December 14, 2018

The Power of Six Letters

by Ceilidh Munroe


Docent Ceilidh Munroe

A few years ago, my brother called me and told me that a group of white men at a party had maliciously called him a nigger. He was distraught and I felt physically ill. Why is it that a single word can have such an effect? Throughout history, ‘white’ has been positioned as beautiful, good, intelligent and powerful with ‘black’ as its antithesis. Encompassed within this arrangement of letters is a history of white supremacy, oppression, dehumanization and brutality.

As a docent for the Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works exhibition in 2018, I had the opportunity to lead a themed tour of the show. I focused on a small selection of Marshall’s works and group discussion was actively encouraged. I chose to highlight the power of words in the work, encompassing everything from the ways oral traditions enabled slaves during the Middle Passage to assert their identity and heritage, to speeches and written activism in the Civil Rights Movement, to the power of a single word. It wasn’t until the end of the tour, as our group was standing in front of Marshall’s monumental early painting Invisible Man (1986), that the passionate conversation I had been hoping for began. The depiction of the nearly invisible, caricatured figure embodies the derogatory connotations of the word “nigger”. The group reacted viscerally to the piece and the discussion poured forth.

One of the most active points of dialogue was focused on the use of the word “nigger”. Who has the right to use this word and does the context it is used in change the meaning? For example, rap music is famous for peppering its lyrics with variations of the word, appealing to the community and brotherhood of “nigga” and stripping the word of its derogatory power through repeated use. The more the black community reclaims the word the less it bites when used against us, or so the saying goes. In the opening lines of the song “Tints”, Anderson .Paak raps “Paparazzi wanna shoot ya, shoot ya/Niggas dyin’ for less, out here”*. .Paak employs the word to reference the prevalence of racial hate crimes, succinctly commenting on the disproportionate number of African Americans that are victims of violence. The rap group N.W.A. famously used the term “niggaz” in their name as a nod to America’s penchant for racialized entertainment, and to emphasize the disparity between white consumers of their music and the black issues it addresses. In another instance, Kendrick Lamar calls to his friend, “Aye, K-Dot, get in the car, nigga!/ Come on, we finna roll out!”*, employing the word as a term of endearment and a display of familiarity between friends. In popular culture, many black comedians liberally use the word on stage. Performers like Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor, D.L. Hughley and Chris Rock have all addressed the word in their performances in a variety of nuanced ways; to establish a community, to comment on racial injustices or to tease in good humour. The myriad ways in which the black community employs the term rallies against its history by attempting to redefine and reconfigure its use.


Kerry James Marshall
Invisible Man, 1986

Despite this active reclamation the word “nigger” has undergone, it still has pervasive negative connotations. The subtle socio-economic implications of its use are less obvious than implicitly understood. Despite our increased comfort with the word in comedy shows and rap music, it does not have a reclaimed space in other spheres of influence and power. Would you refer to former President of the United States Barack Obama as “my nigga” or beckon Oprah Winfrey by the moniker? In interviews Michelle Obama often uses the terms “brother” or “sister” in place of where we would see the word “nigga” in rap or comedy, alluding to its presence obliquely. Former Governor General of Canada Michaelle Jean is outspoken about representing her blackness in public office, often wearing her hair in natural styles, yet she does not overtly use the word. In film the word is often employed by characters from the ghetto or by the middle-class, but never by anyone portraying a person in a position of influence or social standing. The term remains entrenched in power, implying that only those of lower status use it. Its conspicuous absence from positions of power reinforces a dichotomy between respectable, upper class African Americans and the lower class and disreputable “nigga”. How can the word become destigmatized if its reclaimed state perpetuates the stereotypes it is intending to redefine? Ebonics and reclaimed slurs have no place in the lexicon of success in North America. In order to occupy influential positions as a black person you must speak a certain way and use a certain language that does not include “nigger”, even in its reclaimed state. Who truly determines its power?

