

6 n.d. “Gentrification Explained.” Urban Displacement Project. Accessed September 26, 2020. https://www.urbandisplacement.org/gentrification-explained.

7 Claire del Sorbo,. 2019. “The Changes of Street Art in the Face of Gentrification.” Fresco Collective. Accessed September 26, 2020. https://frescocollective.org/articles/2019/1/11/changes-street-art-gentrification.

 8 Claire del Sorbo. 2019. “The Changes of Street Art in the Face of Gentrification.” Fresco Collective. Accessed September 26, 2020. https://frescocollective.org/articles/2019/1/11/changes-street-art-gentrification.

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McMullen Updates Uncategorized

A Letter from the Editors

By: Publication Committee Co-chairs Arvin Mohapatra and Alex Hull

Welcome back to the Terrace and the McMullen Museum! As editors and co-chairs of the Publications Committee here at the McMullen, we wanted to welcome you back to your museum officially, whether that be in-person or remotely.  The last few months have been overwhelming and have taken some getting used to, but we are happy to be connected again.  We have welcomed both new and returning students to our Student Ambassador program for the 2020-2021 school year. Working both inside the museum and remotely, these students will continue to keep working within their committees and with the broader BC community to help facilitate bringing the museum to you during this strange and unprecedented moment in history.  

Even though many museum operations and events look different this year, the McMullen remains open to the BC community and will continue to host virtual events throughout the year.  The museum is open this semester, by appointment only, to the BC community.  Since the exhibition on display in the Spring was only available for about two months before the museum closed, the museum decided to keep the exhibition, Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives, open for this semester. If you are interested in viewing the exhibit, the best way to schedule an appointment is by contacting Rachel Chamberlain at rachel.chamberlain@bc.edu.  The museum also remains a study space on campus.  If you are interested in using the museum study spaces, you can also email Rachel about setting up a time slot for studying.  

All of our programs for this semester will take place virtually.  Some of the upcoming events we have planned include weekly docent tours at 3:00 PM every Friday, an Art History and Film colloquium on September 21, and a publication highlight on Ming Era architecture on September 29, to name a few for the rest of September.  To find the complete events calendar, visit https://www.bc.edu/sites/artmuseum/about/events.html.  We hope to “see” many of you there!

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India’s Forgotten Palace: The Amer Fort

McMullen Student Ambassador Arvin Mohapatra, MCAS 2021, reflects on his trip to India over the winter break.

It’s funny how the most unconventional encounters can lead to some of the most meaningful revelations. Behind the scenes, the dynamic duo that is Art and History has been weaving its way to the forefront of contemporary visionaries. Their deeply rooted stories and traditions provide us with some of the strongest foundations imaginable to build modern, more progressive ideologies that are symbolized and expressed through contemporary works of art and literature. When I first learned of the unveiling of the McMullen’s Museum’s Indian Ocean Current exhibit last winter, my first thoughts were, “Finally.”

Why, “Finally,” you may ask? Over the winter break, I traveled to India, specifically to the states of Odisha and Rajasthan, not only to visit family, but to also immerse myself in the country’s profound, yet often understated stories regarding the effects of decolonization on some of the grandest landmarks of India’s rich history. A concept that is highlighted throughout the exhibit. One of these landmarks was the Amer Fort in Rajasthan. 

A view from the Amer Fort
Photo by Arvin Mohapatra

Built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh, the fort’s purpose was to house the Rajput Maharajas (the rulers of the state). It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 in order to preserve the remnants of the historically significant fort. 

Photo by Arvin Mohapatra

The developing resurgence of previously colonized countries, like India, had surprisingly masked the significance of ancient markers, including the Amer Fort. For years after decolonization, the fort was cast aside like an old remnant of the past, only to be “rediscovered” relatively recently as a significant feature of India’s ancient, and impactful history.

The exhibit bridges a gap between the sites of decolonization and those who are interested in the seldom-told stories of the phenomenon. The Amer Fort is one of many landmarks that underwent a similar journey, and to see that connection from the Indian state of Rajasthan all the way to our McMullen Museum is nothing short of a miracle. 

Photo by Arvin Mohapatra

Sources Cited:

“Amber Fort Jaipur – History, Architecture, Visit Timings & Facts.” Jaipur – History, Architecture, Visit Timings & Facts, Cultural India, http://www.culturalindia.net/indian-forts/amber-fort.html.

