Eliza's Cabinet: History, Objects, and the Black Imagination: A Symposium

Saturday, October 29, 2016 - 10 am-4 pm

We are gathering a small group of invited guests at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to participate in an interdisciplinary dialogue about history, objects, and the Black imagination. The relationship between history and the imagination can be a dynamic one in the hands of artists who take history as one of their materials. Why and how are contemporary Black artists excavating, reclaiming, recasting, and revising history? Why is material culture central to this endeavor? What is the relationship between that reclaimed past, the present, and the future? Do artists share a speculative methodology with scholars working in other disciplines? What role has the Black imagination played in Black self-determination, agency, and survival?

Our conversation will revolve around Fo Wilson's project at Lynden, Eliza's Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities, and the hybrid world Wilson has created--using architecture, objects, and contemporary media--in Eliza's cabin. In the process of unpacking the meaning of the objects that Wilson has imagined a 19th-century woman of African descent might have collected in her living quarters as her own unique wunderkammer, we hope to consider multiple approaches to using the past to illuminate the present and to construct the future.


Dr. Huey Copeland, Northwestern University
Huey Copeland is associate dean for Academic Affairs in the Graduate School and associate professor of Art History with affiliations in the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University. He writes about modern and contemporary art with an emphasis on articulations of Blackness in the Western visual field. In Bound to Appear: Art, Slavery, and the Site of Blackness in Multicultural America, Copeland focuses on the work of Renée Green, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, and Fred Wilson, and considers how slavery shaped American art in the last decades of the twentieth century in order to argue for a reorientation of modern and contemporary art history where the subject of race is concerned. Current projects include In the Shadow of the Negress: A Brief History of Modern Artistic Practice, which explores the constitutive role played by fictions of black womanhood in Western art from the late-eighteenth century to the present, and a companion volume—tentatively entitled Touched by the Mother: Contemporary Artists, Black Masculinities, and the Ends of the American Century—that brings together many of his new and previously published critical essays.

Brandy Culp, Independent Curator and Principal, Brandy S. Culp and Associates
Brandy S. Culp has recently established the firm Brandy S. Culp and Associates, specializing in exhibition planning and implementation, museum services and collection management, grant writing, and research. As former curator of Historic Charleston Foundation, Culp led projects for the conservation and interpretation of the Foundation’s collection of fine and decorative arts, co-authored the book Grandeur Preserved: The House Museums of Historic Charleston Foundation, authored numerous articles, and curated the exhibitions Sterling Splendor: The Charleston Silver Trade, The Russell Family and the Enslaved, Preserving the Art of the Decoy, An Era of Opulence: Decorative and Fine Arts in Early Charleston, and Sampling History: The Paint Archaeology of Susan Buck. Culp curated the 2011 New York Winter Antiques Show exhibition Grandeur Preserved: Masterworks Presented by Historic Charleston Foundation and in 2015 organized the loan exhibition An Eye for Opulence: Charleston through the Lens of the Rivers Collection for The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach. Prior to settling in Charleston, Culp served as the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Department of American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. She has worked at the Bard Graduate Center in the Exhibitions Department and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Dr. Michelle M. Wright, Northwestern University
Michelle M. Wright is professor of African American Studies & Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University, where she teaches courses on Black European literature and cultures as well as gender and sexuality in the African and Black Diasporas. She is the author of two books, Becoming Black: Creating Identity in the African Diaspora (Duke University Press, 2004) and Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology (University of Minnesota Press, 2015). In addition to many articles and essays on understanding Black identities through gender, humor, visual arts, technology, and postwar histories, she is the co-editor with Jodi Byrd of Critical Insurgencies, a new book series in collaboration with the Critical Ethnic Studies Association and Northwestern University Press (http://www.nupress.northwestern.edu/content/critical-insurgencies)

Dr. Jason R. Young, University of Buffalo
Jason R. Young is an associate professor of History at the State University of New York (SUNY), Buffalo. He is the author of Rituals of Resistance: African Atlantic Religion in Kongo and the Lowcountry Region of Georgia and South Carolina in the Era of Slavery (LSU Press, 2007) and the co-editor, with Edward J. Blum, of The Souls of W.E.B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections (Mercer University Press, 2009). He is currently conducting research toward his next book project, ‘To Make the Slave Anew’: Art, History and the Politics of Authenticity.

Dr. Julie McGee, University of Delaware (moderator)
Julie L. McGee, an art historian with specialties in African American art and contemporary African art, has published widely on contemporary African American art and South African art, with particular focus on artist and museum praxis. She joined the University Museums of the University of Delaware as curator of African American art in 2008 after a dozen years on the faculty of Bowdoin College and a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She currently serves as associate professor of Black American Studies and Art History and associate director of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center at the University of Delaware.


Fo Wilson: Eliza's Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities

All events take place in the main house at Lynden unless otherwise noted.

9:45 am Check-in.
10:00 am Welcome and introductions.
10:15 -11:00 am Explore the cabin on the grounds, select an object, observe, sketch/write (materials provided).
11:15 am-12:30 pm Moderated panel discussion
12:30-1:30 pm Lunch (provided)
1:30-2:45 pm Moderated discussion with all participants.
2:45-3:15 pm Fo Wilson responds; discussion continues.
3:15-3:30 pm Summing up.
3:30-4:00 pm Reception/informal discussion continues.


Capacity is extremely limited for this symposium, and it is essential that you register if you are planning to attend.

With so many participants traveling from Chicago, we would like to facilitate carpools. If you are interested in carpooling, we will share your email with others.

Lunch will be served, and snacks will be available at the concluding reception. Please let us know your dietary restrictions on the registration form, and we will do our best to accommodate them.

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