During the themed tour of the exhibition, the conversation in our group happened as Marshall’s painting Invisible Man watched from the wall. To look at Invisible Man is to see our cultural predilection for caricaturizing the black figure. A viewer entering the room is greeted by the painted figure’s sardonic grin and gleaming eyes in the dark. Immediately, I think of blackface minstrelsy; white performers darkening their skin with greasepaint rather than yielding to visibility for actual black bodies. As you move closer, the faint outline of the figure begins to appear, and subtly changes as you walk around the work. He is crouched with hands askew and knees bent. His body language is open, but appears startled or preparing to run. He is stooped and constrained by the white frame of the work. As our group stood in front of him, he seemed to warily watch and embody the negative connotations of the word. Invisible Man references a novel of the same name by the author Ralph Ellison. The novel is centred around an unnamed male black protagonist in the 1930s who finds himself both simultaneously visible and invisible based on the colour of his skin. In the opening lines of the novel the protagonist defines his invisibility, saying, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me”*. In the antebellum era the word “nigger” was used to dehumanize slaves, rendering them invisible and stripping them of their human rights. Today, in comparison, the black community has reclaimed the word and it has become hyper-visible. The slur is now our greatest social taboo, instilling anxiety, provoking thought and inciting a multitude of opinions. It addresses the marginalization and invisibility of the black community, while simultaneously forcing consideration for the derogatory power of stereotypes. While writing the script for my tour I couldn’t escape it hovering in my consciousness while I locked eyes with Invisible Man.

My own relationship with the word “nigger” is complex as a bi-racial woman of colour. I experience the privilege of being light-skinned and the word has not been levelled against me hatefully, but my identity hinges on slavery and I feel its sting nonetheless. I don’t use the word in casual conversation. I usually don’t say it while singing along to rap music and its use by non-black individuals makes me uncomfortable. In the context of the exhibition I elected not to shy away from including it in my discussion of Marshall’s work because I recognize the power it holds and the discomfort it causes. I want the word to continue to make people uncomfortable and anxious, because those feelings are what encourage us to consider how and why it is being used. Is our increasing familiarity with its casual use in rap music and pop culture effectively stripping the heinous pejorative of its power, or does it encourage people to disregard the historical use of the word and say it comfortably?

Kerry James Marshall’s painting, Invisible Man, typifies oppressive stereotyping and malicious denigration through language. His career in art has focused on establishing the black figure within the canon of art history by inserting us into cultural production that we have not previously been part of in a meaningful way. In doing so, he confronts this history of limited representation, including the derogatory words and phrases used to oppress the black figure. I understand the intention behind the casual use of the word “nigger” is to divorce it from its hateful history, but I wonder if this form of reclamation is truly effective or if it reinforces pervasive stereotypes. If the subtext of the word prescribes social value by isolating those people who use it from those who don’t, then it has not been successfully reclaimed. In order to fully reclaim it, it is not enough to use the word casually, its use must permeate everything.

 

*Anderson .Paak. “Tints.” Oxnard, Aftermath/12 Tone Music LLC. 2018.
*Kendrick Lamar. “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” good kid, m.A.A.d city, Interscope Records, 2012.
*Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print.

 

Ceilidh Munroe is a Jamaican-Canadian, third-year student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design majoring in Cultural and Critical Practices. Ceilidh also holds a degree in English Literature from Dalhousie University

November 21, 2018

Beauty Through the Lens of Kerry James Marshall

by Ceilidh Munroe


Kerry James Marshall
Untitled (La Venus Negra), 1992

Kerry James Marshall
Supermodel (female), 1994

I have curly hair. I currently consider this a blessing; I wear it out with pride and never straighten it, but I can tell you right away that this mindset was a long time coming. The child of a Jamaican father and Canadian mother, I spent my adolescent years in Calgary, Alberta, poring over Seventeen Magazine at slumber parties and dancing to Britney Spears videos on MuchMusic. I wasn’t surrounded by people of colour; nobody was there to swat my hand away from the hairbrush or tell me to avoid sulfates at all costs. Instead, I faithfully followed the tips in magazines like Seventeen: I blow dried and brushed, desperately trying to emulate the models’ hair. (Spoiler alert: it did not work). Since nobody told me that curly hair was beautiful, I equated beautiful hair with what I saw in magazines: sleek, shiny, and straight. After all, when a single aesthetic is celebrated in the media, it perpetuates the idea that any other look is of lesser value.