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In Case You Missed It

In Case You Missed It: Lunar New Year Celebration, 2020

By Kathrine Lathrop

The McMullen museum welcomed the year of the rat this Saturday, February 1st, with a grand community celebration for the Chinese New Year. Student organizations under the Asain Caucus including the Chinese Student Association, Korean Student Association, and the South East Asian Association came together to bring crafts, games, and home-cooked food to create the perfect event. 

There were many activities for visitors to enjoy, including origami crafts. Guests made red paper fans, lanterns, and three-dimensional Chinese characters. Red string was also provided for some to try their hand at making Chinese knots. 

Across the hall, the McMullen featured a button-making station. Visitors of all ages came to design their own pins and have them come to fruition with a simple pull of a lever. 

Guests were also invited to watch a student presentation on the New Year celebration. After the slideshow, many visitors continued into the game room where they could play cards or Mahjong. To take a break from the activities, many visitors enjoyed the home-cooked food offered by the students. Scallion cakes, dumplings, and fried rice were a big hit!

In the atrium of the museum, long tables were arranged where guests could decorate envelopes for the new year. Gold chocolate coins were provided to put in the envelopes for good luck or a sweet treat. 

The Lunar New Year celebration ultimately brought BC and the surrounding community together under good food, fortune and of course, creative crafts. The year of the rat has just begun and will surely be filled with more fun celebrations at the McMullen!

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Student Ambassador Winter Series Uncategorized

Wynwood Walls: Miami’s Take on an Open Air Museum

McMullen Student Ambassador Alex Hull, MCAS 2021, reflects on part of her winter break in Miami, Florida.

When I hear the words, “art museum,” I see paintings––ornate, revered paintings; I see rooms full of silent people, squinting their eyes and leaning forward, eventually deciding to lean over to the person they brought with them to whisper some theory they have about the piece; I see the beautiful, exterior walls which enclose the hypothetical place, which give its visitors an imposing first impression.  My experience of viewing art within a museum has always felt somewhat sacred, and what a beautiful experience this has been for me. However, this experience of mine, this particular face of a museum, is one of many.  

I had the chance to escape the Massachusetts winter over the holidays, and Miami was my first destination.  After a few long, sunny days at South Beach, I headed into the city, to pay Wynwood, Miami’s energetic art district, a visit.  

Here’s a little bit about Wynwood.  Tony Goldman, a developer from New York who played a key role in making South Beach what it is today, invested time and money in Wynwood, Miami, an area previously filled with the empty, abandoned warehouses of a forgotten garment district, in the early 2000s, hoping that the area would experience an artistic revival.  He started by opening a restaurant, and soon, galleries and shops popped up near it. However, what set Wynwood apart from other empty-warehouse-districts-turned-trendy was the introduction of several huge street murals, placed in a central courtyard open to the public and appropriately named Wynwood Walls.  Goldman called this area of Wynwood a “museum of the streets.”

Photo by Alex Hull

With over 200 of these street murals, Wynwood has now become the artistic hub of Miami, complete with private galleries and beautifully unexpected street art covering nearly every building and abandoned warehouse. The art district has also become a popular place for locals to gather, as tourists tend to flock to South Beach, especially during the summer months.  

Photo by Alex Hull

What I had missed completely during my previous visits to the Wynwood Walls was the fact that this place really was a museum, even though it functioned completely differently from what I associated with my personal template of a museum.  This museum’s only walls were the canvases themselves; their sole purpose was to provide material for the artists to work upon. Instead of the walls enclosing the art inside of a building, these huge canvases are placed in a way that guides visitors through the courtyard, from one work of art to another.  Thus, the focus is on the art itself. The walls become the artistic medium; they can be thought of as huge canvases that are set up to act as walls, that do so without boxing anything in or pushing anything out. The surrounding atmosphere rules this particular museum. The sunny weather, the groups of people chatting to each other freely, and the colorful notes of the murals together all make for an inviting, cheerful, and most importantly, accessible gathering space for those interested in art.  

Mural by Shepard Fairey, Wynwood Walls. Courtesy FloridaDailyPost.com

This museum model draws a larger and more diverse crowd as well.  Everyone from gallery owners to small children to lifelong Miami residents is welcome to enjoy the murals, to stay as short or as long as they please, and to take photos of all of it.  Wynwood, most importantly, is accessible to all people no matter their backgrounds in art. Both the experts and the newcomers gather here to celebrate street art and the artists who love creating it.  

