I moved to D.C. because . . .

Visitors looking at Jacob Lawrence's The Migration Series (1941) at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Max Hirshfeld

Visitors looking at Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series (1941) at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Max Hirshfeld

This spring, Jacob Lawrence‘s art inspired second graders in Mr. Frazell and Ms. Crossons’s classes at the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School to study the migrations of those around them. Using a worksheet created by their teachers, the students interviewed family members or friends who had moved to Washington, D.C., from another place, asking about their first memories of arriving in the city and what they remembered about their old homes. Then they studied their interview notes and chose one sentence to serve as the caption for artworks they would create. Then they identified the shapes, lines, and colors that would best communicate the emotion of the piece.

Students used color pencils to sketch designs. Since many of the drawings were rich in detail, students were encouraged to simplify and identify a focal point to translate into a painting. Following Lawrence’s process, students created outline sketches on panels and used small Post-it notes to label which color would go in each shape. Maintaining Lawrence’s method of working, students painted one color at a time. They applied light colors first , added dark colors the next day, and finished with final touch-ups.

Second grader Alexandria interviewed her Auntie Marian for this piece. Take a look at her worksheet to learn more about Marian’s migration and how Alexandria selected her caption, Marian: “I decided to move to D.C. to seek a good job.”

Marian: “I decided to move to D.C. to seek a good job.” Alexandria, 2nd Grade Tempera paint on illustration board. Photo: James R. Brantley

Marian: “I decided to move to D.C. to seek a good job.” Alexandria, 2nd Grade Tempera paint on illustration board. Photo: James R. Brantley

Second grader Jonas interviewed a man by the name of Joe Howard who had moved from Japan. For his artwork, he chose the caption Joe: “I moved from unique Japan to the crowds of D.C.” Take a look at Jonas’s worksheet for a map he drew of Joe’s route.

Joe: “I moved from unique Japan to the crowds of D.C.” Jonas, 2nd Grade Tempera paint on illustration board. Photo: James R. Brantley

Joe: “I moved from unique Japan to the crowds of D.C.” Jonas, 2nd Grade Tempera paint on illustration board. Photo: James R. Brantley

In June, students celebrated with a community celebration at The Phillips Collection, where they got to see their artwork on the walls of the museum in a Young Artists Exhibition, which you can currently see in our Sant building (level L2).

Paul Ruther, Manager of Teacher Programs

Photo of second grader Jonas and Phillips educator Paul Ruther during a community celebration at the Phillips in June 2012. Photo: James R. Brantley

Jonas and I looking at his artwork in the Young Artists Exhibition together during the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School Community Celebration at the Phillips in June . Photo: James R. Brantley

From Synchronized Swimming to Step Afrika!

Step Afrika! dancers perform in response to Jacob Lawrence's The Migration Series at Phillips after 5. Photo: Charles Mahorney

Last August Director Dorothy Kosinski agreed to judge the Washington Project for the Arts‘s second synchronized swimming competition at the Capitol Skyline Hotel. Little did she know she was about to meet C. Brian Williams, fellow judge and founder and executive director of Step Afrika! The conversations started poolside on that sunny day came to a culmination last Thursday night during the museum’s Phillips after 5.

As Brian has shared here, Step Afrika! and the Phillips collaborated to create a dazzling marriage of the performing and visual arts. In June, Step Afrika! premiered The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence inspired by Jacob Lawrence‘s The Migration Series in their Home Performance Series.

Last night, the dance troupe performed excerpts from the show at Phillips after 5. Brian told me it was Step Afrika!’s first presentation in an American art museum, and I’m so pleased it happened at the Phillips. The stage come to life from the percussive energy of the dancers, and they awed the crowd! The audience clapped and sang along with the dancers; they gave the performance a standing ovation–something I’ve never seen happen in our auditorium.

I’m looking forward to seeing our stage come alive again when we collaborate with the Washington Ballet for programs related to our upcoming Degas exhibition!

Truth by Train/Ambiguity by Air

(left) Jacob Lawrence, “The Migration Series, Panel no. 3: From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north.”, 1940-41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. © 2010 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (right) Allan deSouza, “Specter” from “The World Series, 2010-11.” Courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery, New York / New Delhi.

A recent review by Philip Kennicott of photographer Allan deSouza’s installation, The World Series, which responds to Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series, prompted me to take a second look at the artwork and jot down my thoughts.

Kennicott writes of deSouza’s work’s “. . . (perhaps unconscious) appeal to the class of people who travel, who are rich and privileged enough to enjoy the sweet dislocation of life in multiple time zones.”  Indeed, about half of the photographs in deSouza’s installation are of airborne postmodern travel, with the gray concrete and glass ubiquity of airports or shot from an airplane window, with no clear indication whether the image was shot in Jakarta, Prague, Paris, or Milwaukee.

It is in this visual continuity of deSouza’s images of air travel–with their dominant color and style of photographic gray–that I find an interesting parallel with Lawrence’s The Migration Series. The visual equivalent to deSouza’s grey is Lawrence’s use of brown, frequently painted with a dry brush, which the artist used to suggest the wooden floor of southern shotgun shacks, parched fields ravaged by drought or boll weevils, or the interior of railroad cars and train stations. Lawrence’s browns are a base color that evokes the depleted South that African Americans departed in droves.

DeSouza’s photographs and their glossy grays with metallic highlights and reflective surfaces express the 21st century world through which one travels (migrates). And while for many museum-goers and art critics, deSouza’s photographs may suggest the “sweet dislocation of modern life,” for today’s migrants they might suggest the alien world in which one travels to escape oppression and seek opportunity. Continue reading “Truth by Train/Ambiguity by Air” »