Kerry James Marshall speaks to this experience when he says “images don’t only express our desires, they teach us how to desire in the first place”[1]. Exclusively depicting white standards of beauty characterizes them as the only meaningful ideals. Marshall’s work presents an alternative to this focus by portraying marginalized figures with compassion. They are shown with dignity and strength in the same way that white figures traditionally have been. The first time I saw Marshall’s work I was surprised and impressed. Why is this compassionate representation of the black figure so shocking and revolutionary? White is the default setting because art history has been exclusively defined by the white body. Marshall’s unapologetically black figures are portrayed as strong, empowered, and beautiful, countering this cultural focus on the white aesthetic. Two of Marshall’s paintings at Rennie Museum, ‘Untitled (La Venus Negra)’ (1992) and ‘Super Model (Female)’ (1994), contrast beautifully rendered black figures with depictions of white beauty. By doing so, they position the black woman, and any other woman who does not conform to these ideals, as an example of value and beauty.  These two black figures present an alternative narrative to the dominant white framework.


Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus, 1483-1485
(image source: Wikimedia Commons)

In ‘Untitled (La Venus Negra)’, Kerry James Marshall borrows from various religious iconography to attribute value to the central black figure. The work features a sole black woman surrounded by clippings from beauty magazines. An anatomical heart is collaged over part of her chest, and thick white lines connect the clippings. The central figure looks directly at the viewer with a derisive expression, and the words ‘La Venus Negra’ appear across the top of the canvas. Marshall places the woman’s hands in a gesture of benediction and gives her a delicate halo, echoing portraits of Christ as the saviour of mankind. In contrast to the Christian symbolism surrounding her, she dons tattoos of Haitian voudou veves, which are used to identify gods and goddesses of the voudou pantheon. On the figure’s breast is the veve of Erzulie, the goddess of love and beauty. This symbol identifies the black figure as a counterpart to the traditional representations of Venus and Aphrodite. There are many famous depictions of Venus in art history as a white woman, such as Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (c. 1480) with her strawberry blonde hair and pearly white skin, or Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’ (1538). They are exemplary of how the white body has exclusively been used to display beauty, and how significance and importance have been predominantly controlled by white people. The veve challenges that dominant narrative of beauty, and provides an alternative that does not focus on the traditional canon of the white Venus. The word ‘negra’ in the title of Marhsall’s work forces the viewer to contend with this history of white-washed representation. ‘Untitled (La Venus Negra)’ may be surrounded by white ideals of beauty, but she exemplifies an equal alternative with natural hair and African features. Not only does the work use the black figure to counter white ideals of beauty, but it forces the viewer to consider our exclusive history of who we have chosen to meaningfully represent.


Titian
Venus of Urbino, 1538
(image source: Wikimedia Commons)

‘Super Model (Female)’ portrays a nude black woman confidently presenting herself, primping her hair while haughtily looking at the viewer as if we are her mirror. A sun-like yellow orb hovers to the left of her head, and to the right is a list of famous supermodels: Linda, Cindy and Naomi. A thick white line scoops below the figure to connect the sun and the names, connecting the brilliance and importance of the sun with the beauty these women possess. Rather than her natural texture, the figure is wearing a wig of straight, brunette hair which makes me think of all the time I spent wishing I could change how my own hair behaved. If only I could remove the kinks and coils I would be beautiful. Sometimes, it seemed like my only option was to shave my head and get a wig. Included in the names is famous black supermodel Naomi Campbell. Her skin may provide an alternative to the white dominated industry, but she famously wears pin straight hair. That straight hair perpetuates the dominant ideal, not straying too far from whiteness. For black women to achieve the predominant hair standards, we must remove a part of ourselves. The beauty industry positions straight hair as desirable, while coily or curly hair must be straightened, tamed, to be valued. Marshall places his depiction of the black figure in between of the sun and the models to interrupt the narrative of white dominated ideals of beauty. Like ‘Untitled (La Venus Negra)’, the confident black figure and Naomi Campbell’s name demand the viewer turn a critical eye to our history of exclusively celebrating the white body and white features. Despite the confident expression of the figure, the straight wig in ‘Super Model (Female)’ drives home the Western cultural focus on white ideals of beauty.

