The University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America opened its year-long exhibition, “Momentum,” on Thursday, Sept. 14 in the Frederick Lippitt and Mary Ann Lippitt House. The exhibition encompasses a range of works by a “diverse set of artists,” all of which interpret the theme of sustained movement in a complex time, according to a press release.
The exposition is the latest annual installment in a series of exhibitions put on by the CSREA and features artists “who use their creativity and vision to speak to questions of justice, human suffering and migration in ways that enliven, encourage and connect,” Tricia Rose, the Center’s director and professor of Africana Studies, wrote in an email to The Herald.
“Momentum” is one of the latest projects of the CSREA, which focuses on supporting “accessible, timely and relevant research on race and ethnicity in America,” Rose wrote. “We also provide robust public programming of various kinds across the humanities, arts and social sciences.”
“When we chose ‘Momentum,’ we wanted to exhibit instances of retained energy and forward motion under difficult conditions,” Rose wrote. In a time characterized by a relentless struggle for justice, the exhibition encourages visitors to contemplate the ways in which contemporary circumstances inhibit and necessitate progress.
Rose cited the Supreme Court’s recent restrictions on race-conscious college admissions as one such circumstance. “We cannot be rendered immobile,” she wrote. “How do we keep moving forward despite these setbacks, and what are the sources of momentum under such conditions?”
Preparations for the exhibition began in 2022, Stéphanie Larrieux MA’01 PhD’08, associate director of CSREA, wrote in an email to The Herald. “The conceptualization process for the art exhibit begins a year in advance. Once we’ve decided upon a theme that resonates with the current moment and the ongoing research environment at the Center, the team begins reaching out to artists whose work explores that theme for purchases, loans and commissions.”
The artists featured in “Momentum" come from a wide variety of backgrounds, some working locally and others globally. “We chose works as a team in an iterative process over several months with a focus on broad representation of medium, content and identity,” Ellie Winter, communications specialist and the executive assistant to the director of the CSREA, wrote in an email to The Herald.
While distinct in their visual interpretation and style, all of the works reflect shared themes. “We get the chance to learn about each artist’s unique process and their creative relationships to engaging topics of race and ethnicity,” Winter said, reflecting on the process of collaborating with the exhibit’s artists. The result of this extensive collaboration is a wide-ranging collection of engaging works.
One artist featured, Trinh Mai, is based in Long Beach, California, interpreting themes of suffering, faith and community through her multimedia work. “The artwork informs my life heavily, and that’s a good thing.”
“My practice involves thinking about the things that affect us, observing life in this grieving world, and processing the hope that we have for it to be better,” Mai said.
Her piece “And we shall come forth as gold” is featured alongside work from accomplished artists Spencer Evans and Jiyoung Chung, as well as two pieces from Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political activist who was convicted of murder in 1982.
One of the two panels that comprise Mai’s work features a young child being hoisted up by an American goldfinch. The accompanying panel is marked by two lightly painted Vietnamese greenfinches embellished with red crosses. The multimedia piece contemplates the role of suffering in the process of refinement and transformation.
“When we think about the way gold is refined, it is heated up to thousands of degrees and all of the impurities rise up to the top,” Mai said. “What is left is pure gold, the essence of what it is. What if that is what life is doing for us? … What if the suffering was refining our character and our hearts and making us more pure?”
“Momentum” encourages students, faculty and the public to think about the ways society might move forward in times of hardship.
“I hope that gallery visitors take away from ‘Momentum’ whatever they need to,” Mai said. “Whatever it is that their heart needs, is my hope.”