A “Thank You to the Arts” for showing us how diversity produces an understanding of the world and gives us common ground.
I take that phrase from the Skirball exhibition Common Ground. It is my fervent hope that the optimism of the Arts will help us find beauty in the different and joy in the strange.
Here are four examples that help us explore the positive.
The Skirball Cultural Center has two amazing exhibitions.
Los Angeles based artist Adam Silverman with the participation of nearly one hundred people from across the country collected clay, water and wood ash from all fifty American states, Washington DC and the five inhabited US Territories (Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands). He then combined these materials to make a single, fully integrated, new material, erasing the borders of statehood and reimagining the country as a single, unified place. Silverman used this new combined material to make the glazes for Common Ground, which includes a tableware set of fifty-six plates, fifty-six bowls, fifty-six cups as well as fifty-six ceremonial pots. The 224 objects are similar to one another in form, size, and composition, yet each is intentionally unique – just like each human being. The ceramics are intended as tools to facilitate conversation and build community.
This major new addition to the Skirball’s permanent museum collection, Common Ground will be exhibited and activated throughout 2024 during which time Silverman will also serve as the Skirball’s Artist in Residence.
In collaboration with foodways scholar Dr. Scott Alves Barton and supported by local chefs as well as the Skirball’s executive chef Sean Sheridan the Skirball will host a series of communal gatherings during this year – long exhibition bringing people from different communities together using the plates, bowls, cups, and ceremonial pots that comprise Common Ground. During a time of widespread division in the United States Common Ground hopes to bridge political, cultural, and socioeconomic differences by bringing people together around the expansive possibilities of shared human experiences.
The Skirball’s second exhibition is “The American Library”. Browse artist Yinka Shonibare’s immersive installation The American Library where six thousand books are wrapped in textiles with the names of US immigrants and Black Americans affected by the Great Migration. Learn about their impact and share your own story. An imaginative portrait of a nation The American Library explores how ideas of citizenship, home and nationalism hold complex meanings. This exhibition creates a library setting where the shelves are filled with more than six thousand books individually wrapped in Shonibare’s signature Dutch wax printed cotton textiles. Each book bears a name on its spine of a notable American. First- and second-generation immigrants and Black Americans affected by the Great Migration are featured alongside one another.
A further set of books features the names of people who have spoken against immigration, equality or diversity in America. This juxtaposition touches on current debates about immigration. Viewers are invited to consider the varied people and cultural sources that inform our sense of history and culture and thus shape our own sense of belonging.
As part of the Skirball’s presentation of The American Library visitors of all ages will have opportunities to share and reflect on their own families’ immigration stories. The exhibition includes iPad stations to learn more about the people named in the library, an interactive bookshelf for guests to add their name and share their story, a display of Dutch wax fabrics for visitors to touch and an animated short film about the artist that was designed for children.
On Tuesday January 16 internationally acclaimed pianist Althea Waites will play Momemtum: Time and Space, featuring world premieres of two works from composer Margaret Bonds known for her arrangements of African American spirituals. The pieces titled “Flamenco” and “Fugal Dance” were recently unearthed by Bonds’ family members who offered them to Waites for her recently released recording, Reflections of Time.
Additionally the concert will include music of other underappreciated African American composers including Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Tanya Leon. Waites will also perform music by composer Frederic Rzewski a musician who took inspiration from social justice movements as a focus of his work.
The concert at The Nimoy furthers Waites’ commitment to creating platforms for musical discovery and championing fellow artists. Her groundbreaking album Black Diamonds, released in 1993 features her recording of works by little-known African American composers including Florence Price whose work merits broader public appreciation and celebration. With performances on concert stages around the world Waites has a long and distinguished history of showcasing underrecognized music and has received several honors and commendations for her work.
This concert is presented in partnership with Piano Spheres which supports and encourages the composition and performance of major new works for the piano while mentoring the next generation of emerging pianists.
The Fowler Museum at UCLA presents I Will Meet You Yet Again, January 28 – May 26, a major exhibition of more than 40 contemporary works of painting, textile, soundscape, poetry, and digital media that converge around a Sikh understanding of “home.” An array of conceptual and material approaches reflects generational, personal, and gendered perspectives on the history and vitality of the Sikh community a socio-religious group hailing from India’s Panjab region.
Works by Sikh and non-Sikh artists find inspiration in legacies of persecution and protest, collective action, environmental advocacy and the expansive global diaspora of 25 million contemporary adherents. The narratives foreground celebration and strength running counter to media portrayals of a long-suffering minority. A focus on Sikh women throughout the exhibition spotlights the impact of artists, activists and homemakers whose contemporary aspirations are expanding the visual lexicon of this relatively young religion – the fifth largest in the world.
This exhibition reflects the Fowler’s 60th anniversary theme, “Creating in Community.” Los Angeles is home to a significant Sikh population and more than half of 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S. live in California. The Hollywood Sikh Temple founded in 1969 was the first of nine gurudwaras (places of worship) in the LA area. The Fowler’s 2023 – 24 program spotlights religious diversity in Southern California and this exhibition runs concurrently with “The House is Too Small: Yoruba Sacred Arts from Africa and Beyond.” Curated by scholars, artists and local religious practitioners these exhibitions explore aesthetic dimensions of spirituality, center lived experiences of belief and promote cultural understanding on a global scale.
PostScript: I am grateful to be in the Art world. They help us get through so many events in our lives in this blended country.