In this series, Education Specialist for Public Programs Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 19, 2016.

Anna E. Kaminski, "code"

Anna E. Kaminski, “code”

Anna E. Kaminski

Anna E. Kaminski, Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Anna E. Kaminski, Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Tell us about yourself and your work.

As an artist and activist, my work stages elaborate scenes to create political narratives. Having started in photojournalism in the midst of the Iraq War, politics, religion, and human rights are central themes in my work. I work in the realm of photography, sculpture, installation, and performance. Through curating environments that have often lived at the intersection of photography and installation, I work specifically to make audiences uncomfortable and provide a space for questioning and contemplation about our collective roles on the political stage and within the capitalist spectacle.

My work aims to question the realities we know and complacencies we accept.  I have been involved in the activist community through organizations like CODEPINK, occupy, women against military madness, and worked in the realm of homelessness and housing at DC area shelters and policy organizations. These experiences deeply inform my work.  I am currently working on a long-term project re-envisioning power politics, issues of anonymity, and complacency in Washington, D.C. and also creating new work about drone warfare. Currently, I am one of the twelve individuals in the inaugural class at the S&R Foundation Fillmore Studios program for emerging artists in Washington, DC.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I just recently started at The Phillips Collection as a part-time Sales Associate in the gift shop. After working with various non-profits, I am so happy to finally be working in the realm of the arts again. I am so grateful to be working in a place that values artistic contributions and with some really creative and knowledgeable people.

Who is your favorite artist in the collection?

For many reasons I would have to say Georgia O’Keeffe. Her strength, independence, and resilience as a woman artist is something I deeply admire as a feminist. I think her work helped pave the way for women like myself in the arts. Ironically, I also value the work of Alfred Stieglitz, someone who broke O’Keeffe’s heart and I think provided so much emotion that is seen clearly in her work. Also perhaps more than certain images, I value his contributions to photography and determination in shaping it into a recognized art form.

What is your favorite gallery or space within The Phillips Collection?

My favorite space in the museum is the Laib Wax Room by Wolfgang Laib. For me, it is evocative of so much and can and does provide a symbolic core of the museum. For bees, the production of wax is essential to sustaining their colonies. I find strong parallels between the human need to produce and consume culture to sustain ourselves and a bee’s need to produce and consume honey. The single light bulb, an invention that has become such a marked symbol of the beginning of the modern era, illuminating the vibrant yellow wax, also illuminates the museums’ role as a cultural producer.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2016 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

The three photographs hanging in the 2016 Staff Show are part of a larger series of six photographs shot with a 35 mm camera as an experiment for a performance piece that has yet to be performed.  The work draws inspiration from Post-humanism and meditates on technology’s complacency in the erasure of the human. Inspired by the binary code making up photographs from predator and killer drones as well as the binary code making up images of women in pornography, this series seeks to merge the themes of women under erasure as well as technology’s capacity to swiftly disappear us.

The 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view August 14 through September 19, 2016.


In this series, Education Specialist for Public Programs Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 19, 2016.

Jeffrey Whitelow sCrMbLd

Jeffrey Whitelow, “sCrMbLd”


Jeffrey Whitelow

Jeff Whitelow

Jeffrey Whitelow, “School portrait”

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I’m a Museum Assistant and also part of the AV department. It’s interesting to see exhibits go from initial planning phase to actual show. I also enjoy meeting living artist who are in the collection. The only drawback is that when I go to other museums, I start counting how many security rules people break.

Who is your favorite artist in the collection?

Leo Villareal.

What is your favorite gallery or space within The Phillips Collection?

The Rothko Room. What many people see as just solid color in the paintings is actually, when examined, a blend of color with depth and texture. Spending hours in the galleries changes your way of seeing.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2016 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

The view is looking into a window of a hotel lobby that has reflective blinds that are also transparent. You can see straight through and behind you at the same time. I used photo editing to enhance some the colors. I had never tried to alter a photograph before but was pleased with the results. When I look at it I think about how in cubism, multiple perspectives are going on all at the same time. I also thought of Leo Villareal’s piece Scramble with LED lights constantly in motion. When people look at the work, some say it’s a kaleidoscope; others think water. I got a Gerhard Richter comparison. The most bizarre comment was from someone who thought it was taken at a strip club. It seems to serve as a Rorschach test for the viewer. It’s an intersection moment for me.

Anything else about your work you’d like to discuss?

The relationship between music and visual art has always been of interest. I might hear some music which makes me wonder what kind of visual image would go with it. This can also work in reverse.

The 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view August 14 through September 19, 2016.

Responding to The Migration Series: Jacqueline E. Lawton

The Phillips has commissioned five plays from local playwrights in response to Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series.  The resulting 10-minute, one-act plays will be performed on Oct. 20. In this series, we interview each playwright.


