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Wilson Library features 'Every Book A Mirror' art collection

Wilson Library's current exhibition, 'Every Book a Mirror,' confronts present-day social issues through artists' books and zines from the Sloane Art Library's collection. The exhibit, housed in Wilson Library's Special Collections room, is photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.

A new exhibit has premiered in Wilson Library’s North Carolina Collection Gallery. 

The title of the exhibit comes from a quote by Michael Ende: “Is not every book a mirror in which the reader is reflected?”

"Every Book a Mirror: Book Artists Engage with the 21st Century" is a collection of artists' books, zines and other art forms that bring light to current issues — both national and international. 

Co-curator and Sloane Art Library Manager Josh Hockensmith said the works in the exhibit represent a mirror that is both reflecting back at the viewer and reflecting society to the viewer. 

The exhibit features works from creators of varying identities — tackling numerous social and environmental issues of the 21st century. Some of the topics include queer visibility, the experience of being Black in America, the presence of Indigenous people, the coronavirus pandemic and migration. 

“We really made a conscious effort to feature the work of BIPOC artists and LGBTQIA+ artists,” Hockensmith said. “It’s a way to feature work by artists of those identities, but at the same time, engage with audience members who are not of those identities — to see this work and empathize with it.”  

The exhibit was curated using artists’ books rather than conventionally printed books because they push the viewer to search for meaning using all aspects of the work, Hockensmith said. 

“They use everything about it to contribute to the meaning instead of just words on the page or a picture with a caption,” he said. 

Professor Jocelyn Glazier uses artists’ books in some of her instruction at UNC for this reason.

She said these books challenge her students’ traditional conceptions of what reading can be and helps them better connect with the experiences of the author. 

“It makes reading more of an active, empathetic, engaged and involved experience,” Glazier said.  

Glazier also recognizes the impact this genre of art has had on her personal understanding of the works. 

“The books allow me an opportunity to learn as much about myself as I learn about the topics and artists that are reflected in those books,” she said. 

Margaret Steitz, a graduate assistant at the Sloane Art Library, said this type of art is unique for various reasons. 

“I feel like what makes them really special is even though it’s labeled as a book it can really take any form,” she said. “It kind of bridges a connection between the artist and the reader and makes a very intimate experience.” 

"Every Book a Mirror" is the largest exhibition of artists’ books and zines at UNC since 2010, Hockensmith said. The Sloane Art Library regularly puts together small exhibits, but the North Carolina Collection Gallery provided the opportunity to create a display on a much larger scale. 

Hockensmith hopes the exhibit will not only bring light to various 21st-century issues, but also bring attention to the Special Collections at UNC. Many students are unfamiliar with available University Libraries resources, he said. 

“A problem that faces Special Collections librarians everywhere is we have these wonderful things and we want to share them with people, but we also have to protect them so they’re in kind of closed collections,” Hockensmithsaid. “We wanted to get them out there and have them seen by more people.”

Linda Jacobson, keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery, has similar hopes for the exhibit. 

She said many former UNC students who visit Wilson Library for the first time post-graduation regret not using the resource while it was easily accessible. 

“I feel like it's another campus experience, in addition to some of the other things students will do during their four years here, that would enrich their experience if they knew more about what Wilson had to offer,” she said. 

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In conjunction with the exhibit, there are a few opportunities to further engage with the work. 

Ashley Minner will be holding a virtual book talk on her work featured in the exhibit, "The Exquisite Lumbee", on Feb. 16. The Artists’ Books Book Club will also meet on the fourth Friday of each month to discuss various books and zines from the exhibit. 

"Every Book a Mirror" will remain in Wilson Library until July 12, and is open for visitation on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.