Willie cole: BEAUTIES

March 27–June 29, 2019

Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery
Hours: Noon–5 PM, Monday–Saturday
Byerly Hall, 8 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Opening discussion: March 26, 2019, at 5 in the Knafel Center
Reception to follow, Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery

Please register and join us.

Willy Mae ,  Carolina , and  Ida Mae , from the series  Beauties , intaglio and relief prints on paper, 2012 Images courtesy of Highpoint Editions

Willy Mae, Carolina, and Ida Mae, from the series Beauties, intaglio and relief prints on paper, 2012
Images courtesy of Highpoint Editions

Willie Cole’s Beauties are haunting, full-scale prints made from crushed and hammered ironing boards, each named after a woman from the artist’s family and cultural history. Cole has used irons and ironing as central motifs in his work for 30 years, evoking everything from African masks to slave ship diagrams to the routines of domestic servitude. In this special installation, the gallery will be lined wall to wall with the Beauties. Standing silently—like sentinels, tombstones, shrouds, or windows—the prints will open a space for confronting anew the whole range of often contradictory energies running through them: resistance and oppression, beauty and violence, labor and forbearance.

Willie Cole is a world-renowned sculptor and printmaker best known for his transformative assemblies of such household objects as steam irons, shoes, and hair dryers. He describes himself as a “contemporary artist, perceptual engineer, ecological mechanic, transformer,” and his work releases the complex histories at the intersection of African American experience, consumer culture, domestic labor, and rituals of bodily transformation. Cole studied at the Boston University College of Fine Arts, the School of Visual Arts, in New York, and the Art Students League of New York. His honors include the David C. Driskell Prize, the Saint-Gaudens Fellowship, a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant, and an artist residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. His work has been exhibited and collected by institutions around the world, including the Birmingham Museum of Art, the British Museum, the Miami Art Museum (now the Pérez Art Museum Miami), the Museum of Modern Art, the Newark Museum, and the Saint Louis Art Museum. He lives and works in Mine Hill, New Jersey.

Exhibition organized by Jennifer L. Roberts, Johnson-Kulukundis Family Faculty Director of the Arts, Radcliffe Institute, and Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

International artist Willie Cole calls himself a "perceptual engineer." He mines the visual layers of irons, ironing boards, gas hoses, high-heeled shoes, and even plastic water bottles. State of the Arts goes on location to Willie Cole's studio, and to an exhibit of his "Beauties" prints at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, where we meet curator and Harvard professor of art Jennifer L. Roberts, and Highpoint Center for Printmaking master printer Cole Rogers, who collaborated with Willie on the "Beauties." The last location is the Pingry School in New Jersey, where Willie Cole worked with the community to create a 25-foot tall "Giant" out of water bottles. Producer, Susan Wallner; Narrator, Dan Gordon; Videographers, Joe Conlon and Daniel Jacobs; Grip, Jordy Brazo. Additional video courtesy of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. Images courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York with photos by Orcutt & Van De Putten, Jason Mandella, Joerg Lohse, and Christina Price Washington. Additional photos courtesy of Highpoint Editions, AFineLyne, Raleigh Fine Art Consulting & Installation Services, and Jennifer L. Roberts.

Willie Cole: Beauties Gallery Series 

 Throughout the course of the exhibition, Harvard students, faculty, and staff, along with local community groups, will respond to Cole’s work in a series of gallery events. The series will include live performances of song, poetry, and African dance, as well as meditations and discussions on resistance and oppression, the African diaspora, domestic labor, the global economy, the enduring nature of everyday objects, the spiritual dimension of naming and repetition, and the transformational power of ironing and steam.

 All gallery series events will take place 3:30–4:30 PM, with light refreshments to follow, in the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery, Byerly Hall. 

 Registration is required. Registration will open on Tuesday, March 26. 

    Friday, April 5
    Makamo’swork focuses on the brilliance and positivity of the African child’s narrative, and the empowering visual focus on girls in particular. He works with media ranging from charcoal and acrylic to silk screen and oil paint. Makamo has exhibited in group and solo shows in South Africa, France, Italy, the United States, Amsterdam, and Scotland, among other places. He was featured on the cover of Time’s 2019 Optimists issue, guest edited by Ava DuVernay. 
    Please register and join us.