Over a decade later, my hair no longer resembles a stray tumbleweed. It has become a marker of my identity, inseparable from my self-worth. I am proud when people compliment it, and I feel a sense of community when I see other women wearing their curls. Seeing the way that Kerry James Marshall renders his figures’ hair with such care and respect inspires me to consider the ways in which my own hair is beautiful. Maybe if I had seen empathetic images that displayed hair like mine when I was younger, I would have felt more pride in how my own behaved. Marshall provides a contrast to the myriad ways that white women are depicted as beautiful by showing black women as dignified, important, and just as beautiful. Being a docent at Kerry James Marshall’s exhibition allows me to spend time considering his works, seeing how they shape representation, and to have conversations with people who have been through similar experiences. In my tours, I have noticed many people deeply appreciate the proud portrayal of black figures. Compassionate representation of the black figure is contrary to the dominant white framework, making it seem daring, bold and different. Marshall’s work puts the black figure into depictions of power and importance, allowing us to see ourselves shown in a real and significant way. Seeing hair types that you identify with may seem like a minor thing, but I can personally tell you that it makes an enormous difference.

[1]Marshall, Kerry James. “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry – Press Preview”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 24 October 2016. Video.

November 16, 2018

Kerry James Marshall and the African Diaspora

by Troy Johnson


Installation view

Kerry James Marshall has tasked himself with reconciling an almost exclusively white history of Western art with unequivocal and unapologetic blackness. His works consistently address the push and pull African American artists face within the diaspora. I have chosen two pieces from Rennie Museum’s Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works exhibition that articulate this experience expertly: one, a painting, and the other, an installation. It is perhaps Marshall’s paintings that have brought most of the guests to the museum as he is referred to most often as a master painter. Even I thought the exhibition would consist of primarily, if not entirely, paintings when I first heard his work would be on show. Once inside the space; however, it becomes clear that the strength of the exhibition lies in the interaction between the various mediums Marshall chooses to work with. By not limiting himself to just one, Marshall is able to engage with a broader scope of the history of Western art. Both pieces speak to the African diaspora in complex ways. Perhaps more importantly, both pieces address struggles relating to black identity without portraying African Americans as victims. Through this exchange between painting and sculpture, Marshall depicts the African American body not simply as it has formed through loss, but as it has grown and thrived from one generation to the next within the diaspora.


Kerry James Marshall
Wake, 2003-2005

As the only installation amongst eight paintings in the room, Wake (2003-2005) has a way of commanding attention. The installation piece comprised of a sailboat model on a black Plexiglas base is one of those rare works that feel heavy. It weighs on your body and mind even after you’ve left the museum. The sailboat and its base are covered in about a thousand plastic medallions in various colours. As you approach the piece, it becomes clear that each medallion features a portrait of a black figure. Marshall has been continuously adding to the boat and its base, incorporating gold chains and fishing net to accommodate the number of medallions it now carries. This ever-growing nature of the work speaks to the way in which Africans have proliferated in North America in the wake of slavery; paralleling the growth of life within black identity and tracing the shift from African to African American.

In conversations with Marshall during the May installation, the artist recalled his appreciation for Nkondi figures, wood-carved religious idols from the Congo that are believed to house spirits. Nails are driven into the figures to awaken these housed spirits for various purposes. These figures, in turn, bear the markings of the societies that use them, eventually adorned with hundreds of nails.

As an artist working within the African diaspora, Marshall is not part of a culture that uses Nkondi figures in its visual language. Perhaps cognizant of a history of art that has long fetishized the visual language of Africa, Marshall’s art borrows from African art in a way that differs from artists like Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, who sought to exoticize non-Western aesthetics from a colonial perspective. One can see the influence of Nkondi sculpture and its process of purposeful accumulation amongst Wake’s ornamentation. The installation continues to evolve and, in doing so, it bears the markers of social change. The legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, as Marshall has put it, finds itself in the creation of a population that has thrived in spite of the violence to which it has been subject. By using a medium and materials to which he feels more connected, Marshall disrupts the colonial gaze long employed by artists in the Western canon of Art History.

Around the corner, X-Man (1989) hangs on a grey wall in the museum’s smallest room. A black body is simply rendered on unstretched canvas with the words “X-MAN” in bold typeface above his head. A few years prior to this painting’s completion Marshall executed a seminal series of black-on-black paintings, including Invisible Man (1986), which is hung in the same room. These works engage with the idea of invisibility relating to the black body. X-Man, however, is distinguishable by its medium: its unstretched canvas is reminiscent of both Renaissance tapestry and burlap feed sacks. The work features a black figure on a monochromatic background of red and green—recalling the Pan-African flag. The entire image is covered with a painted white veil, signifying perhaps a sense of erasure or white-washing.


