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Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.

Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.

  • Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    Student Picks: CAMERA EXOTICA

    Student Picks is a SCMA program in which Smith students organize their own one-day art show using our collection of works on paper. This month’s student curator and guest blogger Niyati Dave '15 discusses her show “Camera Exotica: Clichés, Counter-Narratives and Cultural Clashes” which will be on view FRIDAY, April 3 from 12-4 PM in the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. We hope to see you here!

    Kara Elizabeth Walker, American (1969 - ). Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated), Buzzard’s Roost Pass, 2005. Offset lithography and screenprint on Somerset Textured paper. Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1925, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2010:64-3

    “Exotica”: The Unknown. The Other. The Dark. The Feared. The Fetishized. The Pagan. The Strange. The Foil Against Which The Familiar is Formed.

    Most of the images in this exhibition play with ideas of the “exotic” and question the ways in which it is very much a constructed category. Within the ethnographic images on display, we see how colonial photography in the British Empire was not simply an apolitical act of recording an objective history, but rather an exercise of dominance over native populations. By having the power to “see” the local populations and fix that image as well as dictate its meaning, the colonial camera also used its dominance over local populations to reinforce orientalist tropes about debauchery, primitiveness, inherent inferiority and, in doing so, consolidates the ideology driving colonization.

    What is particularly interesting about the works of the contemporary artists represented in this exhibition is how they appropriate and play with these orientalist tropes and re-contextualize them to challenge the dominant narratives that the Western world largely takes for granted.

    Smith College Museum of Art, Print, Willie Cole, American, Fig. 3. & 4. Sunbeam Male, Ceremonial, 2004, Digital print Epson 9600, Ultra Chrome Archival Inks, Janice Carlson Oresman

    Willie Cole, American (1955 - ). Fig. 3. & 4. Sunbeam Male, Ceremonial, 2004. Digital print Epson 9600 using Ultra Chrome Archival Inks on paper. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2012:15

    Works such as Willie Cole’s Sunbeam Male, Ceremonial (above) and Nusra Latif Qureshi’s Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds (below) use formal qualities associated with colonial or ethnographic photography such as the frontal position and an emphasis on costume and accoutrement as a marker of “ethnic” or “tribal” authenticity. In doing so, they make a point about how knowledge is subjective and constructed within a system of hierarchies.

    Nusra Latif Qureshi, Pakistani (1973 - ). Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds, 2004. Gouache on paperboard. Purchased with the Richard and Rebecca Evans (Rebecca Morris, class of 1932) Foundation Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:6

    Detail of Of Birds and Fourteen Year Olds

    Either through revealing invisibilized marginal histories or reappropriating and satirizing dominant narratives, most of the work in the show tells a story of cyclical cultural clashes, starting with the colonial moment, moving onto political and social decolonization and culminating with an exploration of what it means to belong to an “authentic” culture in a neoliberal, globalized and interconnected world.

    Saira Wasim, Pakistani (1975 - ). Buzkashi, from the series Musharaff, 2003-2004. Graphite, gouache and gold on wasli paper. Purchased with the Josephine A. Stein, class of 1927, Fund in honor of the class of 1927. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:25

    Further complicating the West vs East binary, I also aim to focus on marginalized voices within both of those geopolitical constructs—even post-independence. After all, can such a thing even exist, given how ideas of nationhood, belonging and authenticity are in a state of constant flux?

    This show attempts to reveal the clichés around which the colonial apparatus is ideologically centered, to explore the counter-narratives proposed by the Black, South-Asian and Mexican contemporary artists whose works you see here and to consider how the idea of cultural clashes might itself be a misnomer given how the discursive ideas of the East and the West are (faux)thentic.

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  • Tuesday, March 24, 2015

    Three Songs of Devotion

    Guest blogger Thalia Berard is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in Art History. She wrote this post for Islamic Art and Architecture, a course which surveys the architecture, landscape, book arts and luxury objects produced in Islamic contexts from Spain to India, and from the seventh through the twentieth centuries. The Fall 2014 session was taught by Professor Alex Dika Seggerman, the Five College Post-Doc in Islamic Art & Architecture.

    Nusra Latif Qureshi, Pakistani (1973 - ). Three Songs of Devotion, 2002. Gouache on wasli paper with tan-colored paper frame. Purchased with the Janice Carlson Oresman, class of 1955, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 2004:5

    Born in Lahore, the capital city of Pakistan, Nusra Latif Qureshi studied classic miniature painting at the National College of Arts in Lahore. In 2001, she immigrated to Australia to continue her studies postgraduate at the Victorian College of the Arts at University of Melbourne, where she continues to work as an artist today. Qureshi’s work is built both on the traditional Mughal painting style she honed in Lahore and her own contemporary painting style born from her studies in Melbourne.

    Three Songs of Devotion represents her earlier work, as it is dated to 2002, a year after Qureshi immigrated to Melbourne. Her perspective of being both Middle East-born and immigrant has led to her using well-known symbols from South Asian and Middle Eastern art combined with her own boldly minimal style to illustrate the difficulties she’s faced in crossing cultures and identities.

    Detail of female figure

    In addition to studying miniature painting in Pakistan, Lahore also studied the technique in India, inspiring her to adopt Hindu cultural motifs into her works. Gardens of Desire II, for instance, depicts two such Hindu divinities, lovers Radha and Krishna, by referencing an eighteenth century Hindu painting Krishna and Radha in a Pavilion.

    Detail of bird drawings

    While Three Songs of Devotion may not make as direct a reference, Qureshi’s choice to represent the male figure as a basic outline and the female figure in detail calls into question traditional gender roles in Mughal painting, a field typically dominated by men, by showcasing the woman in the painting. The overlay of line drawings recalls the British colonization of India, as the British were instructed to record and document native Indian plants and wild life. The angelic figures take the reference to Western invasion one step further, harkening back to putti that populated European Renaissance paintings.

    Detail showing putti

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  • Tuesday, March 17, 2015

    Hippolyte Arnoux

    Guest blogger Clementine Hamelin is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in both Architecture and Geosciences. She wrote this post for Islamic Art and Architecture, a course which surveys the architecture, landscape, book arts and luxury objects produced in Islamic contexts from Spain to India, and from the seventh through the twentieth centuries. The Fall 2014 session was taught by Professor Alex Dika Seggerman, the Five College Post-Doc in Islamic Art & Architecture.

    Hippolyte Arnoux, French (active c. 1865). Photograph #1021 from Photographs of Egypt, no date. Albumen print mounted on paperboard. Transferred from Hillyer Arts Library. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1999:23-1ii

    The French photographer Hippolyte Arnoux, who documented the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt, is also known for his ‘ethnographic portraits’ of women often representing fake sultanas.

    The woman in the foreground is dressed with loose and light ornamented clothing, her face is partially covered by a transparent veil. It is greatly possible that the model is not herself Egyptian, underlining the effort to create an illusionistic, exoticized and fantasized image of Middle-Eastern women through on orientalist, colonialist – and literal photographic – lens that is characterized by a fascination for the ‘exotic’ orient.

    Detail of photograph

    The theme of the gaze is an interesting one – the model appears to be looking at herself in the mirror but is in reality looking at the mirror at an angle that makes it appear that she is directly looking at the photographer. She is made into an object to be seen by others – for the male gaze of the photographer, that of the West on the East, as the photographer objectifies and sexualizes the middle-eastern female body through this portrait and technique, which is of course not an accurate representative of the culture that he is representing.

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