First Person: Eric Gottesman

James Schwab

Curatorial Assistant

Eric Gottesman

Eric Gottesman

Recently, museum staff had the  pleasure of welcoming Eric Gottesman to our community as he engaged children in a collaborative exercise and presented about his book, Sudden Flowers, as well as some of his other projects. Featured in our temporary exhibition, Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engage, Gottesman is a photographic artist and organizer whose work asks audiences to question social structures that surround them. He is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Fulbright Fellowship in art, and was named one of the top 25 young American photographers.

During his thought-provoking presentation, Gottesman discussed his background as an artist, including how he established his foothold in the world of contemporary art. Surprisingly, Gottesman reflected that he had never intended on becoming an artist. In fact, he initially started his career with a degree in politics and economics, a far cry from a traditional arts education.  When presented with an opportunity to travel to Ethiopia as a photographer, Gottesman seized the chance to escape an office setting that he was quickly growing tired of. What he found on his journey was an opportunity for artistic collaboration that changed his path forever.

Gottesman presents about his work in the recital hall.

Gottesman presents about his work in the recital hall.

Gottesman recalled that before traveling to Ethiopia, his understanding of African culture was severely misguided; the African narrative presented to him had been one of starvation and suffering. Too often he had seen magazines plastered with images of the malnourished, a singular representation of a whole nation that seemed to bolster an American hero complex.  Gottesman wanted to reimagine the way that Africa was depicted and create images that give a voice to the complexity of cultures he encountered.

Gottesman's work hanging in Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engage

Gottesman’s work hanging in Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engage

One problem Gottesman faced while tackling this goal, however, was that many people did not want their identities to be revealed in photographs. The protection of anonymity was a matter of personal safety for many African people – being identified as HIV positive or otherwise ‘defunct’ could result in being communally ostracized. His solution became a cornerstone of his artistic process: by allowing the people he encountered to help him compose his images, he placated their need for privacy while still creating emotionally evocative photographs. For Gottesman, this formed an interesting shift in the power dynamics between photographer and subject that he wished to explore further.

Pushing the boundaries of authorship availed the opportunity to form a collective that came to be known as Sudden Flowers (a self-given name and the title of Gottesman’s book about the experience), a group of orphaned children whose parents died due to the AIDS crisis. Gottesman worked with the children to create hundreds of photographs that documented the reality of their lives in Africa. Through prompts such as, “what would you be if you weren’t who you are,” and, “photograph your future, present, and past,” Gottesman relinquished the power of creative license to the children. The group quickly gained popularity, garnering the involvement of local youth, but eventually he capped participation off at 25 members. Gottesman found that the voices of the children presented far more interesting and authentic narratives of African culture than those he had ever encountered.

Additionally, Gottesman helped create films with the Sudden Flowers that explored personal histories and provided viewers with a haunting look into their experience. Actors would portray memories or popular stories, directing the shots alongside Gottesman until the boundaries of individual creation no longer existed. One peculiar aspect about these short films are the partial masks that the children perform in. Originally used to protect actors’ identity, the veils became symbols of their treatment by society, in which they are isolated, abandoned and erased. Their eerie presence conceals suffering while simultaneously revealing it. As we watched an excerpt of a film in which an HIV-positive man swallows poison only to have his lifeless body discovered by his children and wife, their harrowingly realistic lamentation seemed far too accessible for the young actors.

Gottesman signs his book, Sudden Flowers, during the reception after his talk.

Gottesman signs his book, Sudden Flowers, during the reception after his talk.

After the talk, I spoke with senior Intermedia student, Dan Martens, who had met Gottesman earlier in the day during one of his visits to Martens’ photography class. Martens said that he could, “tell [Gottesman] is very genuine,” in regards to his art, and that even though he had seen his work already, the talk extended his understanding and appreciation of the work. Mark Sawrie, associate professor of art, was a bit more critical of Gottesman. Sawrie noted that although some of the images stood on their own aesthetically, many were not just, “eye candy,” although they had powerful backstories that were necessary for appreciating the art and extending social theory surrounding African cultures.

Gottesman also worked with a group of graduate students, the museum, and children from different community groups within Muncie on an activity that discussed listening—what it means to be a good listener and why it is an important skill. Afterwards, the children placed dots on a ‘listening map’ indicating places where they felt heard, not heard, and sometimes heard. In the coming weeks, the children will go to these locations and take photographs of the places where they are or aren’t heard, or of people who hear or don’t hear them. These photos will be displayed in the museum along with one large listening map decorated with each student’s dots.

Overall, I found Gottesman’s presentation both enlightening and emotionally impactful. It left me thinking critically about worldwide disparities, feeling thankful for the opportunities I have been granted, and awestruck by the determination of the human spirit. I would strongly encourage any readers to do themselves the favor of looking into his work and the issues it surrounds. His website can be found here.