Kerry James Marshall
X-Man , 1989

The figure of the X-Man embodies the African diaspora. Treated as chattel, enslaved Africans were divorced from their respective cultures. They were unable to read or write English; therefore, they had to sign all documents with an ‘X’. The ‘X’ functions both as an unknown variable and an identifier for bodies within the African diaspora. This is exemplified by figures like Malcolm X who have decided to disown their surnames, names given to their ancestors by their owners, in favour of the ‘X’. Often, to operate within the African diaspora is to exist visually outside the racial majority while feeling culturally separate from one’s African heritage. However, Marshall uses an unmistakable comic book style typeface for X-Man, championing the body to which it refers. To be black is to constantly reaffirm one’s identity against a steady influx of labels and stereotypes.

W.E.B. DuBois refers to African Americans as “gifted with second-sight”, meaning black individuals see themselves primarily through the eyes of the white majority. He elaborates, “it is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity”. * To behold X-Man as a person of colour is to see one’s self through the eyes of those who regard you with fear. Stark black bodies bring up an extremely fraught history of representation. Jim Crow depictions of the black body in its satires and minstrels come to mind almost instantly with Marshall’s early black figures. As a result, the work is distinctly self-aware. Marshall leans in to blackness as caricature, perhaps as a form of catharsis. This reminds us to not simply consider the lack of representation afforded to the black body, but to weigh instead the significance of the representation that does exist.

Marshall speaks to the civil rights movement, and the subjugation of African Americans more generally, with a familiarity that comes from lived experience. Both pieces portray the loss that has created the African diaspora while maintaining a strong sense of empowerment. To say Marshall’s art is optimistic would not do justice to the nuance with which he works, but there is a distinct effort made to avoid depicting black bodies as casualties or martyrs. Marshall thus demonstrates the power of recognizing violence and injustice endured by black bodies without portraying these bodies as victims; masterfully acknowledging history while relentlessly seeking progress.

*Du Bois, W.E.B. “The Souls of Black Folk”. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1903. Print.

September 28, 2018

Rennie Museum Book Club Returns!

Every Tuesday, October 9 – November 6
6:00- 7:15 PM
Register HERE

Rennie Museum is excited to announce the second installment of the Rennie Museum Book Club! In conjunction with our Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works exhibition, we invite literature and art enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the science-fiction classic Kindred by African-American writer Octavia Butler. Every Tuesday, from October 9 to November 6, participants will engage in the reading and discussion of Butler’s fantastical account of a late 20th-century African-American woman confronting her struggle with the bondage of her ancestry. Through Butler’s time-warping critique of American history, participants will develop insights into the ways Kerry James Marshall has embedded himself into the history of modern art.

Rennie Museum Book Club is FREE and open to the public. Space is limited- book your spot now! Members will be issued a copy of the book courtesy of Rennie Museum. Snacks and refreshments will be provided.

August 22, 2018

Exhibition walkthrough of ‘Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works’ at Rennie Museum, June 2 – November 3, 2017.

Exhibition Walkthrough: Kerry James Marshall from Rennie Collection on Vimeo.

VIDEO & EDIT: Milena Salazar

August 16, 2018

Kerry James Marshall on Black identity, history and the process of making work. Interviewed on the occasion of ‘Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works’ exhibited at Rennie Museum, June 2 – November 3, 2018.

Kerry James Marhsall at Rennie Museum from Rennie Collection on Vimeo.

VIDEO & EDIT: Milena Salazar

August 2, 2018

We’ve launched a book club!

Every Tuesday, August 14 – September 4
6:00- 7:15 PM
Registration for the book club is now closed.

We are excited to announce the launch of the Rennie Museum Book Club! In conjunction with our Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works exhibition, we invite book and art enthusiasts to investigate the impact of literature on art and culture, freedom, and injustice through the dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 by American author Ray Bradbury. From August 14 to September 4, participants will meet every Tuesday atop Rennie Museum’s sculpture garden to immerse themselves in Bradbury’s fictional world. Through Bradbury’s literary lens, participants will develop insights into the ways literature has profoundly impacted the artistic mastery of Kerry James Marshall.

