By Sophie Lange, Staff Writer
On Thursday at 12 p.m., the Eisenhower Institute hosted a Lunch and Learn event in collaboration with the Schmucker Art Gallery. This was the first collaboration between the two groups and focused on the intersection between art and public policy.
As attendees arrived, they were offered a catered lunch before being invited into the gallery for the subsequent discussion. Student and faculty attendees sat on stools in a large circle in the main area of the gallery.
The leader of the discussion, Dr. Shannon Egan, introduced herself as the Director of the Schmucker Art Gallery and the professor of several classes in art history. She described the current exhibit as being centered on using art to convey issues and reflect on personal identities as they interact with politics. She then invited people to comment on a work that stood out to them.
The first pieces discussed were part of a collection by artist Deborah Dancy: “I Am” (2021), “Run Away” (2022), “Emblems of Attachment” (2019), “Polished Rage” (2019), and “October Morning” (2022). The pieces were all silver, some dishes and the others mirrors.
Egan and the attendees discussed how powerful the pieces were as the artist embedded the names and history of slavery. Since all of the pieces were reflective as well, it forced viewers to see themselves and see who they are in relationship to history.
The next piece discussed was one created by artist Nekisha Durrett called “Magnolia” (2020-21). In this piece, the names of ten female victims of police brutality were put on magnolia leaves that the artist had found in a Washington, D.C. cemetery she frequently visited during the pandemic to cope with the grief she felt from the situation. This piece was said to be most connected to current political issues.
“These were real names. These were real people,” Egan said.
The magnolia leaves represent both the fragility of life and the endurance of humanity. By choosing to illuminate the names on the leaves, Durrett drew on the duality between beauty and trauma while showing the need to further illuminate the issue of police brutality against people of color.
The final items to be discussed were those created by the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous activist group that was started around 1985. The first of their pieces to be discussed was “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” (1989). It features a nude of a woman with a gorilla mask, the trademark of the Guerrilla Girls, along with text with the name of the piece and statistics about women in art museums in the roles of modern artists and nude models. It highlighted the disparity within these museums against female artists. The piece questioned the highly sexualized view of women within the art world at the time.
The next of their pieces to be discussed was “You’re Seeing Less Than Half the Picture” (1989). This piece featured a large blank space with the title and text about the lack of women artists and artists of color within art museums. The empty space is at the top left corner of the piece, which is where many people tend to look first due to the nature of a left-to-right writing system. Only after seeing the blank space did people see the surrounding text: “You’re seeing less than half the picture without the vision of women artists and artists of color.”
One of Egan’s students, Vivek Rallabandi ’25, commented that the piece “forces you to look at it through the lens that [the Guerrilla Girls] want you to look at it with.”
Associate Professor of Art and Art History Tina Gebhard stated, “[The Guerrilla Girls’ work] speaks to me in a special kind of way seeing the slow impact that it’s had…When I was in undergrad in the early 90s, I had one studio professor that was female. One. I had one grad student instructor who was female. One. And I had one seminar instructor…that was female. One. Everybody else? Bunch of guys. Even in academia where you might think that it’s a little less money driven or something like that compared to collections and museums, it was still really pervasive. If they had been saying these things in a quiet, gentle,…‘appropriate’ way, it wouldn’t have been heard.”
On the topic of why she wanted to host the event Egan stated, “I was really eager to partner with the Eisenhower Institute to kind of emphasize how art and public policy intersect, particularly how artists respond to important, contemporary political issues as activists and just as citizens who are seeing real issues and wanting to engage with them.”