    Tuesday, April 9
    Join us for a lecture and discussion with Jennifer L. Roberts, exhibition curator, about the importance of the printmaking process in Cole’s work.Roberts is the Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities and Johnson-Kulukundis Family Faculty Director of the Arts at the Radcliffe Institute.
    Please register and join us.

    Thursday, April 11
    Join us for a short film and intimate discussion about transforming personal trauma into art, healing, and community justice. A screening of the documentary Circle Upwill be followed by a conversation with filmmaker Julie Mallozzi and film subjects Janet Connors and Clarissa Turner. The film tells the story of a group of mothers seeking justice for their murdered sons—justice that involves not revenge and incarceration, but forgiveness, accountability, and community healing.  
    Please register and join us.

    Julie Mallozziis a documentary filmmaker whose work explores the ways in which culture is “repurposed” to address contemporary social problems.  Mallozzi’s filmshave won awards at festivals around the world and screened in museums, universities, and on public television; they have been funded by ITVS,  VisionMaker Media, Sundance Documentary Fund, Mass Humanities, and LEF sFoundation.  She is passionate about using storytelling to advance social justice and enjoys presenting at schools, prisons, churches, and other community settings.  Mallozzi received her BA from Harvard University and her MFA from San Francisco Art Institute.  She has taught at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Harvard, where she is currently Administrative Director of the Film Study Centerand Lecturer in Visual and Environmental Studies.

    Janet Connors is a long-time community and social justice activist in Boston's neighborhoods.  She brings over 45 years’ experience working with youth and families in community-based organizations. Janet is a frequent public speaker and has participated on many panels at various forums locally and nationally.  She was presented a Leadership in Community and Restorative Justice Award by Howard Zehr, the Chomsky Peace and Justice Award by the Justice Studies Association, and the Mothers of Courage award by Mothers for Justice and Equality.  Janet works in schools, local and federal courts, prisons, and community settings as a circle keeper, restorative justice practitioner, and trainer.

    Clarissa Turner has significant experience working with families during important transitions in their lives. She has worked as a doula at Boston Medical Center, a counselor at A Woman’s Concern, a parent educator and counselor at St. Mary’s Home/Shelter, and a family partner at Children Services of Roxbury. The tragic loss of her son to violence in 2011 has given Clarissa a special perspective on youthful offending and the lasting impact of crime on communities. A mother of six, Clarissa founded Legacy Lives On, an organization dedicated to supporting the entire community during times of loss.  Clarissa strives to provide youth and their affected communities a sense of understanding, resilience, compassion, and empowerment to move productively past serious trauma.


    Friday, April 12
    Karlene Griffiths Sekou in collaboration with Vision Lab presents ”Unbounded: A Salute to the Beauties” featuring guest artists Azmera Hammouri-Davis, capoeira and poetry artist, and co-founder of Break the Box; Butana Molefe, a South African drummer and vocal artist, and special interview with Jovonna Jones is a historian and theorist of race, aesthetics, and culture in the United States. She’s committed to black space wherever we find and create it. “Unbounded” also features Vision Lab collaborative artists Kythe Heller, Michelle Bentsman, and Andrew Staffer.
    Please register and join us.


    Thursday, April 18
    It has become commonplace to appeal to the notion of "lived experience" when thinking about how members of established social groups respond to the world differently. But how exactly does this phenomenon work? In other words, why is it possible for people from different socially conditioned backgrounds to perceive some objects of experience in fundamentally distinct ways? The purpose of this presentation is to offer an intuitive way for thinking about how a person's life experience can be shaped by their knowledge or ignorance of certain dominant forms of oppression—ultimately informing how they see certain things external to their consciousness.  Led by Darien Pollock, accompanied by Miguel Santiago.

    Darien Pollock is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University. The core of his research centers on the development of a philosophical method that he calls "street philosophy." In addition to his work as an academic philosopher, Darien is the founder and president of the Street Philosophy Institute, Inc. (SPI), a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting research in the areas of public philosophy and civic engagement.