Sources Cited:

Sandra Schulman, “Shepard Fairey Mural at Wynwood Walls Honors the Power of Men,” Florida Daily Post, June 6, 2017, https://obeygiant.com/wynwood-walls-mural-revisited-x-shepard-fairey/.

Terry Pristin, “A SoHo Visionary Makes an Artsy Bet in Miami,” New York Times, March 30, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/realestate/commercial/31goldman.html.

Wynwood, “Our Story,” accessed December 28, 2019, https://wynwoodmiami.com/learn/our-story/.

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In Case You Missed It

In Case You Missed It: Spring 2020 “Art after Dark”

By Dana Connolly

On Friday, January 24th, the McMullen Museum opened its doors once again to inaugurate Spring semester and debut this semester’s exhibition: Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives.

Like last semester’s Hieroglyphs of Landscape exhibit, Indian Ocean Current explores the complex, rugged beauty of the natural world. The six artists in Indian Ocean Current display how humans have profoundly affected our planet, through climate change, borders, and global trade. The activities at Art After Dark served to highlight the importance of climate health and the movement of people and ideas. 

On the first floor, students made their own Jellyfish creatures from craft and recycled materials. These unique sea creatures featured LED lights to recreate the bioluminescent glow of real Jellyfish.

Throughout the night, several talented BC student groups performed in the main lobby, including BC Music Guild, The Sharps, BEATS, The Dynamics, and Jammin’ Toast.

On the first and third floors, students played environmentally-themed board games, such as Morels and Settlers of Catan: Oil Springs, while upstairs students made DIY Lorax Masks to speak for the trees.

One of the most popular activities of the night was DIY Button Making in the Permanent Collection gallery room. Students were able to wear their politics on their sleeve with custom “DIVEST” and “CHANGE POLITICS, NOT THE CLIMATE” buttons. Many students also took the opportunity to draw and create their own designs.

As always, there was never a dull moment at this semester’s Art After Dark student opening. Keep an eye out for new and exciting events at the McMullen, such as our Every Thursday Night program featuring this week’s gallery discussion: “Borders: Beyond the Wall,” and next week’s DIY Night: Knitting with Plastic Yarn (Plarn). 

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Lecture Archives

“Indian Ocean Current”: Lecture by Curators Prasannan Parthasarathi and Salim Currimjee

As part of the McMullen Museum’s 2020 spring opening celebration of Indian Ocean Current: Six Artistic Narratives, curators, Boston College Professor of history Prasannan Parthasarathi and founder of the Institute of Contemporary Art Indian Ocean (ICAIO) Salim Currimjee, introduce the major themes and artists of the exhibition.

This lecture took place at the McMullen Museum of Art on January 26, 2020.

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Podcast Archive

Art in Focus: Alen MacWeeney with Professors Lisa Kessler and Greer Muldowney

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a new perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” as both historic records and living objects that trade in today’s cultural and economic capital.

For this episode of Art in Focus, we have invited Photography Professors Lisa Kessler and Greer Muldowney from the Art, Art History & Film Department. Each professor was asked to choose a works from Alen MacWeeney and a Century of New York Street Photography, and share anything and everything that strikes them as interesting or curious.

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Exhibition Spotlight McMullen Musings

The Perfect Storm: Climate Catastrophes in “Hieroglyphs of Landscape”

Student Ambassador Chris Rizzo (MCAS, 2022) talks about his personal experience with the awful power of nature as a Wisconsin native.

I grew up in suburban Wisconsin, where winter takes up the whole year. Each October we don our heavy winter coats and mittens that transform us into big puffy marshmallows, the default clothing for most of my family and friends until late April, sometimes May. Winter on the water, however, is an entirely different beast. For those of you who have grown up near the Great Lakes, you know the conditions I speak of. Lake Superior, or the “Lake of Storms,” the northernmost and deepest Great Lake, restrained by Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula, can become especially dangerous. Hurricane-force winds create waves almost five stories tall, roughly the height of Stokes Hall. In the winter, water temperatures fall as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. The majority of the lake freezes over yearly. Storms can rise without warning and have carried at least 350 vessels into the deep since human beings first settled its shores. 

