Reflecting on Theaster Gates
Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories
Having made its U.S. debut at the Colby College Museum of Art, Theaster Gates’s Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories features nearly 3,000 images from the Johnson Publishing Company photographic archive. The presentation of this body of work was drawn from Gates’s Black Madonna exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 2018. The Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories is part of his larger endeavor, Black Image Corporation, a project addressing the projection of images into the world and the power dynamics inherent to archives.
Founded in 1942, Chicago-based Johnson Publishing chronicled the lives of Black Americans for more than seven decades through the magazines Ebony and Jet, which Gates has described as “an early platform for self-healing” for Black Americans. Gates’s work recontextualizes and makes visible anew these images and their histories as The Facsimile Cabinet is both a repository of the archive and a participatory project . Visitors to the exhibition were invited to take out the photographs stored in the cabinet’s many shelves and engage directly with these rich and varied representations by creating new sequences of framed images on the cabinet’s shelves.
Presented by the Colby College Museum of Art in collaboration with the Lunder Institute for American Art, Theaster Gates’s Facsimile Cabinet of Women Origin Stories inspired creative research by selected Lunder Institute guests. Archivists, image-rights attorneys, anthropologists, and librarians, dermatologists as well as visual artists, filmmakers, writers, and art historians participated in one-day residencies, spending uninterrupted time with Gates’s piece and reflecting on its significance through the lens of their particular area of expertise. These reflections will be included in forthcoming print and digital publications, available in summer 2020.
Tile and banner photos: Luc Demers
Photo accompanying text: Gabe Souza