    Miguel Santiago is a current master’s candidate at the Harvard Graduate School for Education studying Educational Policy and Management. He also currently serves as a graduate fellow for Hip Hop Ex (HHEX), an innovative learning lab that explores the relationships between hip hop and education, as well as a research assistant for the ASH Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Kennedy School. His journey begins in Stone Mountain, GA, being raised in a household that placed music and education at the forefront of his upbringing. Upon being the first in his family to attend and graduate college, he embarked upon a career in education. He taught high school English in the Mississippi Delta for a year before transitioning back to his hometown of Atlanta to work in several Metro-Atlanta public schools to implement remediation programs that developed stronger literacy skills. He then made the transition into the world of higher education for the next 5 years, focusing on college access for first gen Black and Latinx youth across the country. He worked as an Associate Director of Diversity Recruitment for Hampshire College while also becoming the leader of a non-profit coalition of universities and colleges (NECBAC) working to create more bridges of access for underserved Black and Latinx students. At the core of Miguel’s work in secondary and higher education, Hip Hop, Blues, and the art of storytelling have always served as powerful instruments in grounding his own identity while also empowering his students to find strength and beauty within their own.
    Please register and join us.



    Monday, April 29
    Our nation’s incarcerated youth are arguably our most marginalized and forgotten population. While some in our nation continue to facilitate equity conversations, the reality is bleak: Children of color, children of poverty, children with special needs, and children who identify as LGBTQ-NC, are disproportionately represented within our juvenile “justice” system.  And, without a high-quality education program while incarcerated, their growth and potential for excellence are further hindered. Frederick Douglass once said, “If a man is without education…he is a poor prisoner without hope…Education, on the other hand, means emancipation.”  It’s time to emancipate all our youth; and, that means we must provide every child with a high-quality education! Led by Lynette Tannis, an expert on juvenile justice education and adjunct lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
    Please register and join us.


    Friday, May 3

    Most accounts of global justice tend to focus on the obligations of developed/rich countries toward poor/developing countries. But the question to identify what developing/poor countries themselves owe to their own citizens has received little attention. Theorists of global justice tend to assume that poor countries need help and implicitly presume that their obligations toward their own citizens, if any, are weaker than developed countries’ and may be limited to accepting help or assistance from developed countries and managing it efficiently and fairly. Relying on the African context and using the case of the human right to health (care), Dr. Thierry Ngosso suggests a theoretical agenda that will challenge that implicit presumption. The focus is only on the big picture on how we must think about the obligations that African societies themselves have regarding the right to health of their own people.
    Please register and join us.

    Monday, May 6
    Chapin learned how to iron for her very first job as a dresser with a Shakespeare company in 1991. Twenty years later, she was designing Broadway musicals; 30 years later, she'll graduate from Harvard with a PhD in American Studies. In this lecture, Chapin will share her journey from doing the laundry to researching it for her dissertation—on the history of male evening dress—in a discussion of materiality, tacit knowledge, and ironing tips. 

    Chloe Chapin, a former professional costume designer, is now a PhD candidate in the American Studies Program at Harvard University. Chapin has an MFA in design from the Yale School of Drama, an MA in Fashion and Textile Studies from the Fashion Institute of Technology, and an AM in History from Harvard University. She has taught fashion history and costume design at FIT, Parsons The New School of Design, Reed College, and Tufts University, and has been a MacDowell Fellow and a Fulbright Scholar. Her research focuses on fashion and gender—typically the history of men’s suits.
    Please register and join us.



    Tuesday, May 7
    Join us for a moving exploration and interpretation of the stories and processes invoked by Willie Cole's Beauties. Aysha Upchurch is a dancer, instructor, and education consultant whose work, in classrooms and on stages, weaves together youth voice, social inclusion, and decolonized arts education. Part performance and part cypher, she will offer her own danced conversation with the exhibit and invite audience members to listen and contribute with their bodies as well. Upchurch is on faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education teaching courses on embodied learning and Hip Hop pedagogy.
    Please register and join us.


    Thursday, May 9
    Kuumba is a Swahili word that means to create and we take that to mean doing what we can with what we have to leave a space better than we found it. This mission permeates and motivates our performances, our community work, and our unabashed celebration of Black art. We firmly believe that Black art sustains and directs our culture; it reminds us of our past, makes us mindful of the present, and gives us hope and guidance for the future. Join us as we celebrate and uplift Beauties through the power of song, and hopefully, you will leave better than you came.


Willie Cole’s Beauties invite viewers to forge thematic connections across objects and disciplines, and to explore the ways in which works of visual art can serve as a basis for primary source-based research. In an effort to support continued intellectual engagement with Cole’s Beauties, a slideshow is available for download that includes primary source materials across Harvard’s collections that engage with the broad themes of ironing, laundry, and pressure.

For access to the slideshow, please email ventures@radcliffe.harvard.edu.