Theaster Gates’s Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories will make it’s U.S. debut Tuesday, March 12, at the Colby Museum of Art, 5600 Mayflower Hill Drive, in Waterville.
The exhibit, on view through Sept 8, will feature nearly 3,000 images from the Johnson Publishing Company archive contained within a room-size storage and display cabinet designed by Gates. Founded in 1942, Chicago-based Johnson Publishing chronicled the lives of Black Americans for more than seven decades through the magazines Ebony and Jet, which Gates has described as “an early platform for self-healing” for Black Americans.
Gates’s project, composed from this important archive of Black visual culture, recontextualizes and reanimates these images and their histories, as Facsimile Cabinet is both a repository and an interactive archive. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to take out the photographs stored in the cabinet’s many shelves and engage directly with these rich and varied representations of Black women.
Presented in collaboration with the Lunder Institute for American Art, Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories will also inspire new research and creative production by Lunder Institute visiting scholars and artists. The Lunder Institute will host archivists, legal scholars, anthropologists, and librarians, as well as visual artists, filmmakers, writers, and art historians, to spend time with Gates’s archive and reflect on its significance through the lens of their particular area of expertise. The Lunder Institute will document these encounters through a series of digital and print publications.
The presentation of this new body of work is drawn from Gates’s Black Madonna exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 2018, part of his larger Black Image Corporation project addressing “the projection of images into the world” and the power dynamics inherent to archives.
Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories at the Colby Museum of Art comes on the heels of Gates’s Amalgam exhibition opening Feb. 20 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France. Concerned with how hybridity and mixed-race historical narratives inform sculpture, Amalgam draws on Gates’s time in Maine, especially his exploration of the history of Malaga Island, where a community of mixed-race and inter-racial residents was forcibly evicted by the state in 1912. This tragic story has been interpreted in recent years by other Maine-based artists and scholars including artist and Maine College of Art professor Daniel Minter, and Bates College professor and scholar Myron Beasley, both of whom discussed their parallel work with Gates at a Lunder Institute event at Colby College in November 2018. “We are thrilled to be working alongside the prodigiously talented Theaster Gates,” said Lunder Institute director Lee Glazer. “His commitment to re-presenting images and narratives of the Black experience could not be more relevant at this moment in American life.”