I stopped by Minneapolis Institute of Arts last week for their Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover opening event, “Art of Rebellion.” Third Thursdays at Mia are always a good time, and I was particularly excited to jump into the Takeover festivities.
The lobby was a-hum when I arrived. Museum-goers in the crowded space chatted, sipped on cocktails and beer as they took in the Guerrilla Girls video installation, and towards the back, nodded heads to the sounds of Sarah White performing with MYK.
The video installation, dubbed “Guerrilla Girls Present: Mysteries of the Mia,” provided facts and figures about artists represented in Mia’s collections, and asked question of viewers:
Out of 90,000 total artworks in Mia’s collections, only 49 are by African American Artists. Of those 49, only 11 are currently on display.
Away from the hubbub, the Community Commons offered a Mia backdrop and a variety of Guerrilla Girls masks for any who wished to document their evening. Others worked on making activist posters of their own.
At 7:30 I was ready to join the Art of Rebellion Mini-Tour, but was told that the group had just headed to the galleries. I rushed upstairs and, seeing no promising group on the second floor, I took a guess and turned right. Wrong way! I wasn’t going to find them, so I decided I’d take myself on a mini-tour, and sought out some of the pieces mentioned in the video installation. I passed by the one-night only ‘Free Speech Machine” on my way.
Continuing on to another point raised by the installation: “More Somalis and Hmong live in Minnesota than anywhere in the US. How many of their artworks can be found in the museum?” The answer? Just one piece by a Hmong artist—Cy Thao—and one piece by an unnamed Somali artist.
As more frames explained, perhaps Mia’s largest assortment of pieces made by women can be found “in the Art of Africa and the Americas galleries, especially ceramics,” but “we don’t know many of their names because they didn’t sign their work.”
Cy Thao’s The Hmong Migration, a series of paintings depicting different moments in Hmong history, is an important and moving work.
The Somali piece is a traditional wedding basket, painstakingly embroidered with beads. Being half Somali, I found myself thinking how wonderful it would be for the entire Minneapolis community, and especially for school kids visiting Mia, if there were whole sections devoted to Hmong and Somali arts and artists.
I found my way to the MAEP Galleries, where two MN Artist Exhibition Program openings were being held: both Lindsay Rhyner’s “Material Worlds” and Emmett Ramstad’s “Touching Each Other.” The former fit in with the themes of the night, as Rhyner’s intricately crafted textile wall hangings reminded me of another frame from the GG video installation:
“Why don’t great quilts hang next to great paintings?" The Guerrilla Girls’ answer is that quilts are seen as craft, and craft is often dismissed as unimportant—woman’s hobby work—rather than being given credit as fine art. Rhyner’s fabric works were a gorgeous and evocative retort to that sort of thinking.
Ramstad’s conceptual installation (dealing with ideas about intimacy, domesticity, cleanliness vs. dirtiness and more) was a worthwhile pit stop, sure to provoke questions and conversation. Piles of socks were spread across a long table, waiting to be sorted and moved to shelves on one wall. A long row of toothbrushes lined another wall.
I found my way to a piece that felt like a fitting way to wrap up the evening: Strings by Mary Lee Bendolph (one of more than fifty women belonging to the Gee’s Bend Quilter’s Collective in Alabama). It was lovely to see a woman seated on the floor looking up in quiet contemplation at this striking, unique work of art.
As I left the museum, I heard Sarah White repeat the name “Sean Bell, Sean Bell, Sean Bell. And the list goes on and on and on.” It was good to be reminded at that moment of the Black Lives Matter movement and (by extension) the many struggles around race, gender, sexuality, justice and injustice that are being waged right now on the streets of the Twin Cities, across the nation and the world.
What’s your cause? What do you stand for, and how do you stand for it? Stay tuned and stay involved as the Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover continues.