One of the greatest storms to menace Lake Superior was the Mataafa Storm of November 28, 1905. Twenty-nine cargo and fishing craft sank, brought under by massive waves and top winds recorded at 68 miles per hour, smashed against the rocks, or ran aground on shorelines. The SS Mataafa was one of these vessels, broken in two by the sheer force of these massive waves as it attempted to make a run to safety in Duluth Harbor. Nine men died of exposure in the night after the ship broke apart. One body had to be cut out of a solid block of ice when rescue crews could finally arrive the next day. 

The drama of the Mataafa Storm, thought by some to be the worst storm ever seen on Lake Superior, evoked a kind of collective shock in the region that reverberated around the United States, much like natural disasters we face today, such as the California wildfires of recent years or any of the massive hurricanes that have slammed the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. People could not conceive of a storm that could sink twenty-nine ships, end thirty-five lives, and inflict damages of over 3.5 million dollars (102 million in today’s currency) all in one night. Natural disasters not only show us the raw, unadulterated power of Mother Nature, but also our own weakness and fragility.

Natural disasters not only show us the raw, unadulterated power of Mother Nature, but also our own weakness and fragility.

Since ancient times shipwrecks have fascinated and horrified us. We need look no further than the tale of the Titanic to know that this is true. Imagined calamities in literature can hold just as much power as the real. From the tales of Homer’s Odyssey to a modern novel like Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, the shipwreck is a classic disaster. This event represents a derailment of the hero’s journey and a decisive start of something new. These authors recognize that not only does a shipwreck offer a clean slate upon which a new story can be told, but it also speaks an important message of who we are and where we come from, as well as our own naivety. In the case of the SS Mataafa and all the other ships that sunk in Lake Superior on that stormy November night, the outcome was seen as unexpected and unavoidable, but in reality, it was anything but. 

Storms are the perfect challenge our boldness; when the sea asserts itself and batters our fragile boats with massive swells and howling winds, we are no match for Nature’s uncaring destruction.

The very act of sailing is one that issues a challenge to nature. Water is meant to be a barrier to humanity, but sailing allows us to traverse the sea, carrying people and cargo from place to place. Shipbuilding is such a precise art because a balance must be struck; a vessel cannot be so heavy that it sinks like a stone, but it also cannot be so light that it is overturned by a ripple on a pond. Storms are the perfect challenge our boldness; when the sea asserts itself and batters our fragile boats with massive swells and howling winds, we are no match for Nature’s uncaring destruction.

Shipwrecks and the messages they convey also weighed heavily on the minds of Romantic painters. William Trost Richards, whose seascapes are currently on display at the McMullen Museum, dwelled on these themes. Several of his works show remnants of ships washed ashore as a central element in a lonely beach scene or a twilight view of the coast. Russian Romantic Ivan Aivazovsky also shows a preoccupation with sinking ships and ships in trouble. This naval motif really does reflect the mood of the nineteenth century. Unlike centuries past, Romantic thinkers, authors, and artists were comfortable dwelling in a space of uncertainty and meditating on themes of mortality and fragility.

So often in modern life we take our apparent mastery over the seas and skies for granted. Over 90 percent of the world’s trade in cargo and raw materials moves in vessels over the sea, and travel by planes is one of the greatest luxuries of modern life. But we often forget just how fragile these networks of transport and trade are. As the Mataafa Storm on Lake Superior and the works of nineteenth-century Romantics like William Trost Richards prove, nothing can be taken for granted. When we lower the sails and batten down the hatches, we are acting in defiance of greater powers. We hold contempt for any authority that seeks to control us, and rebel against a fundamental part of our own humanity, that our fragile lives can all be extinguished by the waves of a single storm. 

William Trost Richards, “Beach Scene with Wreck,” Brooklyn Museum, accessed November 19, 2019. https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/67563.

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McMullen Musings

Alvin Epstein, Beckett, and the Absurdity of The Fulbright Triptych

McMullen Student Ambassador Dana Connolly, LSEHD ’22, reflects on The Fulbright Triptych and actor Alvin Epstein’s legacy in art and theatre.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet Alvin Epstein at the Actor’s Shakespeare Project Spring Gala. During his storied life on stage, Mr. Epstein established himself as the authoritative actor-interpreter of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist drama. Epstein made his Broadway debut as Lucky in Beckett’s opus, Waiting for Godot. Soon after, he played the leading role of Estragon, launching his career into the absurd world of Beckett.  

After a stint of Broadway successes, Epstein became a founding member of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard, establishing himself in the Boston theatre scene. In Boston, Epstein supported local and nonprofit theatre ventures, and was a lover and cultivator of Boston’s Artistic Heritage. 

