I am so glad I got up to the Birmingham Art Museum in Birmingham, Alabama, to see “Black Out,” an exhibit hailing the wonders and contradictions in silhouettes. Featuring the work of Kara Walker, Auguste Edouart and Kumi Yamashita, the viewer is invited to think about how what began as a claim to hierarchy can be retooled to invite thoughts about inclusion. While in the museum, you can even have someone make your silhouette. My husband made mine. I could not easily tell where my nose and lips began. I took a pair of scissors and edited it a bit. I enjoyed our joint effort. It made me think about the beauty in blackness, woman-ness and especially human-ness.
I was drawn to images that brought to mind the horrors experienced by the enslaved, but also the contradiction in even that as antebellum white Americans have made silhouettes of enslaved people for any number of reasons.
How do we find meaning in that?
As I grade papers for my Antebellum America class, I am pleased by how my students are revealing their understanding of the contradictions in “American character” alongside the trials and triumphs of the downtrodden. How do we sort through this phenomenon and the problematic realities of how we identify ourselves and how we identify others? Exhibit paying homage to Barbie and Andy Warhol helps me sort through possible answers to that question.
I also enjoyed the Barbie show, which pushed my thinking on an iconic toy who has had more than her share of controversy. In this show, she meets at all sorts of intersections including ones concerning what it means to be modern and a woman.
Meanwhile, it was so good seeing former graduate student Katelyn Waggoner whose baby is due in late December. This semester, her husband Brandon Boatwright led a tour of Tuscaloosa’s Jemison Van de Graaff mansion for my Antebellum America students. Good people!