The pieces were set and the theme decided, but Hanna Girma still couldn’t think of a name for her debut art show.
The fourth-year world arts and cultures student had worked with eight artists, some of whom were acquaintances of her professors and some her personal friends. They had responded with disparate works, such as a long and thick braid trailing across the gallery floor and videos of police brutality flashing along the walls, which depict Black female retaliation against prejudice.
Girma decided to name her show “Lost Wax,” opening Friday, after the method of lost-wax bronze casting.
As an intern at the Getty Museum, Girma learned about lost-wax bronze casting, the process of creating a bronze replica from a wax mold, and watched videos about the art form. The bronze kept the shape of the wax mold and formed a statue, while the wax mold could be carved or melted down into something else.
To Girma, the malleable wax mold represented the multidimensionality of the Black woman, and the bronze statue represented the unidimensionality of the stereotypes and prejudice targeted at the Black female body.
“The stereotypes we’ve been consuming have persisted our entire lives, and bronze casting is such an archaic practice,” Girma said. “A person is ever-changing, but the bronze is stuck in place forever.”
For her senior project, Girma curated her show with pieces that examine how Black women could carve out their own spaces, overcome racism and assert themselves as more than just objects through art and performance.
At the beginning of the school year she chose to curate a show instead of giving a TED-style talk to her classmates, because she wasn’t sure how to convey such complicated topics in one presentation.
She reached out to artists from California to New York, and they agreed to contribute pieces reflecting the theme. One of the artists was her friend, third-year art student Troyese Robinson, who had been working on a video project that represented the subtle violence that affects the Black community.
Robinson had always been interested in social justice because of her three identities: Black, female and queer. Art, she said, was the easiest way to express her emotions and channel her frustrations into something productive.
“My making art based on social activism was intuitive,” Robinson said.
Jasmine Nyende, a new media artist, said her piece was heavily influenced by the idea that the stage is haunted by the auction block.
For her, the stage was not only a place of performance but also a place where slavery occurred, where Black people were bought, sold and auctioned off as objects.
Nyende said her question was how to reclaim the stage as a place to perform on, though it was marred by the history of slavery. She created a clown-like character, named Jeff Koon, who makes balloon animals and hosts an art auction on the stage of a minstrel show.
“The stage is haunted by the selling of Black bodies,” Nyende said. “How do you live in a world where that happened on the same stage? How do you breathe in a world where the stage presented that option?”
In putting together the show, Girma said she spoke for hours with each artist, trying to learn more about their artwork and the motivation behind it. Girma said through the conversations, she realized they had put into art the microaggressions and racism she had experienced her whole life.
Girma said people often didn’t take her ideas seriously because Black people are stereotypically supposed to be funny and not serious. But what Girma enjoyed the most about each piece was that it did not trumpet a loud message.
Each piece, Girma said, imparts a subtle lesson to each viewer, allowing room for interpretation and conversation.
“Life is like a performance,” Girma said. “But all these artists, even if they’re not blatantly reshowing images of violence and prejudice, are still in dialogue with them.”