Alvin, at age 92, spoke in hushed tones but indelible wit. Sitting upon a monumental career in the art world, he seemed mostly unbothered.  I felt as though he had embraced the absurdity of the life that he imitated on stage for so many years. Epstein’s contribution to The Suspension of Time: Reflections on Simon Dinnerstein and Fulbright Triptych, echoes this sentiment. 

The title, “Where Are We? When Are We?” is pulled straight from Beckett’s oeuvre (although in truth, it’s a Back To The Future Quote). Epstein bemoans the lack of guard rails that Dinnerstein gives to the viewer: no “dynamic diagonals to lead [the] eye,” the paintings “immense” size feels suffocating to the casual interpreter. Every intricate detail is so carefully organized, only a fool would attempt to decode a painting layered in this much symbolism and personal history! Like Beckett’s long, confusing, inane plays, The Triptych overwhelms the viewer with content, giving them no point of entry. 

So Epstein has a piece of advice: “read it,” not as a book but an anthology of family history. Wade into the uncertainty, sample the absurdity, “linger,” where you wish. Waiting for Godot taught audiences the paramount importance of choice. The Triptych is so dense with meaning that the viewer must pick and choose what to focus on. Each texture, inscription, portrait, and sketch ensures that no person experience the Triptych the same way twice. To describe the Triptych, as Epstein tried to, is to describe how one viewer experienced it in one fleeting moment. 

That’s okay. Epstein found comfort in the indefinite. If you’re still looking for concrete answers, consider Wittgenstein’s message, inscribed in the bottom left of the center panel of the triptych: 

“Every form of life could be other than it is.”

  1. Simon Dinnerstein (1943—), The Fulbright Triptych, c. 1971-74, oil on wood panels, 79.5 x 168 in. Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, Gift of the Friends of the Palmer Museum of Art.
  2. Mili, Gjon. First American Production of “Endgame,” in 1958The New York Times. December 11, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/obituaries/alvin-epstein-dead.html
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Podcast Archive Uncategorized

Art in Focus: William Trost Richards with Professors Margaret Summerfield and Scott Reznick

The McMullen Student Ambassadors are pleased to present Art in Focus, featuring an informal discussion between professors from various academic departments at Boston College. With each new episode, we aim to uncover a new perspective on the works on display, informed by research and methodologies in areas of study across the University. Each conversation will bring the exhibition’s works “into focus” as both historic records and living objects that trade in today’s cultural and economic capital.

For this episode of Art in Focus, we have invited Professors Margaret Summerfield and Scott Reznick from the English Department. Each professor was asked to choose a single piece from William Trost Richards: Hieroglyphs of Landscape, and share anything and everything that strikes them as interesting or curious. They chose William Trost Richards’s Guernsey Cliffs, Channel Islands, 1899.

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Get to Know the 2019-2020 McMullen Student Ambassadors!

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Lecture Archives Uncategorized

Linda S. Ferber: “How the Sea Kills the Trees: William Trost Richards and New Narratives for Marine Painting” (10.3.2019)

In conjunction with William Trost Richards: Hieroglyphs of Landscape, the McMullen Museum invited premier scholar on William Trost Richards, Linda S. Ferber, Director Emerita and Senior Art Historian of the New-York Historical Society, to examine the arc of Richards’s career and the artist’s ability to respond to changes in taste and emerging scientific interests.

This lecture took place at the McMullen Museum of Art on October 3, 2019.

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Lecture Archives Uncategorized

Museum Current: “Science in an Art Museum”: Lecture by Richard Newman (9.19.2019)

As part of its Museum Current lecture series, which focuses on recent scholarship, discoveries, and trends in Museum Studies, the McMullen Museum invited Head of Scientific Research at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Visiting Professor of Museum Studies at Boston College Richard Newman for a brief review of the history of science in art museums followed by three stories from the MFA’s research lab. One story focuses on the “Boston throne,” a marble sculpture, probably of fifth-century BCE Greek origin, whose authenticity has often been questioned. A second story focuses on the many uses of madder, a family of plants whose roots provide a red dye used around the world on textiles and in paints (including on Egyptian mummy portraits). The third story involves an unusual chewing-gum-like resin (mopa mopa) used by the Inca and craftspeople in southern Colombia to decorate wooden objects.

