art matters

Hail, Hale!

Posted by Mari Gunn on 6 September 2011 Comments

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We are proud to announce that Catherine Hale has joined the UIMA as the new African and non-Western Art Curator. Below she tells us a little bit about her background, plans, and inspiration as the newest member of the UIMA staff.

What were you doing before you came to the UIMA?

I’ve been all over the place for the last few years.  I am currently completing my PhD at Harvard in African art so I’ve spent time in Cambridge, MA, as well as the Ashanti Region in Ghana, West Africa, and Europe for research.  I’ve also spent a few semesters in Ottawa, Canada, where I was teaching courses on African art at Carleton University and curating exhibitions for the Carleton University Art Gallery and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University.

What does a curator do?

I think that what a curator does depends on the individual as well as the institution in which they are working.  For me, curating is very much a collaborative process.  I see my job as being a liaison between art objects and the varied audiences who are stakeholders in the museum and its collections.  In other words, I try to figure out how we can think/talk about fascinating art forms from as many vantage points as possible. 

What inspires your curatorial ideas?

People and places.  You can appreciate an object’s form on its own merit but knowing about its original cultural environment, especially in the field of African art, really enriches visitors’ understanding of diverse artistic traditions.  This is always a major challenge in exhibitions of the so-called non-Western arts: how do you communicate an object’s original cultural context in a Western museum space?  One of the things I am thinking about right now is how to evoke context through different strategies of display.  For example, in a recent exhibition of textiles, I layered cloths on the wall in a way that was intended to suggest the aesthetic of an African marketplace. 

How does African art fit into the Iowa City art scene?

Since I’ve been in Iowa City for only a short period of time so far I can’t tell you exactly how African art fits into the art scene.  What I can tell you, though, is that long before coming to the UIMA I had heard about their amazing collections of African art as well as the outstanding scholarship of Professor Chris Roy.  In many ways, Iowa City was synonymous with African art for me.  I am looking forward to participating in the art scene here and making sure African art continues to play a central role.

What are your curatorial plans for the UIMA this year and for the future?

There are a number of exciting projects in the works but, since this is just my second week of work, what I am doing right now is a lot of listening.  The UIMA has a long history of excellence and I want to spend some time hearing about the collections here and the work the staff has been doing before I rush forward with any plans.  What I know for sure is that one of my key priorities will be thinking about how to make the African and other non-Western collections available to as wide a public as possible.  One of the really exciting things about coming onboard with the UIMA at this moment is the opportunity to think beyond the traditional museum space and figure out how to display art objects in new ways.