Willie Cole: Beauties

Courtesy of Willie ColeCourtesy of Willie Cole

This exhibition opens on March 27, 2019, and runs through June 29, 2019.

It will be on view in the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery of Byerly Hall at 8 Garden Street, Radcliffe Yard, Monday through Saturday, from noon to 5 p.m.

On March 26, 2019, there will be an exhibition opening discussion and reception at 5 p.m. in the Knafel Center.

Free and open to the public.

Willie Cole’s Beauties are haunting full-scale prints made from crushed and hammered ironing boards, each named after a woman from the artist’s cultural and ancestral history. Cole has used irons and ironing as central motifs in his work for 30 years, evoking everything from African masks to slave ship diagrams to the routines of domestic servitude. In this special installation, the gallery will be lined wall to wall with the Beauties. Standing silently—like sentinels, tombstones, shrouds, or windows—the prints will open a space for confronting anew the whole range of often contradictory energies running through them: resistance and oppression, beauty and violence, labor and forebearance.

Exhibition organized by Jennifer L. Roberts, Johnson-Kulukundis Family Faculty Director of the Arts, Radcliffe Institute, and Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, with Meg Rotzel, arts program manager at Radcliffe.


From State of the Arts, New Jersey Public Media

Willie Cole: Beauties Gallery Series

Throughout the course of the exhibition, Harvard students, faculty, and staff, along with local community groups, will respond to Cole’s work in a series of gallery events. The series will include live performances of song, poetry, and African dance, as well as meditations and discussions on resistance and oppression, the African diaspora, domestic labor, the global economy, the enduring nature of everyday objects, the spiritual dimension of naming and repetition, and the transformational power of ironing and steam.

All gallery series events will take place 3:30–4:30 PM, with light refreshments to follow, in the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery, Byerly Hall.

Diasporic Discourse: Reflecting on Beauties as a Conversation on African Citizenship
Friday, April 5
Join us for a discussion with Nelson Makamo, artist and Visiting Scholar at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, moderated by Mfundo Radebe '20, President of the Harvard African Students Association and member of the Academic Ventures Student Board. Nelson Makamo is a South African artist whose work focuses on the brilliance of African children and can described as fitting into a new genre of afro-optimism. With its heavy emphasis on bright colors and vibrant bold sketches, Makamo seeks to direct his audience towards a new message of renewal. In this discussion, Makamo and Mfundo Radebe draw the connections between Makamo’s work and that in Willie Cole: Beauties. The Beauties commemorate the artist’s ancestral heritage, and evokes an array of themes from slavery to domestic servitude. Makamo’s work indicates the centrality of the African girl child as a focal point deserving attention. Both artists’ works refer to a celebration and discussion of how black childhood and womanhood have been treated in the past. Speakers will focus on teasing out how this conversation has played out artistically, not only through Willie Cole's experience as a diasporic artist but also through Makamo, who practices as a young boundary-pushing artist from his studio in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Please register and join us.

The Art of Pressure
Tuesday, April 9
Join us for a lecture and discussion with Jennifer L. Roberts, exhibition curator, about the importance of the printmaking process in Cole’s work.Roberts is the Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities and Johnson-Kulukundis Family Faculty Director of the Arts at the Radcliffe Institute.
Please register and join us.

Circle Up
Thursday, April 11
Join us for a short film and intimate discussion about transforming personal trauma into art, healing, and community justice. A screening of the documentary Circle Up will be followed by a conversation with filmmaker Julie Mallozzi and film subjects Janet Connors and Clarissa Turner. The film tells the story of a group of mothers seeking justice for their murdered sons—justice that involves not revenge and incarceration, but forgiveness, accountability, and community healing. 
Please register and join us.

Unbounded: A Salute to the Beauties 
Friday, April 12
Karlene Griffiths Sekou, in collaboration with Vision Lab, presents ”Unbounded: A Salute to the Beauties,” featuring guest artists Azmera Hammouri-Davis, capoeira and poetry artist, and co-founder of Break the Box, and Butana Molefe, a South African drummer and vocal artist. The event also includes a special interview with Jovonna Jones, a historian and theorist of race, aesthetics, and culture in the United States. Jones is committed to black space wherever we find and create it. “Unbounded” also features Vision Lab collaborative artists Kythe Heller, Michelle Bentsman, and Andrew Staffer.
Please register and join us.