Richard Newman has been a research scientist at the Museum of Fine Arts since 1986. He has an undergraduate degree in art history, a graduate degree in geology, and completed a three-year apprenticeship in art conservation science at the Harvard Art Museums. He has received research grants to study stone sculpture in India, paintings by Diego Velázquez in Spain, and cultural heritage research In Japan. He oversees a lab that carries out analyses on 100–200 objects from the MFA collection each year and collaborates with curators and conservators at other museums, including most recently the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Field Museum in Chicago.

This lecture took place at the McMullen Museum of Art on September 19, 2019.

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“Alen MacWeeney and a Century of New York Street Photography”: Lecture by Curator Karl Baden (9.8.2019)

As part of the McMullen Museum’s 2019 fall opening celebration of Alen MacWeeney and a Century of New York Street Photography, Professor of photography and curator, Karl Baden, introduces the artists in the exhibition while contextualizing the history of their practices.

This lecture took place at the McMullen Museum of Art on September 8, 2019.

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“William Trost Richards: Hieroglyphs of Landscape”: Lecture by Curator Jeffery Howe (9.8.2019)

As part of the McMullen Museum’s 2019 fall opening celebration of William Trost Richards: Hieroglyphs of Landscape, Professor Emeritus of nineteenth-century art history and curator, Jeffery Howe, introduces William Trost Richards and the significance of hieroglyphs in the artist’s work.

This lecture took place at the McMullen Museum of Art on September 8, 2019.

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Lecture Archives

“The Fulbright Triptych”: Lecture by Simon Dinnerstein (9.8.2019)

As part of the McMullen Museum’s 2019 fall opening celebration of Simon Dinnerstein: “The Fulbright Triptych”, artist Simon Dinnerstein introduces major themes in his work and how the triptych was conceived.

This lecture took place at the McMullen Museum of Art on September 8, 2019.

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Podcast Archive

“Tracking the Eagle” Podcast Part 3

In this third and final installment of the “Tracking the Eagle” podcast from the Digital Humanities Committee, we hear from  Professor Nancy Netzer (the Robert L. and Judith T. Winston Director of the McMullen Museum of Art), as well as from Robert Shure, the sculptor who both recast and restored the original eagle statue. Thanks for listening!

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Podcast Archive

“Tracking the Eagle” Podcast Part 2

The Digital Humanities Committee is back with the second part of their ongoing podcast about the Boston College eagle statue! Listen below to hear interviews with both of the Eaglemania exhibition co-curators, Diana Larsen and Victoria Weston.

The third and final installment is coming soon. Check out the complete series on Soundcloud!

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Feature Series Uncategorized

Employee Spotlight: Peter Madis

By Ileana Lobkowicz

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“A Greek Security Guard and Friend of Honor”

Most museum security guards are there to yell at you, but not this one. This one is there to be your new best friend.

Meet Peter Madis—the animated, wispy-haired, unapologetically Greek security guard, responsible for opening and closing the doors of Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art.

Entering the glass-enclosed museum feels like walking into a zen Japanese garden. The tranquility is almost jarring. Before you have a chance to be drawn into a meditative state, you are greeted with an unanticipated, bellowing “Hellllooooo!” from above. It’s Peter, standing at the second-floor balcony like a Greek god.

It bears asking how a man who once spent his days delivering pastries and cigarettes under the Mediterranean sun ended up in the polar climate of the American Northeast, making his rounds meandering through galleries of exhibited works of art. Peter hails from a small village in the eastern part of Greece called Geraki. If you don’t know where it is, he will show you on a map. If you wonder what it looks like, he will show you with a picture. He emphasizes the G with every essence of his Greekness. Ggggeraki. His family had farms. And olive trees. And no electricity. Living a life frozen in the medieval history of the region’s Byzantine ruins, Peter left his home to semi-complete his high school education in Sparta.

“He wasn’t good in school,” says Joanne, Peter’s devoted wife of 45 years, to which Peter laughs, nodding profusely. He never finished his last year of schooling. Maybe he just preferred the company of college students instead.

Peter is effortlessly charismatic — a trait that served him well when it came to finagling his name onto a release list after being conscripted (for a second time) to the Greek air force during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Two years prior, he already spent over 28 months training and working in a position he doesn’t miss. His second draft responsibilities mostly consisted of putting bombs on the airplanes.

