Flaten Art Museum exhibition features original works by nationally acclaimed artists
When New York City’s iconic Times Square recently unveiled its very first fountain, national media outlets like the New York Times and National Public Radio hailed the artist behind the striking piece: Pamela Council, a New York-based interdisciplinary artist whose work focuses on “creating fountains for Black joy.”
St. Olaf College students, faculty, staff, and visitors will soon be able to see new original work by Council, as well as acclaimed artists Kenya (Robinson) and Yvette Mayorga, in an exhibition in Flaten Art Museum titled Liberatory Adornment.
Curated by Jillian Hernandez, the exhibition explores how Council, Mayorga, and Kenya (Robinson) are mobilizing femininity to claim beauty, care, and abundance for Black and Latinx people. By departing from the masculinist aesthetics of U.S. militarism and the Black and Chicanx movements of the 1970s, the artists generate alternative visualities to address the urgent social issues of the contemporary moment. The works in this exhibition invite viewers to appreciate the paths for personal and collective freedom that are available in the everyday via beauty rituals, domestic decor, confection, glitter, gold, and rhinestones.
Liberatory Adornment will be on view November 5–January 23, with an opening event at 5 p.m. on November 5 in Viking Theater that will feature a video premiere of Kenya (Robinson)’s BLACK OF ENTITLEMENT (2021) and a roundtable conversation. Moderated by Hernandez, Kenya (Robinson) will be joined by moving image artist Rini Yun Keagy, St. Olaf Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Arneshia Williams, and St. Olaf Assistant Professor of Music Tesfa Wondemagegnehu. All are invited to a reception at the Flaten Art Museum immediately following the screening and roundtable.
The exhibition has attracted attention from local and regional media organizations, including the Star Tribune and Chicago Magazine, which highlighted Liberatory Adornment in a recent list of top Midwest art exhibitions to visit this winter.
While Hernandez and Kenya (Robinson) are on campus, they’ll spend time with Black, Latinx, and queer students in the gallery. Members of student organizations that include UPRISING, Black Ensemble, Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE), Karibu, ¡Presente!, Somos, and Queer Ole Individuals (QOI) will have the opportunity to meet and work with the curator and artist.
During the run of the exhibition, Flaten Art Museum and St. Olaf’s student-initiated Oles Against Inequality barbershop are also partnering to host a pop-up shop in the Center for Art and Dance, connecting the exhibition’s self-care themes with a campus initiative to make hair care, and the community that comes along with it, more accessible on campus.
Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson ‘04 says it’s important for academic museums and galleries, which are often well-resourced, to support the creation of new work by underrepresented artists.
“Where we devote our resources matters,” she says. “It’s important to amplify the practices of curators and artists of color, and devote our resources to those who’ve been historically underrepresented and even excluded from the institutions that play such a powerful role in advancing artistic careers.”
Becker Nelson notes that it’s also critical for students to see a diversity of artists and practices — and have access to working with them.
Bringing the work of Hernandez, Council, Mayorga, and Kenya (Robinson) to campus for Liberatory Adornment, she says, is an important step toward providing that representation and access.