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Diversifying Collections

May 3, 2019
print of a woman's face with writing on it
Shirin Neshat (Iranian, b. 1957), I Am Its Secret, 1993, ink on photo paper, 19-1/2 x 13-1/4 inches, 2018.9, purchased with funds from the W. Sherman and Dorothy Burns Estate

The UW Art Museum welcomes new and diverse acquisitions. 

Nicole M. Crawford

Collecting lies at the heart of the University of Wyoming Art Museum’s activities. Its mission is to collect, exhibit and interpret art to inspire creativity and nurture lifelong learning for the people of Wyoming. Acquisitions are made possible through gifts from generous donors or purchases with endowment funds designated for collections. All potential acquisitions are carefully considered based on existing areas of strength and relevance and within the context of supporting UW’s academic and cultural missions

When it comes to adding artworks to their collections, art museums across the country are seeing a lack of diversity in the artists acquired over the years. The UW Art Museum is aware of this tendency and has made a conscious effort to acquire artworks by minority and underrepresented artists.

Women artists have been notoriously unrepresented in museum collections. The UW Art Museum, however, has a strong collection of artwork by female artists—so many, in fact, that a survey of the women artists in the collection was split into two parts exhibited in the spring of 2016 and spring of 2017. Titled Beyond the Model, the exhibitions presented women as more than just subjects of some of the most famous works of art but also as successful artists in their own rights.

Most recently, the Art Museum has added artworks by African American artist Kara Walker (b. 1969) and Iranian artist Shirin Neshat (b. 1957). UW audiences were shown Walker’s artwork in the spring of 2016 through a traveling exhibition, Emancipating the Past. Walker explores race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity in her work as a painter, silhouettist, printmaker, installation artist and filmmaker. Her work is seen in almost every major art museum across the United States. She is best known for her silhouettes that are usually black figures against a white background that address the legacy of slavery in American and the racial stereotypes in the antebellum South.

Neshat’s work has not been previously exhibited at the museum. She is known for her work in film, video and photography, and her artwork centers on the contrasts between Islam and the West, femininity and masculinity, public and private life, antiquity and modernity, and bridging the spaces between these subjects. Raised in pre-revolution Iran, she created her first major body of photography work during her first visit back to Iran a year after the Khomeini’s death. It consisted of women entirely overlaid by Persian calligraphy. She was shocked by the difference in what she remembered from Iranian culture and what she saw then, and through this series she depicts her interpretation of coping with this discrepancy.

Both these new additions to the permanent collection will be integral for teaching in the museum. Raechel Cook, curator of academic engagement, says of the acquisitions, “Walker and Neshat are powerful voices in the contemporary art arena, inviting viewers to question dominant historical and cultural narratives. Their artwork will be instrumental in guiding students to consider someone else’s perspective and facilitating dialogue about complex challenges in our society such as racism, sexism, classism and violence.”

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