Jacqueline E. Lawton. Photo by Jason Hornick

Why did you decide to get into theatre? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
Jacqueline E. Lawton: My mother introduced me to the theatre through her love of MGM musicals. I was immediately transfixed. The first play that I saw live was a theatre for young audiences touring production of Jack and Beanstalk. It was already one of my favorite stories, because Jack longed for more and ultimately learned the value of what he already had at home. It was magical! I was completely enchanted and knew that I wanted to be part of telling stories in this way. In middle school, I was able to do this through poetic interpretation, and in high school, I was able to take part in the theatre. In college, I was introduced to the professional world of playwriting and solo performance by playwright Amparo Garcia Crow. It was Dr. Oni Olomo Joni Jones who introduced me to performance ethnography and the beauty and complexity of the Black Aesthetic. While earning my MFA in Playwriting, I was introduced to playwright Ruth Margraf, feminist theorist Jill Dolan, and actress Fran Dorn. Each of these women had a deeply profound and lasting impact on my life and artistic journey. It is no exaggeration that I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for them.

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you have any writing rituals? Do you write in the same place or in different places?
JEL: I sit in front of my laptop, stare at the blank page, and ask, “How has anyone ever written a play before?” I ask this, even though I’ve just finished writing a play. From there, I start with the characters. Their names are revealed to me, and I endeavor to learn as much as I can about their hopes, dreams, fears, secrets, and desires. I investigate their worlds and everyday lives. I watch films and documentaries. I read books, articles, and plays. I listen to music and look at art. I learn about their politics, social customs, and food ways. Then I name the play, which in and of itself is quite a process! From there, I outline the structure of the play and start to write. I don’t always follow the outline, but it helps as a guidepost. While writing, I continue to research. Also, I keep a journal and pen with me, because a piece of dialogue, a monologue, or stage directions will come to me at any given moment.

Please share your thoughts on what The Migration Series means to you. What excited you about being a part of this festival?
JEL: In April of 2014, I was invited to join a select group of scholars and practitioners to help shape the interpretation and programming of the People on the Move: Beauty and Struggle in Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series exhibition. I was honored. As a teaching artist, I had used the panels as part of my classes for years. I guided students to create plays, poems, sculptures, and dances based on the panels. I felt it was important for the students to study the history of this country through art. I created this festival to honor the work of Jacob Lawrence and the lasting impact of his great art.

Tell us a bit about your play. What is it about, and what do you hope audiences will walk away thinking about after hearing it?
JEL: My play, A Long Arduous Journey, is about the devastating civil war in Syria. It follows a young woman, Sabeen, who has emigrated to the U.S. with her family. Her brother chose to stay behind and fight for their homeland. While in the U.S., Sabeen meets Malcolm, who helps her update her resume and look for work. He has been out of work for two years, but does odd jobs now and again. Over the course of the play, the two of them learn more about each other and their lives. My hope is that audiences see this play and remember that immigrants coming to this country are searching for a better life for themselves and their families.

Which of the Migration Series panels inspired your play? What drew you to it? What was it like to write a play inspired by a work of art?
JEL: My play was inspired by panels 57, 13, and 25. Panel no. 57 is my absolute favorite. The woman is determined, focused, and purposeful. It takes great strength to stir all of those clothes. She reminds me of my mother. Panel no. 13, this image of barren land, reminded me of the drought in Syria and the South during the Great Depression as well as the strife that comes when the land can no longer yield fruit and vegetation. Panel no. 25, the image of an empty corner of a room, made me think of the homes that were left empty and unattended both during the Great Migration and also during a war. The process of writing the play based on the panels came quite easily. They already have such a strong, inspiring narrative. I can imagine coming back to these same panels and writing something else entirely.

Why do you think the message of The Migration Series still resonates today? How does your play relate to that message?
JEL: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series is a masterful piece of art. While capturing the challenges of life in the South and the hope of a better life up in the North, Lawrence captures the harsh realities of migration and a new life that so many faced. He creates a space for the viewer to experience the journey of the migration and that is powerful. I hope that my play does this as well.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming playwrights?
JEL: Be bold, honest, and determined. Have the courage to write plays that show the world the way you see and experience it. You’re the only one who can do that, which makes you absolutely essential to the American Theatre. See as many plays and readings as you can. Make friends with other theatre artists. Talk, argue, complain, yell and cry to them about the kind of work you want to be creating, the kind that isn’t being created where you live, and then go create it. Honor and protect your writing time. Don’t ever stop writing!

What next for you? Where can we follow your work?
JEL: From February 24–April 2, 2017, my play Intelligence will receive a world premiere production at Arena Stage. It’s very exciting! Of course, you can follow me at my website.