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Brittney Leeanne Williams, Untitled (Birds of Paradise), 2018; acrylic on canvas; courtesy of the artist and Alexander Berggruen, NY.

SAVANNAH, GA (September 15, 2022) — How does an artist create work about the body without the body being present? The works on view in Telfair Museums’ upcoming exhibition, Elegies: Still Lifes in Contemporary Art, consider Blackness in relation to this question. Following a successful presentation at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco, Calif., Elegies will be on view at the Jepson Center from Sept. 16-Feb. 19, 2023. The exhibition’s opening program, Telfair’s 2022 Jacob & Gwendolyn Lawrence Lecture, offers a panel discussion with the exhibition’s curator, Monique Long, and artists Brittney Leeanne Williams, David Antonio Cruz, and Elizabeth Colomba. Free and open to the public, the event will be held at the Jepson Center at 6 p.m. on Sept. 22.

Elegies brings together an ensemble of international artists who have disrupted or extended the traditional presentation of still lifes. “Elegies is an important exhibition that gathers together the diverse and compelling work of 16 leading contemporary artists who are exploring current topics of Black identity through the tradition of still lifes,” says Erin Dunn, Telfair’s curator of modern and contemporary art. The artists use various mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, printmaking, performance, and installation to create works within a framework of Black diasporic identities, histories, and collective experiences. As many of the artists are primarily known for portraiture, these still lifes represent compelling outliers in their practices. “Through updating the culturally and metaphorically-symbolic 16th- and 17th-century Dutch painting genre, the historical subject matter proves just as relevant to forefront present-day experiences, questions, and challenges,” reflects Dunn.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Grandmother's Parlour, 2016; acrylic, photographic transfers, and colored pencil on paper; courtesy of the artist.

Telfair Museums’ Lawrence Lecture series was founded in 2007 through funding provided by the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation. Presented by the museum’s membership affinity group Friends of African American Arts, Elegies’ opening event supports their mission to promote awareness and understanding of African American art. Prominent contemporary artists who have lectured as part of the series include Richard Mayhew, Radcliffe Bailey, Whitfield Lovell, Deborah Willis, and Sonya Clark. The Lawrence Lecture is free and open to the public.

This exhibition is organized by Monique Long, independent curator, with Elena Gross, former director of exhibitions and curatorial affairs, Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco. The presentation at Telfair Museums was designed in collaboration with Erin Dunn, curator of modern and contemporary art.

Participating Artists

Sadie Barnette, LaKela Brown, Elizabeth Colomba, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, David Antonio Cruz, Awol Erizku, Leslie Hewitt, Yashua Klos, Deana Lawson, Azikiwe Mohammed, Rashaad Newsome, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Devan Shimoyama, William Villalongo, Brittney Leeanne Williams

Devan Shimoyama, For Tamir VII, 2019; silk flowers, rhinestones, jewelry, canvas, found objects and chains on industrial vinyl swing seat; courtesy of the artist.

About the Curators

Monique Long

Monique Long is a writer and independent curator based in New York.

Elena Gross

Elena Gross (she/they) is the Co-Director of Berkeley Art Center and an independent writer and culture critic living in San Francisco. She received an MA in Visual & Critical Studies from the California College of the Arts in 2016, and a BA in Art History and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2012. She specializes in representations of identity in fine art, photography, and popular media. Elena was formerly the creator and co-host of the arts and visual culture podcast what are you looking at?, published by Art Practical. Her research has been centered around conceptual and material abstractions of the body in the work of Black modern and contemporary artists. She has presented her writing and research at institutions and conferences across the U.S., including Nook Gallery, Southern Exposure, KADIST, Harvard College, Yale Center for British Art, California College of the Arts, and the GLBT Historical Society Museum. In 2018, she collaborated with the artist Leila Weefur on the publication Between Beauty & Horror (Sming Sming Books). The two performed a live adaptation of their work at The Lab in San Francisco. Her most recent writing can be found in the publication This Is Not A Gun (Sming Sming Books / Candor Arts). Elena is the co-editor, along with Julie R. Enszer, of OutWrite: The Speeches that Shaped LGBTQ Culture (Rutgers University Press).

Erin Dunn

Erin Dunn is Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Telfair Museums, responsible for guiding and shaping the modern and contemporary art program. In addition to leading an ambitious schedule of original and traveling exhibitions and programs, she directs the development of Telfair’s growing contemporary permanent collection with an emphasis on underrepresented artists. Her projects are wide-ranging, but one driving focus is the interpretation and communication of social and cultural issues addressed through the medium of photography, explored previously through exhibitions like Watershed: Contemporary Landscape Photography and Youthful Adventures: Growing Up in Photography. Since joining the curatorial department in 2014, Dunn has curated numerous exhibitions including the first full-career survey of American painter Phillip J. Hampton, a retrospective of the photographer Bruce Davidson and solo exhibitions with artists Sonya Clark and Noel W Anderson. In addition, Dunn has spearheaded several exhibitions for Telfair’s #art912 initiative, which raises the visibility and promotes the vitality of artists living and working in Savannah. Dunn’s writing appears in the exhibition catalogue Feels like Freedom: Phillip J. Hampton, Late Night Polaroids: Photographs by Emily Earl, and Seven Rivers, a monograph of photographer Ansley West Rivers. She has served as a juror for art shows and calls to artists, recently the Gertrude Herbert Institute for the Arts 2022 annual exhibition A Sense of Place. Dunn holds a BA from Emory University and an MA in art history from the University of Georgia.

Related Programs

Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Lecture
Sept. 22, 6 p.m.
Jepson Center

Free and open to the public
Pre-registration required

Telfair presents a panel discussion with three contemporary artists featured in Elegies — Brittney Leeanne Williams, David Antonio Cruz, and Elizabeth Colomba, led by Monique Long, the exhibition’s curator. Colomba is best known for her paintings portraying Black women in the elegant historical settings that often excluded them. Williams is a Los Angeles-based artist whose work has been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, London, Hong Kong, and in the Venice Biennale. Cruz is an interdisciplinary artist best known for his psychological paintings.

Contemplative Viewing Experiences
Sept. 29, 6 p.m.
Jepson Center

Dec. 8, 6 p.m.
Virtual

Free admission
Pre-registration required

Engage with Telfair’s newest exhibition in a unique way through a Contemplative Viewing Experience with meditation guide Ericka Tiffany Phillips. Phillips develops mindfulness-centered, community-focused workshops for a wide range of organizations, including Google and The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Phillips will lead participants through a guided tour of Elegies: Still Lifes in Contemporary Art, incorporating mindfulness and meditation techniques to help viewers connect deeply with their sense perceptions to experience art in a fully present and awakened state of mind.

About Telfair Museums

Opened in 1886, Telfair Museums is the oldest public art museum in the South and the first U.S. museum founded by a woman. The museum features a world-class art collection in the heart of Savannah’s National Historic Landmark District and encompasses three sites: the Jepson Center for the Arts, the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters, and the Telfair Academy. For more information on Telfair Museums, visit telfair.org.