Rennie Museum Book Club is FREE and open to the public. RSVPs are first come first served and limited to two individuals per reservation. Members will be issued a copy of the book courtesy of Rennie Museum. Snacks and refreshments will be provided.

July 26, 2018

Abandon Everything

by Callum Coogan


Yoko Ono
MEND PIECE, Andrea Rosen Gallery,
New York City version
, 1966/2015

I sat with milk glue in my hand for the first five-or-so minutes, not sure where to start. I debated whether it was more appropriate to begin with a different material, or if I was supposed to “mend” something else. I read the wall text again: “mend with wisdom, mend with love. It will mend the earth at the same time.” A semi-spiritual artist, I’ve learned to be wary of seemingly ethereal gestures in art, as these gestures tend to distract us from the intentions they wish to reveal. I spent the next few minutes realizing how this was all a trick– that the glue, rubber bands, tape, twine, thread, and shattered cups before me were there to keep my hands busy while I fought through my own pessimism. I imagined Yoko Ono herself was laughing at me from the other side of East Pender Street, and for a brief moment, I surveyed the sidewalks. (She wasn’t there.)

My eyes returned to the white table where I was still seated. I looked at the long pile of broken coffee cups that stretched along the table’s surface. Like a cat with a string, I began to play. I took one broken handle, taped it to the inside of a small fraction of a saucer, which I treated as a base, and with two larger fragments flanking the sides, I made wings. Had the handle not been so long, it would have looked more like a plane than a bird. In a fleeting moment of symbolic association, notions of world peace flashed in my mind. Once I held this dove-shaped assemblage in my hand, I realized what was really happening.

Mend Piece is a conceptual work of art that has lived many iterations since its inception over 50 years ago. MEND PIECE, Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York City version (1966/2015), allows each participant to interact with the provided glue, rubber bands, tape, twine, thread, and shattered cups and invites them to enjoy a cup of coffee at the adjacent espresso bar afterwards. At Rennie Museum, visitors were also encouraged to watch a brief video montage and peruse several publications on Yoko Ono at their leisure. The overall experience created an environment in which guests started to share their sentiments with one another, traded information about their processes, and came to some kind of conclusion about what they had just experienced. In a way, their conversations became entangled with the art itself, elevating the art into an intangible, intermediary realm.


Yoko Ono
MEND PIECE, Andrea Rosen Gallery,
New York City version
, 1966/2015

A crucial member of the Fluxus Movement that flourished during the late 1960s and early 70s, Yoko Ono has always been an intermediary artist. Her art was born out of performance events that are poetic, ambiguous, and rooted in anti-art tendencies. As George Maciunas wrote in his 1963 Fluxus Manifesto, “Fluxus promotes a revolutionary flood and tide in art”. It pushes for living art and endorses democratic art: a “non-art reality to be fully grasped by all peoples”, instead of just critics, dilettantes, and professionals*. Yoko Ono’s art is a social art**. It’s an art that relies on its participants to realize concepts, which struggle to be bound by a singular object. It asks, “what will come out of us? Would there be anything?”*** By utilizing the physical act of construction as a distraction to generate cognitive action, Mend Piece provides an opportunity to self-engage, and to self-construct. While mending, each participant is reminded that they are in the presence of strangers, who, collectively, make their own individual reparations. A connection can be made between the coming together of disparate human characters, bound by the table and chairs, and the diverse materials with which they work. This entire event represents a fusion, a homogeneity, between art and life, where the act of mending oneself is reverberated by a community that mends together. Mend Piece has been described by the artist as a wish piece, “It is an attempt to create a symbiotic mending between what you are mending – maybe a broken cup – and what you wish to mend, like the world.”****

While encompassing the world-view of Wabi-Sabi, Mend Piece also borrows from kintsugi, a Japanese art in which fragments of ceramic are bonded by lacquers infused with precious metals. The underlying philosophy of kintsugi recognizes rupture and restoration as part of an object’s history and imparts a preciousness to objects that are flawed and imperfect. For Mend Piece, Ono chose to replace these precious metals with humble crafting materials. Confronted by the impossibility of repairing a cup back to its previous state, each participant is then tasked with transforming the pieces into something new. Through silent acquiescence, the process of reparation becomes an internal one, where participants view themselves, rather than the cups, as flawed, imperfect, and in need of repair.

