Featuring over 60 contemporary works of art from artists of color, queer artists, and artists with disabilities, the Trout Museum’s exhibit “Unraveled. Restructured. Revealed.” seeks to explore questions of what it means to be diverse in the arts community and beyond.
The exhibit, which has a concurrent showing with the Trout’s “Art Is Her” exhibit on female artists, responds to the growing conversations on equality in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. Specifically, Trout Museum President Christina Turner says she hopes “Unraveled” may provide a starting point on what local art museums can do to better support artists from underrepresented communities.
“One of the reasons we wanted to do that was because 85% of all artwork owned by major art museums in the country are by white men,” Turner says. “And, so as much as people think of the art industry as being very progressive, it isn’t in lots of ways.”
To best accomplish this, Turner worked with exhibit guest curator Tyanna J. Buie, a prominent Black artist who has attended artists-in-residency programs in New Orleans, Los Angeles and New York, and is a professor of printmaking at the College for Creative Studies in Michigan.
Buie led an ambitious project to bring to the exhibit 60 artists from many backgrounds and from all over the country and out, from Madison to Brooklyn to Ghana to Zimbabwe. According to Buie, most of the artists she worked with had never heard of Appleton prior to being featured. It was a hard sell, but after countless hours of meeting every last artist and listening to what they wanted to get out of the exhibit and their work, “Unraveled’s” diversity stretched far beyond the Fox Cities.
“I want to let them express what they’re excited about, what they want to show us, and basically give them the spotlight,” Buie says. “Literally, people have said, this is the best museum I’ve been a part of.”
Buie says an exhibit like this has the power to ask valuable questions about diversity in the arts.
“Who’s talking when we say no people are left out? And you put a gallery right in the middle of a community, that is in a culture is not your own? What does inclusion look like?” Buie says.
To Buie, “things are overlapping, or intersectional” both in terms of artists and art itself. “Unraveled,” similarly, brings in art from a variety of influences and perspectives. Shiloah Symone Coley, for instance, explores the relationships between language and Black identities in her art. Angelica Contreras combines mixed-media techniques and collages from advertisements and newspaper cutouts to articulate her multicultural upbringing as a Mexican woman born in the U.S.
But Buie and Turner also made sure to include unrepresented artists from other backgrounds, such as artists depicting LGBTQ themes and artists with disabilities.
“There’s a woman [in the exhibit], she’s an artist, and she sells her artwork, but she has a disability,” Turner says. “It almost makes you cry because she talks about like her whole life, she’s been labeled other, right?”
“One of the artists, his pieces, they look just like beautiful landscapes,” Buie says, “and they’re actually murder sites where people targeted gay males and killed them. Look at the beautiful photo of the park, then you read the program and go, ‘Oh my god.’ It’s beautiful to have those layers of this conversation like, yeah, we’re gonna have all of that.”
Buie and Turner say local museums like the Trout have an important goal of representing artists across race, gender and sexuality.
“These are people we need to be celebrating in conjunction with all the other folks too,” Buie says.
“I think this is a really important, powerful tool that art can bring,” Turner says, “especially when we have a divided country in a whole host of areas right now.”
“Unraveled. Restructured. Revealed.” is viewable on location at the Trout through May 23, and a virtual exhibition is viewable on the Trout Museum website.