Without rescinding his Greek pride, Peter sought the American dream and got it. Selling and delivering baked goods in Sparta could only keep the restless man satisfied for so long. It did, however, introduce him to his wife, whose Uncle Dimitri was a loyal customer. Joanne, who had three other suitors (one of whom also happened to be named Peter), met him in the summer of 1975. They were married two months later.

Germane to his prior military service, Peter’s security apparel is an Air Force blue. A silver tie clip holds his black necktie in place. A black pen peeps out of his left chest pocket. I guess decades of running laundry and dry cleaning businesses means never leaving his house with an un-pressed collared shirt. Before managing Bigelow Cleaners, Peter found his foothold working two jobs making pizza and running a dry cleaner store in Mattapan (the owner apparently ran off to Greece to find a Greek husband). By this point, the then 25-year-old was a husband, father, homeowner, and businessman.

Over the years, Bigelow’s did more than just bring him good business. It also brought him good customers — one of whom happened to be the former president of Boston College, Reverend J. Donald Monan, along with then vice president and dean of faculties, Father William B. Neenan. It was this unexpected introduction that began Peter’s employment as the most beloved security guard on campus. His duties varied over the years, from being the president’s personal bodyguard in the football stadium box to working at one of the on-campus libraries. But his latest post seems to be the most rewarding of all — mostly for those around him.

“With his constant good cheer, enthusiasm for life, and human connection to both colleagues and Student Ambassadors, his presence enhances our everyday experience here so much,” says Diana Larsen, Assistant Director of Exhibition Design, Collections Management, and Curatorial Affairs at the McMullen.

Peter’s Greekness radiates from his olive-toned skin and through his thick, endearing accent. He’s like a reincarnated Aristotle — without a beard, but with an open disposition to engage in philosophical discussion. He’s your willing and able interlocutor. He might ask you what you had for breakfast, if there’s any love interest in your life, whether you actually like the art hanging in the galleries. Even if you don’t understand what he says, you can’t interrupt him, because his mind is already moving on to talk about something else with the same fervor and briskness that lost you in the first place.

“Conversing is my favorite part about working at the museum,” says Peter. “If you work with young people, you never feel old.”

Age feels irrelevant to those who know him. Students flock to the man over forty years their senior for guidance or a good laugh. It’s probably because he has a way of effortlessly simplifying life crises with a funny joke. He’s a confidant, someone in whom you can trust to share your woes and wishes, even if you’ve just met him. It’s the kindling of an unlikely friendship, transcending an unfelt generational divide.

On the rare occasion that Peter is not engaging with people, he might quietly immerse himself with the museum’s art. Hands behind his back, he stares at a painting, likely one that he’s walked by a thousand times, as if it’s a living, breathing person to whom he wants to ask probing questions.

Peter is not just a custodian of the museum, but also of the people in it. He offers more than just free therapy sessions. He will drive you anywhere you want to go (except for Tuesdays when he drives his grandchildren to Greek school) — an outlet, perhaps, to release his exuberant amount of energy. If there is someone he thinks you should talk to, he will undoubtedly make an introduction, conflating your differences by raising up mutual similarities.

One of the many other ways Peter shows his affection is by sharing food.  

“He regularly shares parts of his lunch with us at the Museum, and has been known to dip out for a Starbucks run every once in a while,” says Josh Artman, a student ambassador working at the McMullen.

Peter’s pastry-delivering days are clearly not over, satiating hungry bellies with a mid-afternoon pick-me-up: an assortment of desserts, which he cuts into bite-sized pieces to reveal delicate, flakey layers of phyllo dough, dripping with honey and tumbling pistachio crumbs. He watches in excitement for wide-eyes and satisfied nods. If you’re wondering where to find the best baklava in Boston, there is only one answer in Peter’s mind: Joanne’s kitchen! Don’t ask him if he wants to have any. His response will be the same every time: tapping his stomach with both his hands while shaking his head.

Peter is a veritable encyclopedia of all things Greek — including the etymology of Greek words. Echo Zhuge, another Student Ambassador, recalls him teaching her yasou for “hello” and kukla for “sweetheart.” If you don’t pronounce it correctly, or understand it properly, he won’t let you leave the conversation until you do. This might pose as a challenge when he teaches the untranslatable.

Philotimo — there is no word to replace that in Greek,” says Peter proudly. “It’s not just ‘friends,’ but friends with honor.” It’s no coincidence that Aristotle, the Father of Western Philosophy, first coined the Greek word philia for “friendship.” And if there is any friend with honor, to honor, it is Peter Madis.

