A new exhibit in Albemarle County is curated by six women of color and filled with art and fine crafts by 25 other women of color — and it all opens this week with a party.
“With Her Hands: Women’s Fiber Art from Gapuwiyak: The Louise Hamby Gift” will open during July’s Night at the Museum event from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia.
Each of the undergraduate curatorial students — Barrianne Franks, Antoinette Griffin, Hannah Jeffries, Helen Martinez, Diana Proenza and Victoria Morales Rodriguez — will present a short “flat-chat” tour to give visitors a better understanding of some of the works on view. The pieces were created between 1996 and 2013 by 25 different artists.
Night at the Museum gives people a chance to enjoy the art inside the museum and relax outdoors on the grounds with music by the Sally Rose Band, beer from Champion Brewery, wine from Knight’s Gambit Winery and food from The Pie Guy, Mouth Wide Open and Got Dumplings food trucks.
Master fiber artists Lucy Malirrimurruwuy Wanapuyngu and her daughter, emerging artist Anna Ramatha Malibirr, will attend, as will Louise Hamby.
Hamby, an anthropologist, professor and collector who acquired her first Northern Australian basket in 1991, recently gave 100 works of fiber art to Kluge-Ruhe. The new exhibit gives visitors an opportunity to grasp the spectrum of Indigenous Australian fiber art from everyday objects to special items reserved for ceremonial use, and the Hamby Collection at Kluge-Ruhe will give scholars around the world a place to study fiber art by Aboriginal women artists.
Visitors will see 30 necklaces adorned with shells, nuts and various seeds. Sculptures in the collection include a kangaroo, a crocodile and a canoe. Ceremonial objects include headbands and armbands with deep cultural and spiritual significance. And there are many functional everyday objects crafted from pandanus palm, ranging from baskets and mats to purses and string bags.
“In the Western art world, we still make these distinctions between fine art and craft,” said Lauren Maupin, manager of education and programs at Kluge-Ruhe. “Their art is not just pretty pictures. There is a lot of meaning to be conveyed.”
There’s room in the artists’ worlds for sacred and mundane objects, so the exhibit makes room for both.
“Objects fall on the spectrum from sacred and connected to ancestral stories to daily use and less sacred,” Maupin said.
In addition to giving more people a chance to see the depth and breadth of fiber art by women, “With Her Hands” offers a boost to a new generation of curators.
The curatorial students are working this summer with Kluge-Ruhe curator Henry F. Skerritt and two UVa graduate students from the English department, Eva Latterner and Cassie Davies. They are learning not only about the specific artists and their work, but also the endless details of creating exhibitions
Admission to Night at the Museum is $5. Members get in for free, and it’s possible to sign up for a family membership while you’re there.
The exhibit will remain until April 5, 2020, at Kluge-Ruhe, which is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to Indigenous Australian art.
To learn more, go to kluge-ruhe.org.