During the past 40 years, Spelman College and its Museum of Fine Art have assembled an impressive permanent collection of more than 350 works from acclaimed artists such as Hale Woodruff, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, iona rozeal brown and Selma Burke.

To present the collection from a unique viewpoint, the museum invited individuals from the community, including Spelman alumnae, students, faculty and staff, and friends of the museum, to select and comment on works that would be displayed as part of the new exhibition Multiple Choice: Perspectives on the Spelman College Collection. The exhibition is on view Feb. 7 through May 18, 2013.

iona rozeal brown's a3 blackface#65

Commentaries about each selected piece are available in the form of object labels and recorded video statements. Joe Jennings, director of the Spelman College Jazz Ensemble and senior instructor in the department of music, took a musical route with his commentary and videotaped a rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High” as a response to  artist Faith Ringgold’s “Groovin’ High.”

This exhibition brings fresh perspectives into the collection, said Anne Collins Smith, curator of collections. “It unearths information that may have been known by a select few, significantly adds to the documentation of the collection, and reifies that the collection is user-friendly and accessible.

“The nature of the exhibition required the museum to act in different ways, trust the process, and adjust its practices and usual timelines to allow for the magic created by the participants and their responses.”

Mae Weems’ self-portrait

Leatrice Ellzy, CEO of Beatrix Moss, a cultural curation firm, also reviewed the collection.  Several pieces by other artists caught her attention, but she decided to go with Carrie Mae Weems’ self-portrait, “I looked and looked and failed to see what so terrified you.”

“I absolutely love Carrie’s work. It’s not only aesthetically and technically beautiful, but it’s also very compelling and provocative. It’s never what it seems on the surface,” said Ellzy, a member of the Fulton County Arts Council. “Through her photography she takes us beneath the surface and forces us to deal with issues of race, class, gender and whatever else she feels like discussing at the time. I’ve always appreciated how she approaches her work. When I looked at the self-portrait, I immediately went to this idea that it was an exploration of female identity, the identity we carry with us as Black women.”

Selma Burke, Sadness

Michelle Hite, Ph.D., a lecturer in Spelman’s department of English, found identity to be a similar theme in “Les Femmes du Maroc: Harem Women Writingby Lalla Essaydi. “This piece thinks about ways in which Middle Eastern women were depicted in 19th century art. Essaydi presents them in a context that validates them,” explained Hite. “There is definitely an alliance between Carrie Mae Weems’ work and Essaydi’s pieces. Both look at identities of women that are often portrayed and say ‘that is not me.’ What Essaydi does is represent the beauty of Black women, women of color, rather than having them misrecognized in the White imagination.”

For the duration of the exhibition, visitors can contribute to the conversation by way of the museum’s social media outlets, Twitter and Facebook, and a feedback wall installed inside the museum. At the conclusion of Multiple Choice, commentaries will be entered into the permanent collections management database, placed into object files and shared through social media.

The public curating experience has had a sustained effect on Hite, who now plans to use her blog, E.M. Monroe, to record her response to art in a more public way. “I was certainly honored to have the opportunity to participate and have my response matter.”

Exhibition Programming

Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013

6:30 p.m.

Opening Reception for “Multiple Choice: Perspectives on the Spelman College Collection”

Join us for the opening celebration of the exhibition and a performance by the Joe Jennings Quartet. Don’t miss the special musical response to Multiple Choice by Joe Jennings, director of the Spelman College Jazz Ensemble.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

1 p.m.-4 p.m.

Community Day

Enjoy an arts-filled afternoon at the Museum! First, take a guided tour of Multiple Choice with our student artists. Then head to the Make-And-Take art workshop to create your own masterpiece.  Participate in an interactive dance performance and tell us your favorite works in the show.  Come early, as the first 25 families will receive a special gift!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

6:30 p.m.

The Creative Class

Celebrating of the rich legacy of bright lights that have come from the Atlanta University Center, The Creative Class is an opportunity to hear from some of the most innovative and intriguing arts professionals working today. Naima J. Keith, C’2003, assistant curator, Studio Museum in Harlem, will be in conversation with Makeba Dixon-Hill, C’2003, curator of education, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, on the beginnings of her career as an art history major at Spelman College to her most recent projects at one of the most prestigious museums in the country.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2 p.m.-4 p.m.

TellTales: A StoryCorps Partnership Culminating Performance

Join us at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art to experience our collaboration with StoryCorps, an independent nonprofit that provides Americans of all backgrounds with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve their stories. Together, we have collected interviews by and about women of the African Diaspora that are inextricably linked to art and creativity. At TellTales you will experience a fusion of dance, drama, and music in conversation with the artwork on view and recorded stories from the partnership. We invite you to come and celebrate the stories of our participants and witness what makes the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art a space for creativity, sharing, community and sisterhood.

If you would like to participate in the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art/StoryCorps partnership, contact Makeba Dixon-Hill, curator of education, at mdixon@spelman.edu. — Audrey Arthur is a senior communications specialist for the Office of Communications.