Henry Art Gallery's New Senior Curator on the Role of Art in Challenging Times

Her first installation, Edgar Arceneaux’s "Library of Black Lies," explores "how history is constructed—for and by whom—and the multiplicity of 'truth'”
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This article appears in print in the November 2018 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Shamim Momin arrives at a time when many artists, arts administrators and museums are feeling a new sense of urgency in the face of the country’s political and cultural divide. Now more than ever, she says, an arts organization’s role is to directly ask the audience to think about the world around them, and to “present art exhibitions and programs that innovate and stimulate.” Momin will bring one such installation, a project she previously commissioned as curator of public-art nonprofit Los Angeles Nomadic Division from Pasadena artist Edgar Arceneaux: his 2013 walk-through labyrinth, “Library of Black Lies."

The piece expands on Winston Churchill’s famous observation: Not only is history “written by the victors,” it’s bent to their own ends. Arceneaux’s structure contains wooden bookshelves lined with mirrors and Mylar, and is filled with books coated with snow-like sugar crystals, literally “whitewashed,” obscured by whiteness. Yet the crystals are alive: “They actually grow like the branches of a tree,” the artist explains, and “continue to breathe in and exhale the moisture in the room.” As Momin sees it, “This is what the Henry’s vision—to expand thinking through transformative experiences with contemporary art—embodies.”

Edgar Arceneaux’s "Library of Black Lies." 11/17–6/2/2019. Times and prices vary. Henry Art Gallery, University District, 4100 15th Ave. NE; 206.543.2280; henryart.org


Exterior view of Edgar Arceneaux's "Library of Black Lies." Photo via henryart.org

Check out Momin's extended comments below:

Momin: The Henry has long been one of my favorite contemporary art museums, with a balance of scale and presence that enables it to embrace many conversations—with the Seattle community directly as well as the national/international art world. I must admit I am still getting to know Seattle overall, but in my past experience, I’ve always found its residents incredibly civic-minded, with a strong cultural community that truly seems to care and collaborate on what the city can and should be. My first entrée to Seattle years ago was via the literary community, which has always seemed to me to resonate on a deeper level here than many others; in fact, it struck me this morning on my bus ride to the office (I am a huge fan of public transportation) that everyone was reading print books/material, and only one was on their phone!

As I am getting to know the fantastic team here at the museum, I am so looking forward to collaborating on plans for the next exhibition cycle. There are exciting exhibitions already upcoming this fall, notably Nina Bozicnik’s “Between Bodies” [through April 28, 2019], a group show that explores very timely concerns of humanness, technology and the increasingly false division of nature and culture. I am also thrilled to bring Edgar Arceneaux’s “Library of Black Lies” to the Henry [Nov. 18–June 2], a project that I previously commissioned that embraces the artist’s ongoing excavation of how history is constructed—for and by whom—and the multiplicity of “truth.”

On the role that art and arts organizations can and should play in times such as these (so challenging on all levels—politically, culturally, socially, internationally): This is when I feel our ongoing responsibility to present art exhibitions and programs that innovate and stimulate, and ask the audience to think about the world around them, becomes ever more poignant. All change and movement begins with passion, belief, investigation and openness, and this is what the Henry’s vision—to expand thinking through transformative experiences with contemporary art—embodies.

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