Art, Interpretation, and the Street Disposition
Thursday, April 18
It has become commonplace to appeal to the notion of "lived experience" when thinking about how members of established social groups respond to the world differently. But how exactly does this phenomenon work? In other words, why is it possible for people from different socially conditioned backgrounds to perceive some objects of experience in fundamentally distinct ways? This presentation will offer an intuitive way for thinking about how a person's life experience can be shaped by their knowledge or ignorance of certain dominant forms of oppression—ultimately informing how they see certain things external to their consciousness. The event is led by Darien Pollock, accompanied by Miguel Santiago.
Please register and join us.

Educating Incarcerated Youth: Incarceration + Education = Emancipation
Monday, April 29
Our nation’s incarcerated youth are arguably our most marginalized and forgotten population. Although some in our nation continue to facilitate equity conversations, the reality is bleak: children of color, children of poverty, children with special needs, and children who identify as LGBTQ are disproportionately represented within our juvenile “justice” system. And without a high-quality education program while incarcerated, their growth and potential for excellence are further hindered. Frederick Douglass once said, “If a man is without education . . . he is a poor prisoner without hope. . . Education, on the other hand, means emancipation.” It’s time to emancipate all our youth, and that means providing a high-quality education to every child. The event will be led by Lynette Tannis, an expert on juvenile justice education and an adjunct lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Please register and join us.

What, If Anything, Do African Societies Owe to Their Citizens in Terms of Health (Care)?
Friday, May 3
Most accounts of global justice tend to focus on the obligations of developed/rich countries toward poor/developing countries. But the question of what developing/poor countries themselves owe their citizens has received little attention. Theorists of global justice tend to assume that poor countries need help—the implicit presumption is that these countries’ obligations toward their own citizens, if any, are weaker than developed countries’ and may be limited to accepting help or assistance from developed countries and managing it efficiently and fairly. Relying on the African context and using the case of the human right to health (care), Thierry Ngosso suggests a theoretical agenda that will challenge that presumption. The focus is on the big picture of how we must think about the obligations that African societies have regarding the right to health of their own people.
Please register and join us.

How Ironing Brought Me to Harvard: A Performative Lecture with Chloe Chapin
Monday, May 6
Chapin learned how to iron for her very first job as a dresser with a Shakespeare company in 1991. Twenty years later, she was designing Broadway musicals; 30 years later, she'll graduate from Harvard with a PhD in American Studies. In this lecture, Chapin will share her journey from doing the laundry to researching it for her dissertation—on the history of male evening dress—in a discussion of materiality, tacit knowledge, and ironing tips. 
Please register and join us.

Dancing with Beauties, with Aysha Upchurch
Tuesday, May 7
Join us for a moving exploration and interpretation of the stories and processes invoked by Willie Cole's Beauties. Aysha Upchurch is a dancer, instructor, and education consultant whose work, in classrooms and on stages, weaves together youth voice, social inclusion, and decolonized arts education. Part performance and part cypher, she will offer her own danced conversation with the exhibit and invite audience members to listen and contribute with their bodies as well. Upchurch is on the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education teaching courses on embodied learning and hip hop pedagogy.
Please register and join us.

Lift Every Voice and Sing
Thursday, May 9
Kuumba is a Swahili word that means “to create,” and we take that to mean doing what we can with what we have to leave a space better than we found it. This mission permeates and motivates our performances, our community work, and our unabashed celebration of black art. We firmly believe that black art sustains and directs our culture; it reminds us of our past, makes us mindful of the present, and gives us hope and guidance for the future. Join us as we celebrate and uplift Willie Cole: Beauties through the power of song—and hopefully, you will leave better than you came.
Please register and join us.

Additional Resources

Willie Cole’s Beauties invite viewers to forge thematic connections across objects and disciplines, and to explore the ways in which works of visual art can serve as a basis for primary source-based research. In an effort to support continued intellectual engagement with Cole’s Beauties, a slideshow is available for download that includes primary source materials across Harvard’s collections that engage with the broad themes of ironing, laundry, and pressure.

For access to the slideshow, please email ventures@radcliffe.harvard.edu.

Read about all 2018–2019 exhibitions at the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery in Radcliffe Yard at https://onviewatradcliffe.org/.