Exhibition investigates conventions of beauty

Libba Smith

A&E Editor

The College of Wooster Art Museum’s (CWAM) next exhibition, “Posing Beauty in African-American Culture,” can truly be called a collaborative effort. The show is co-sponsored by the CWAM, the Center for Diversity and Global Engagement (CDGE) and the President’s Office, and has involved a variety of students and professors to bring to life an exhibition that explores conventions of beauty.

Curated by Deborah Willis, a well-known artist and photographic historian, the exhibit consists of 85 pieces, mostly photographs, from over 30 notable artists. In striking black and white as well as color, the photos survey the often-contested representation of African-American beauty throughout history and in today’s culture.

Willis is scheduled to speak on Feb. 11 in Room 223 of Ebert Art Center. She is a recipient of Guggenheim, Fletcher and MacArthur Fellowships, and is a University Professor at New York University as well as chair of the Photography and Imaging Department. The traveling exhibition was initially organized by the Tisch School for the Arts, and provided material for her latest book, “Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present.” A New York Times review for the book stated, “Willis has forever changed the conversation about beauty in American life.”

The photographs in “Posing Beauty” challenge Western conceptions of beauty in art by exploring notions about race, gender, class, politics and popular culture as seen through the aesthetics of representation. The exhibition is organized in three thematic sections. “Constructing a Pose” explores the interplay between history and modernity, self-representation, and imposed representation and subject and photographer. “Body and Image” questions the ways in which our contemporary understanding of beauty has been framed through the body. The final section, “Modeling Beauty and Beauty Contests,” invites the viewer to consider the ambiguities of beauty, its effects on culture and individuals and how conventions of beauty force a method for interpreting the world and each other.

CWAM director Kitty McManus Zurko spoke about her decision to bring the  exhibition to Wooster by saying, “Many of the CWAM’s exhibitions respond to or reflect what is going on in the world as well as the micro-climate that is this campus. ‘Posing Beauty’ is just another way of asking questions about who frames the discourse.”

“Posing Beauty” opens to the public on Jan. 15 with an opening reception on Thursday, Jan. 17 featuring a gallery talk from students in the fall 2012 Museum Studies class. On Wednesday, Jan. 23, representatives from a variety of departments will participate in a Faculty/Student Round Table discussion, including Charles Peterson (Africana Studies), Leslie Wingard (English), Christa Craven (Anthropology) and Isabelle Briggs ’13 (Africana Studies). Darius Dixon ’13 will perform a musical event on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 7 p.m., and on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at noon, McManus Zurko will lead a Lunchtime Gallery Walk with student researchers. In addition, there will be a digital project organized by the CDGE, titled “Students Speak to Beauty,” which will play on screens across campus in February.

”Posing Beauty” will be on display from Jan. 15 to March 3 and will occupy both the Burton D. Morgan Gallery and the Sussel Gallery of the CWAM located in the Ebert Art Center. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.

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