A still from Gottesman's video, Oromaye (Introduction), available to view in the temporary exhibition gallery.

A still from Gottesman’s video, Oromaye (Introduction), available to view in the temporary exhibition gallery.

Make sure that you stop by the museum to check out Gottesman’s photographs in Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engage (de-installed May 3rd), in which he brings attention to the life of Baalu Girma, an Ethiopian writer who suddenly went missing after publishing a novel critiquing the oppressive Derg regime in 1983. Additionally, check out the unique perspectives of our community’s children when their listening map and photographs are installed in May!

Final Friday: Artist Demonstrations and Entertaining Talks

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Regan Kelly
Education Assistant

On March 27th, David Owsley Museum of Art held the Final Friday for March 2015. For those who haven’t been before, Final Friday at DOMA is an event that has been held in the Fall and Spring on the last Friday of the month since Fall 2014. There are activities, food, music, and a group of short, fun presentations powered by PechaKucha. Fast-paced presentations are given by different people, often community members, with PowerPoints that have 20 slides and play for 20 seconds per slide. Artists were seated in the Sculpture Court with yarn spinning demonstrations and illustrations, and DJJNELL mixed music for visitors from the balcony.

Drew and his spinning wheel, photographed by Emma Rogers

Drew Sumwalt and his spinning wheel

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Drop spindle demonstration by April Carvahlo

First, April Carvalho and Drew Sumwalt gave demonstrations on spinning. April had a drop spindle and Drew had a spinning wheel to show how their beautiful purple and white yarns are made. April and Drew both attend weekly get-togethers at the Yarn Stories shop in Downtown Muncie which offers crafting classes.

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James Schwab

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Maggie Ross and her daughter

James Schwab, the curatorial intern at DOMA and a senior art student at Ball State, held lightning portrait sessions across the room from the spinners. In each of his drawing sessions he had conversations with and got to know the subject of the drawings. Presenter Maggie and her daughter sat for a mother-daughter portrait.

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11073523_868355266539123_2958709041512385634_oIn Recital Hall, MCs Braydee Euliss and Traci Lutton hosted the PechaKucha presentations. Chris Flook of the Delaware County Historical Society gave his presentation “Muncie’s First 150 – The Delaware County Historical Society’s Plan for the Next 150”. Corey Hagelberg and Kate Land presented “Why You Should Buy a Cheap house & Start and Artist Residency” about the Calumet Artist Residency that the two of them founded three years ago. Sarah Lyttle and Bob Fritz spoke about their Tai Chi and tree climbing classes to help people become and remain active in fun ways in their presentation “In the Trees and On the Ground.” Tania Said of the David Owsley Museum of Art presented about the summer community exhibition, “Listening Across Generations: Fractured Narratives Youth Collaboration.” Maggie Ross spoke about her unique life-style with “Striving for an Eco Minimalist Life”. She has spent the past several years working towards a trash-free life. She developed the idea in college and, after spending time cataloguing her trash, she displayed it all in an exhibition to help make people aware of what and how much they throw away. Since then, she has located to a modest but comfortable tiny house with garden, compost, and other tools which she has made in order to live as trash-free as she can. She creates her own clothes and uses old shirts as rags instead of using paper towels. Her website and Etsy shop, which will open later this year, help those with children live more environmentally conscious, a topic fitting for this time of year as Earth Day approaches on April 22nd.

Alexander Jarman

Alexander Jarman

April 24th will mark our last Final Friday event for the Spring 2015 semester. Along with the PechaKucha talks at 7pm, DOMA will also have Alexander Jarman for an “Un-tour” of the Fractured Narratives exhibition beginning the evening at 6 pm. If you would like to present a PechaKucha topic, check out the PechaKucha page on our website at http://tinyurl.com/m8dq8jq.

Photos of the event were taken by Emma Rogers.

What’s Happening in April?

Regan Kelly
Education Assistant

As the Spring Semester comes to a close in the rush of turning in final projects and taking finals, we have plenty of events and activities at DOMA to help calm those nerves. Please join us on Fridays at 3:30 pm for Meditation in the Museum or stop by for 30 to 45 minute tours with docents at 2:30 pm on Saturdays to explore art and cultures from around the world. After each Saturday tour, there will also be an interpretive guide roaming around the galleries. To end the semester, Fractured Narratives: A Strategy to Engage will have a special “un-tour” with Alexander Jarman on April 24th during Final Friday.

Amida Buddha

Amida Buddha, where participants will meet for meditation

3          Friday | 3:30 pm
Meditation in the Museum with George Wolfe
Meet Dr. George Wolfe in the Asian Art Gallery for a meditation session. For more information, contact Dr. Wolfe at wmwolfe@bsu.edu.

