Rutgers Art Project at Zimmerli Explores US as a Slave-Owning Nation

A collaboration between Mason Gross School of the Arts and the Zimmerli Art Museum provides a window into the working process of American contemporary artist Kara Walker and a cohort of Rutgers students in a project that explores the history of the United States as a slave-owning nation and the shadows that it continues to cast over the 21st century. Ms. Walker was named Tepper Chair in Visual Arts at Mason Gross School of the Arts in 2015. This five-year residency provides visual arts students the opportunity to work alongside the prolific and often provocative artist, in a creative endeavor rooted in research and collaboration.

The cohort is currently examining themes of Memory, Memorials, and Monuments. The public is invited to a free reception and performances on April 21, from 6 to 8 p.m., to learn more about the project from the artist and students. Through a variety of projects, including the windows at Rite Aid, the town of Highland Park has a close relationship with the art students studying at the Mason Gross School of the Arts.

During the recent spring break, the group embarked on a pilgrimage to Ms. Walker’s ancestral home, Georgia, visiting charged sites in an investigation of stories and spaces that define the American South and its impact across the nation. Immediately on their return, the group mounted their response—an immersive installation entitled Atlanta Ladies Memorial Association, on view at the Zimmerli through July 2, 2017.

In conjunction with the project, Kara Walker’s An Unpeopled Land in Unchartered Waters (2010) is on view in the museum lobby through June 23, 2017. This series of six prints produced by etching, drypoint, lift ground, spit bite, and aquatint was printed by Gregory Burnet of Burnet Editions, New York, in an edition of 30. The foremost image, No World, produced in a separate edition of 25, is currently on view at the British Museum in a historic collections’ show focusing on American printmaking.

Kara Walker’s ongoing collaboration with students has generated a shared inquiry through discussions, cross-disciplinary lectures, and a project centered on imagining an American monument to slavery. Since the fall, Memory, Memorials, and Monuments has developed as a multi-disciplinary seminar around diverse narratives from the era of slavery to the present. Contributing artist Yu Rim Chung explained, “The trip made clearer to me the importance of artists grappling with America’s troubled racial history, and of being cognizant of how [the history is] told and who is in control of the narrative. Voices must be given to these painful histories, but the way they’re told is just as crucial to their meaning and the dialogue that results from their telling.”

The current installation acts as both a living memorial and a cabinet of curiosities, incorporating found objects, ephemera, and personal observations from visits to local residences, historic sites, government offices, and cemeteries. Their organic and visceral documentation resulted in soundscapes, videos, photographs, spontaneous drawings, and mixed media assemblages. The installation provides a space for voices and stories that would have remained absent as the group attempts to “contribute to a more expansive and inclusive patchwork quilt of the Old and New Souths,” as indicated by the group’s statement in the gallery. M.F.A. participant Jack Hogan reflected, “It was an unforgettable trip. Kara Walker’s generosity is invaluable to me when I consider how to operate as an artist—and as a model for being a human as well.”

An Unpeopled Land in Unchartered Waters is on loan, courtesy of Kara Walker and Sikkema Jenkins, New York.

The Tepper Chair in Visual Arts was established through the gracious support of Marlene Tepper. 2017 research for Memory, Memorials, and Monuments was funded by Rutgers University Chancellor Richard Edwards. Participants in the project include: Sam Ashford, Anita Bakshi, Gerry Beegan, Sedrick Chisom, Yu Rim Chung, Julian Gilbert-Davis, Ethan Green, Jack Hogan, Daonne Huff, Kate John-Alder, Ari Marcopoulos, Renana Neuman, Cassandra Oliveras-Moreno, Ali Osborn, Bea Orlandi, Jett Strauss, Catalina Tuca, and Kara Walker. They express special thanks to Rutgers University professors Richard Alomar, Anita Bakshi, Mia Bay, Brittney Cooper, Kate John-Alder, and Evie Shockley; Willie Huff, Larry Walker, Gwen Walker, Joel Rogers, Marcy Breffle, and the Heard County Historical Society.



The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.



Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and select first Tuesdays of the month, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays, as well as the month of August.


PaparazZi Café is open Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack items. The café is closed weekends and major holidays, as well as the months of July and August.


For more information, visit the museum’s website or call 848.932.7237.





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