After taking part in the transformative process initiated by Yoko Ono’s Mend Piece, I learned that the pessimism I initially felt was a distraction, one that prevented me from engaging with and believing in the healing power of art. I was bewildered by the grand gesture of mending the earth with wisdom and love, a task that seemed impossible given the limited time and resources. I found myself reluctant to engage in something greater than myself.

Through one on one discussions with participants as a museum attendant, I noticed that the pessimism I felt was common. More importantly, I realized that once visitors allowed the mending process to unfold, they too let go of their initial reluctance. Those who, like me, embraced the absurd and allowed humour to guide them, constructed works that reflected this attitude. The resulting objects were reminiscent of abstract faces, make-shift dreamcatchers, abstract sculptures, and even a few musical instruments. Others, who took upon themselves the daunting task of piecing together almost-perfect cups found it frustrating to excavate the pile of broken ceramics. One guest made a point to describe how this approach made her feel like a grave robber: the taping and wrapping that was needed in order to bring new life to something resulted in a kind-of Franken-cup.


Yoko Ono
MEND PIECE, Andrea Rosen Gallery,
New York City version
, 1966/2015

The gallery attendants were surprised to see how many visitors were willing to work together in their efforts to create their cups, despite differences in approach. One such group, comprised of eight total strangers, managed to work as a team to unite all of their cups with a single strand of burlap twine. Another group, split into pairs, shared their processes as well as their materials in order to make works that physically supported one another.

Regardless of an individual’s ability to work in a group or their need for solitude, Mend Piece provides an opportunity to transform our inner healing potential into the living world. Life can get chaotic- at this point, what art can offer is an absence of chaos; “a vacuum through which [we] are led to a state of complete relaxation of the mind”.***** Through an exercise of reparation that is both physical and cognitive, Mend Piece offers a moment to reflect on personal manifestations. Furthermore, by asking participants to leave their mended works behind, Mend Piece encourages each of us to detach ourselves from what we considered ours, and also rejects that our mended cups have reached finality. In a brief letter, To the Wesleyan People (1966), Ono writes:

“The world of construction seems to be the most tangible, and therefore final. This made me nervous. I started to wonder if it were really so. Isn’t a construction a beginning of a thing like a seed? Isn’t it a segment of a larger totality, like an elephant’s tail? Isn’t it something just about to emerge – not quite structured – never quite structured…”******

Clear your mind. Forget the past. Let go of everything as much as possible. Dispose of all the things that make you unfocused, and yes, even a little pessimistic. Imagine how that might be.

*Maciunas, George. Fluxus Manifesto. 1963.
**Munroe, Alexandra. “Why War? Yoko By Yoko At the Serpentine.” Yoko Ono: To the Light. Serpentine Gallery, 2012. Page 9. Print
***Ono, Yoko. “To The Wesleyan People.” Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. Page 860. Print.
****Robinson, John. “High Concept.” The Guardian, April 23, 2005. Web.
*****Ono, Yoko. “To The Wesleyan People.” Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. Page 860. Print.
******Ono, Yoko. “To The Wesleyan People.” Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. Page 860. Print.

July 16, 2018

Join us for Family Pride Day!

Saturday, August 4, 2018
1:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Registration for Family Pride Day is now closed

Rennie Museum welcomes families with individuals that identify as LGBTQI+ and/or Two-Spirit, as well as their allies to its very first Family Pride Day! Join an interactive tour of our Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works exhibition. Enjoy refreshments on our rooftop sculpture garden as your children explore gender fluidity and self-expression during Drag Queen Story Hour featuring Gina Tonic. Finish the day with a hands-on art workshop inspired by the festivities of Vancouver Pride Week.

Family Pride Day is FREE and open to families with children who are 5 years of age or older. Snacks and refreshments will be provided. RSVPs are first come first served and limited to two adults per reservation.

June 9, 2018

On May 31, 2018, Rennie Museum hosted a talk by Kerry James Marshall. Maintaining an interdisciplinary approach to art-making, Marshall is perhaps best known for his prowess using classical techniques to re-integrate black figures into the history of painting. As part of the exhibition programming, Marshall took part in the Rennie Speaker Series to give a talk on his extensive practice, his influences and the exhibited works. Watch it below:

Rennie Speaker Series:Kerry James Marshall from Rennie Collection on Vimeo.

VIDEO & EDIT: Focus AV