The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Saturday, March 2, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

'Kind of a dream come true': Ackland Upstairs highlights N.C. Black Feminisms and more

The Ackland Upstairs exhibition is pictured on Feb. 23, 2022 at the Ackland Museum in Chapel Hill.

A brief ascent to the second floor of the Ackland Art Museum leads museum-goers to Ackland Upstairs, an evolving exhibit where the art changes every eight weeks.

The space, separated into galleries, contains artwork by different artists — all of varying mediums. The current installation opened Jan. 10. 

Many of the galleries have been curated by UNC professors in tandem with their class coursework. 

The courses include "First Year Seminar: North Carolina Black Feminisms," "Introduction to Fiction Writing," "Picture That: History of Photography from Tintypes to Instagram," "Literary Approaches to American Studies" and "Research Methods in Film Studies: Histories of Moviegoing."

Martin Johnson, an associate professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, teaches "Histories of Moviegoing." On Tuesday, he took his class to the exhibit. 

He made sure to include movie posters from the late 19th to early 20th century for his students to analyze. His gallery includes several works of art, such as a satirical poster by the Guerilla Girls for a fictional movie entitled “The Birth of Feminism,” which features images of Pamela Anderson, Halle Berry and Catherine Zeta-Jones casted as Gloria Steinem, Flo Kennedy and Bella Abzug, respectively.

“I wanted to have my students figure out which movies the posters are for, but also to get to think about posters and artwork and what it means to look at a poster as art as opposed to advertising or just a kind of reservoir of information,” Johnson said.

Johnson said his class focuses on the history of moviegoing and movie culture on a global scale. 

Antonia Randolph, a sociologist who teaches "North Carolina Black Feminisms," said her class centers on different aspects of Black feminist thought and practice. 

“There’s an absence of Black women’s figure in art except as objects to be stared at,” Randolph said.

Figures featured in Randolph's class include singer Nina Simone, essayist and poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs and ninth poet laureate of North Carolina Jaki Shelton Green.

“Another way to think about Black feminist creative expression is to look at visual arts and the most direct inspiration for using visual art,” Randolph said.

Randolph said she wants students to ask themselves what it is like for Black feminist artists to try to represent themselves in portraiture.

“An artist representing a Black woman might emphasize different things about those identities than a Black woman might emphasize about themselves,” Randolph said. 

In addition to students learning about different representations of Black women in art, the class is painting self-portraits, Randolph said. She wants her class to consider the idea of what it means to represent yourself or to be represented by someone else. 

Galilea Jones-Valdez, a first-year in Johnson’s "North Carolina Black Feminisms" class, said she painted a self-portrait in the fashion of an animated character with exaggerated, big eyes. She drew inspiration from the visual style of Disney animated characters. 

One feature she wanted to include were the moles on her face. 

“People might not notice them but I love them,” Jones-Valdez said. 

Jones-Valdez said her classmates experimented with colors and abstract art, noting that everyone’s self-portrait will differ depending on what they love about themselves and want to showcase.

Randolph said that having students create self-portraits can work toward deepening their understanding of ideas in the class.

“Working using these visual arts is kind of a dream come true," she said.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

The current installations at Ackland Upstairs will be available to view until March 20. 

@laurennfich I