Walker Art Center
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Interactions/Intersections: Cultural Globalism and Educational Practice


of healing and the role of the arts in creating a path toward further understanding. These programs illuminated the complexities of Asian cultures through historical and artistic aspects to offer a better understanding of and respect for Asian art traditions, while avoiding viewing this production as an "exotic" Asian piece.

This experience and other residency programs in which I've partnered with Hmong, Ethiopian, and Somali community groups have taught me the importance of being familiar with their cultural backgrounds. We need to be aware of a community's history, religion, thought patterns, immediate concerns, and how different generations of the community interact with one another. You have to do your homework to better understand their cultural context before you ask them to be involved in artistic programs or partnerships.

SS: I'd like to move on to address shifts in the way the Walker is working curatorially. Because we often use the permanent collection as a teaching tool, it's crucial that the collection itself continues to evolve and is reflective of this, that it becomes more global in its representation of non-Western or non-European art.

CA: With WACTAC, it's a point of pride for them that the Walker's collection is more than one canon of art history, that we tell multiple stories. And this has only become possible with the work that we have collected over the last ten years.

SS: Is there a difference in how we present so-called global contemporary art as opposed to any other contemporary work we show?

SR: All artworks need to be unpacked. Young people in particular are not always going to understand the context just by looking at the artwork. I was talking with a group of fifth graders in the galleries yesterday about Kazuo Shiraga's Untitled (1959) and Kara Walker's Endless Conundrum, an African Anonymous Adventuress (2001). They were impressed with the Shiraga piece, but didn't understand the impulse behind the artist's choices until we talked a little bit about Japanese history, particularly in the postwar period. Then they understood better. They certainly noticed the violent imagery in Kara Walker's piece, but without an explanation I don't think they understood why that image was being presented on the wall.

SS: This is a good example of how the global advisory committee has pushed us to be more expansive in our understanding of history. Has collecting work from outside American and European perspectives inspired us to be intellectually, historically, and humanistically more expansive and rigorous in general, in our approach to Western as well as to non-Western works?

CA: I find that works from other continents are actually easier to explain to our audiences because nobody expects to get it right away--it is less intimidating. The addition of the "foreign" element lets people off the hook, so they don't feel dumb for not understanding the art. With a Rauschenberg, however, we think we should understand it--he's American, that's our history. But a lot of people don't understand it, including art historians.

SS: So we're learning to avoid assumptions about what we already know as well as what we don't know.

CA: It makes me wonder whether it has been given the attention, and the reexamination, that we give to less familiar, less Western works.

KMS: That also gets into the area of how best to engage the audience. For instance, looking at Yayoi Kusama's work, if you know something about the history of women in Japan, that will make a big difference in how you embrace the work.

SS: What are some of the ways we can help our visitors understand these issues? Do you think it's important for viewers to know the nationality of the artist in order to understand the work, or do you think that type of information is irrelevant?

KMS: Defining artists by nationality is very problematic. How do you define where someone comes from in such a nomadic world? Does one's identity stem from where he or she was born? Where he or she currently lives?