Curator Ames Hawkins on the Cultural Rhetorics Exhibition
An art exhibition may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of an academic conference on rhetoric, but the two came together at the recent Cultural Rhetorics Conference hosted by MSU. Navigating the connection between art and academia was the challenge of the exhibition’s curator, Dr. Ames Hawkins, who is an associate professor and associate chair in the English Department at Columbia College Chicago.
Dr. Hawkins interacting with an art exhibit. Photo by Hannah Countryman
The Cultural Rhetorics Conference brought together a diverse group of scholars, artists, speakers, and students to discuss the intersection of rhetoric and culture. As a part of this conference, an art exhibition was installed at REACH gallery in Lansing. As curator, Dr. Hawkins created the vision for the exhibition. She selected the artists and pieces, oversaw the installationand deinstallation, and composed the accompanying art program. She says she was interested in creating an exhibition with a
diverse range of contributors and projects. “I was thinking about folks who straddle different kinds worlds [and] how meaning-making works between identities-- scholar and artist and community member,” she said. In an essay included in the program, she notes, “Not all artists here directly identify with the field of Cultural Rhetorics. What they do seem to share is an interest in collaboration and community."
Hawkins urged visitors “to consider the connections and constellations between the pieces.” To facilitate this, the program included word maps visually representing the connections and common ideas among the pieces being shown and the people who created them. “I couldn’t ignore the fact that the stories behind the work, stories connected to the stated identities of the individuals, appeared as relevant to me as the work itself,” she said.
Alex Hidalgo and Shewonda Leger document art installations. Photo by Hannah Countryman
The exhibition showcased a wide range of creative scholars and artists. Dr. Hawkins says of the contributors, “However they identify, their work has a common thread of being intellectually driven by the ideas of the Cultural Rhetorics Conference, the importance of storytelling as part of methodology [and] the relational aspects of connection building.”
Written for WRAC by Jay Hull