What is real beauty? And how do our perceptions of beauty influence our beliefs?
Several hundred people arrived at the Delaware Art Museum on Sunday intent on exploring those questions. The museum’s special event, Picturing Beauty: Celebrating Real Women, was designed to engage the broader community in a discussion about beauty and perception, bringing together speakers and performers to consider and elaborate on those themes and their relation to art.
The museum galleries were filled with discovery — from the energy of young students with Girls Inc. who performed a ‘What is Beauty?’ skit on stage to the rhythm of drop-in portrait drawing and photography classes to a mirror-decorating booth and a special soul poetry corner where artist Saliym Cooper used an old manual typewriter to come up with poems about his drop-by subjects after meeting them for less than a minute.
The full day of activities was developed in partnership with Girls Inc. of Delaware, One Village Alliance, the University of Delaware and the YWCA to complement two current Museum exhibitions focusing on gender and gender identity: Posing Beauty in African American Culture (runs through Jan 6, 2020), an exhibition curated by Dr. Deborah Willis; and Angela Fraleigh: Sound the Deep Waters (through April 12, 2020).
Local artisans also had pop-up displays, including visual artist J The Artist with her vibrantly-colored portraits of artists Frida Kahlo, Jean-Michel Basquiat and pop singer Rihanna and another who sold boldly-colored African clothing and accessories, all made by hand.
“Our goal for today was to have the audience of visitors see themselves represented in the arts positively and to also think about what beauty means,” said Saralyn Rosenfield, director of learning and engagement at the museum. “We also are prompting a discussion around how standards have changed but also encouraging women to feel empowered to seek out creative careers,” she said.
“We are exposed to so many polarizing images of girls and women that spread unrealistic ideas of beauty,” says Terra L. Harris, executive director of Girls Inc. of Delaware. “We really want them [the girls in their program] to start early, having a respect and a concept that beauty can be what you describe it to be. The arts provide a lens for girls and women to see themselves positively, and build their confidence for the future,” she said.
The afternoon program included a moderated conversation between exhibiting artist Angela Fraleigh and MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow Dr. Deborah Willis, curator of Posing Beauty, whose research focuses on cultural histories envisioning the black body, women, and gender.
Picturing Beauty was created by the Museum as part of their wider strategic plan to become a more inclusive creative hub where the community comes together to foster dialogue around art.
“Female artists and artists of color are historically underrepresented in museums,” says Rosenfield. “As the Museum prioritizes exhibiting and collecting artwork by women and artists of color, we want our diverse community of girls and women to see themselves positively represented here, engage and learn from successful female artists, and use the power of the arts to express their creative voice.”