Last year Political Science Professor Rachel Ellett was chosen as the 2015 Parker Faculty Curator for her proposal, which demonstrated how a class-curated exhibit could reinforce the pedagogical goals of her Comparative Politics class. Ellet immediately began to prepare for this new version of her class by meeting with museum staff, incorporating museum time into the syllabus, and even acquiring objects; while Ellett was in South Africa during her sabbatical she purchased a set of paintings from an unrepresented South African artist whose work she felt would fit into the scope of the exhibit. Since returning, she has researched and located a significant group of artwork using South Africa as a focal point. The art is composed of works on loan from other museums in the area, and some are slated for acquisition by the Wright Museum of Art.
While researching potential work, Ellett came across the collection of the Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College and was struck by the works of an artist named Diane Victor. Victor resided in South Africa for many years and created work with strong political and social leanings--themes that Ellett knew her students would gravitate toward. After reaching out to Grinnell, the Wright Museum was able to borrow four prints and a bound edition of Victor’s later work.
Also on loan for the exhibit is a series of works from the Chazen Museum. While searching the Chazen’s database, Ellett identified six pieces from a larger collection of South African works that she felt carried enough visual weight to challenge her students. While viewing the works at the Chazen, the curator of prints and drawings mentioned that a number of the works belonged to a portfolio titled Cross Cultural Identities, assembled by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor John Hitchcock. The portfolio was created as a bridge between artists from two different continents with parallel histories; specifically the art of postcolonial indigenous people of Africa and North America. A visit with Professor Hitchcock secured the last copy of the portfolio for the Wright Museum’s permanent collection.
Digging even deeper, Ellett searched the collection of the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa. Several contemporary South African artists represented by the Goodman would have fit nicely in the exhibit, but Ellett narrowed her choices and the Wright was able to acquire three political posters by the artist Kudzanai Chiurai, and a photo by Olugbenga James Akhuemonkhan titled “Child Labor.”
Led by Ellett, the class continues to explore other ideas and objects, hoping to incorporate digital imagery and perhaps even an audio element to the exhibit. And while the artwork from Grinnell and the Chazen will be returned at the close of the show, the posters, photograph, and paintings will become part of the permanent collection at the Wright Museum, allowing future students of Ellett’s Comparative Politics class the opportunity to view, discuss, and research artwork relevant to the South African case study.