The newest exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA), ‘There Is a Woman in Every Color: Black Women In Art,” opened on Thursday. Elizabeth Humphrey ’14, the exhibition’s curator, and former BCMA Curatorial Assistant and Manager of Student Programs, was inspired to create the exhibition due to a lack of representation of Black women in the Museum’s collection.
“Early on in my tenure at the museum, there was a class during the AF/AM/50 celebration in Fall 2019 on Black women’s lives, and they asked what works could be pulled for a museum visit,” Humphrey said. “I was tasked to look into that, and during my research I noticed that there wasn’t much to pull for them in the first place.”
This realization led Humphrey to further investigate BCMA’s collection, finding a limited selection of 18th and 19th century work by and of Black women.
“We had works by Black women, but they were primarily contemporary,” Humphrey said. “We didn’t have any 19th century works [and] no 18th century works, and so I started wondering, ‘Where can we find these Black women?’”
Humphrey’s new exhibition features 61 works: with 47 of the works from Bowdoin’s collection, 35 were collected by the BCMA in the last seven years, reflecting their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
“There wasn’t a lot to choose from,” Humphrey said. “At the time of my exhibition research there were roughly 80 works in the collection that dealt with either the representation of Black women or were created by Black women artists, and so when you look at that in the grand scheme of things, it’s not really a lot.”
While curating the exhibit, Humphrey finalized plans for the show to travel to other institutions. Humphrey feels both thrilled and nervous by the prospect of her exhibit travelling beyond BCMA.
“I’ve never done my own project, and so I was excited that something that developed from my own mind was getting this much traction,” Humphrey said. “I never thought that the show would travel, and so to think about my first solo curated show having this much of a long life makes me a little anxious, but I’m hoping that it’s received well primarily by the students.”
Co-Director of the BCMA Frank Goodyear is excited about the project finally being released.
“This is the first time somebody has conceptualized a project that looks at the representation of Black women, and the artistic contributions of Black women,” Goodyear said. “It’s remarkable to think that nobody has done this before, and for that reason, a ton of credit goes to Elizabeth, and we think that this exhibition should attract wide notice—not only regionally but nationally as well.”
Co-Director of the BMCA Anne Collins-Goodyear is impressed by the breadth of artistic works that Humphrey has incorporated into her exhibition.
“I think one of the things that is so exciting about the show is that Elizabeth has really taken seriously the question of what it means to represent women of color,” Collins-Goodyear said. “She really has sought to think broadly and deeply about the ways ideas and images of Black women have taken shape over centuries, and I think it is an incredibly thought provoking and visually stimulating exhibition that we think will make it a landmark project.”
The opening of the exhibition coincides with the Office of Development and Alumni Relation’s upcoming program Leaders in All Walks of Life: Fifty Years of Women at Bowdoin, which will be held September 24 and 25. Humphrey believes that this decision is well-timed.
“I think there is something interesting about its connections—both to AF/AM/50 and the 50 year anniversary of women at the College,” Humphrey said. “I think it’s a needful reminder that Black women’s experiences need to be considered in the story of Bowdoin’s matriculation of women as well.”
The co-directors are excited for visitors to experience the exhibition in the coming months. They hope the new works prompt the community to ask new, challenging questions.
“Our hope is to give audiences an opportunity to ask themselves questions that are prompted by this exhibition,” Collins-Goodyear said. “I would say the exhibition is not so much the answer to the question as the exhibition is an opportunity to open up new questions, both to challenge and I hope also entice visitors too.”
Humphrey is hopeful that the exhibit resonates with guests beyond their visit and prompts them to question and think critically about the spaces they enter in their daily lives.
“I would hope that this exhibition highlights the plurality of experiences of Black women,” Humphrey said. “But I also hope that they realize that this exhibition is sort of an outlier. You don’t really see Black women’s experiences represented at this scale in one exhibition, and so I hope that people will go into exhibition spaces and think critically about who is represented, who is not represented and start to question why people are or are not represented at those institutions.”
“There Is a Woman in Every Color: Black Women in Art” is on view at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art from September 16 to January 22, 2022.