At the end of his shift, Peter announces his departure with his signature “OKAY” as the glass double doors of the museum — now fast asleep — close behind him. He ambles outside and down the steps of the entryway, pausing as if to take in a breath of the evening air. He will probably stop to pick up more baklava for the morning shift of working students before heading home.

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Feature Series Uncategorized

My Favorite Museum: The Museum of Chinese in America

By Kevin Deng

Keep in mind that last summer was one of the better summers for me to be Asian. I grew up across the world from my extended family and away from other Asian-American kids who had close ties to their own cultural backgrounds. Couple that with the fact that it wasn’t cool to be Asian when I was a kid—the first and last time I spoke Chinese in front of my friends, I got made fun of. I spent much of my childhood and adolescent period either not knowing where I came from, or running from it. What that means is the majority of my cultural identity came from how hard I could throw a baseball, or something dumb like that. I’d been out of that town for two years before last summer, in a place with a larger and closer-knit Asian community. I felt Asian for the first time. Knowing this, maybe you can see why I chose to go to the Museum of Chinese in America after deciding I was irretrievably late to a work barbecue on the southern tip of Manhattan (the details of which are to be kept private, pursuant to the confidentiality agreement that I signed). I walked to Chinatown.

The Museum of Chinese in America greets its visitors with a sign above its door that says “MOCA,” one of the better museum-name-acronyms I’ve seen in my time. On a sunny day with the light pouring into the windows, you can’t really tell if the museum is open or not. That’s because most of the lighting inside is meant to highlight the various artifacts and photos and pieces of historical context, and general visibility seems to be more of an incidental byproduct of this. I bought a ticket and looked around, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.

The first exhibit detailed immigration history, divided into three major periods where Chinese immigrants were admitted to the US, the last of which my parents were a part of back in the 80s. These immigration waves were the product of a long and kind of tumultuous cultural and legal battle against leanings that created ugly things like this (a pistol that kicks the “Chinaman” out when activated):

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But thinking more positively (though debatably, and by a narrow margin), there was a poem written on the wall of the immigration exhibit. “Last sight of the village, / Looking back / I feel my heart cut in two,” it began. I thought of my parents, who elected to leave China to come to the US together after they finished school. They left everything they had back in their home country—family, friends, connections, culture, native language—and didn’t have the money to return to China for more than ten years. All this, in order to create a better life in a country that didn’t even want them here for over a century. Never mind the comfort zone.

Every now and then I’ll see a family from China walking through Boston Common, with a toddler stumbling around. While the toddler is trying to work through its early stages of fine motor development, I can see it in the parents’ eyes that they’re working through their own issue, slowly piecing together where they even fit into this weird new world that surrounds them. It’s things like this that remind me how much I owe to my parents. They didn’t leave everything behind for me to slack off and let my life slip through my fingers. The poem ended with “Disappearing into the clouds: / What is our fate?” It’s a hard question, but I feel like I’m sharing something unspoken with these other families I see, crafting their own answers.

In the room next door, there was a guy around five years older than me staring intently at a photo in the exhibit. Maybe it’s in my pattern-recognizing nature as a human, but I’d estimate that he was also skipping some other barbecue somewhere else in that humid city, enriching himself on his day off. I didn’t care for his curiosity at first, but if something intrigues someone for long enough that you notice, you kind of have to wonder what’s going on. When he moved on to another section of the exhibit, I snuck up to the photo, as if my interest in it wasn’t correlated with his. The label read “Chinese immigrants on board ship crossing the Pacific, ca. late 1800s.”

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The picture was grainy. Black and white. There were two men in the foreground, one squatting with his heels completely on the floor, the other eating rice from a ceramic bowl and looking over at his friend. The bowl, I noticed, had a pattern printed on the side, which I’m 99% sure was blue in real life, drawing from my partial knowledge of Chinese ceramics.

I have to say I never figured out why the guy stared for so long. Maybe it was because he saw another guy a few minutes before him, looking at the photo for an uncomfortable amount of time as well. That history is lost, though. But I stared at the photo for a long while too, the reason for which I’ll try to put into words: if you took a look at the old man eating rice from the presumably blue bowl and told me “this is your grandfather, this is you,” I might even believe it.

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Podcast Archive

Art in Focus: “Cuenca” with Professors Wan Tang and Elizabeth Rhodes