7          Tuesday | Noon
Art High at Noon: Chinese and Japanese Art
Meet docent Christine Lussier for a comparative tour and explore the gallery together.

8          Wednesday | Noon
Alliance Luncheon & Program: How Ball State Shaped This Indy Art Executive
Carter Wolf is the recently retired president and CEO of the Indianapolis Art Center, a non-profit community art center that provides interactive art education, outreach to audiences in under-served areas, support of working artists and exposure to the visual arts for residents in central Indiana.
Alumni Center, Meeting Room 1
First-time guests free; $18 Alliance members.

10          Friday | 3:30 pm
Meditation in the Museum: Meditation for Better Sleep
Bring a towel or a blanket, scarf, yoga mat, etc., for sitting on the floor. For more information on this program, please contact Dr. Sylwia Hodorek at sphodorek@bsu.edu.

17          Friday | 3:30 pm
Meditation in the Museum with George Wolfe
Meet Dr. George Wolfe in the Asian Art Gallery for a meditation session. For more information, contact Dr. Wolfe at wmwolfe@bsu.edu.

21          Tuesday | Noon
Art High at Noon: Art of Africa and the Pacific
Meet docent Kayla Gurganus for a comparative tour and explore the gallery together.

24          Friday | 3:30 pm
Meditation in the Museum: Compassion Mindfulness
Bring a towel or a blanket, scarf, yoga mat, etc., for sitting on the floor. For more information on this program, please contact Dr. Sylwia Hodorek at sphodorek@bsu.edu.

24          Friday | 6:00 pm
Un-Tour of Fractured Narratives
Alexander Jarman, manager of adult and community programs at the Walters Art Museum, invites us to do something different and very participatory to explore Fractured Narratives.

24          Friday | 6-9:00 pm
Final Friday | Powered by PechaKucha
Revel in the social atmosphere with a creative “un-tour” by Baltimore’s Alexander Jarman, idea-stimulation PechaKucha talks on “Narrative,” cash bar, and evening access to see the galleries and special exhibition Fractured Narratives. The official Muncie PechaKucha talks are hosted by MCs Braydee Euliss and Traci Lutton. To submit your talk idea, visit http://tinyurl.com/m8dq8jq.

A look at this past week's drawings on Rivane Neuenschwander's Zé Carioca and Friends (The Saci).

A photo posted by David Owsley Museum of Art (@doartmuseumbsu) on

A Museum of Family Fun!

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The Shamaniacs

Stories, art activities, and African drumming set the David Owsley Museum of Art bustling with motion on a very sunny Sunday afternoon for Family FUN Day. Although there was a lot of competition with the beautiful weather outside, many families made it to the museum to take part in our Family Day activities. Throughout the event, the museum pulsed with drumming coming from the Shamaniacs: Drummers of Thunder and Wonder. The Shamaniacs started out with their drum circle in the African gallery, where their African shirts and traditional African drums fit in very well with our collection.The four band members of the Shamaniacs, headed by Steve Robert (steverobert@sbcglobal.net), led the drum beats, but brought along many extra drums for children to drum along with. One of the member of the Shamaniacs told a group of children, “If you’ve got a heartbeat, you can keep a beat.” I saw many children hesitantly take a drum from one of the band members, but after a little while they were confidently hitting the drum to the beat of the drum circle. I spoke with one of the members of the Shamaniacs, Steve Lang, who builds some of the drums, during one of their breaks. He said that their purpose is to provide inspirational education to those who take part in their drum circles. I could really see this in that the members handed drums to children and told them that they can do it. Lang also told me that a large amount of their proceeds goes to charities such as Water is Basic and Hope for Liberia, in order to give back to the cultures that they educate about.

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Suit of Armor Japan, Edo period

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Docent Barbara reading a story

On the other side of the museum in the Asian Galleries, docent Barbara Alvarez Bohanan read a Japanese story, “The Stonecutter,” which taught the children to be careful what they wish for. After the story the children were told to look around the Asian Gallery and pick one thing to tell the group what it is made out of and what they like about it. One very popular artwork was the Japanese Samurai suit of armor. One boy told the group that it is made out of steel and silk cord and that he liked it because he enjoyed watching Power Rangers Samurai, which the suit of armor reminded him of. There were many questions raised about the suit of armor such as, why would samurais need armor, why did they use silk cord, where did they find the suit of armor, and was this suit of armor ever used. We also paid special attention to the round dents in the front of the suit from bullets that tested the armor’s strength.

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“What do you believe in?” Activity

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working on a collage

During Family Day, there wasn’t just looking and learning about art, there was art making too. The BSU Art Education Club had art activities set up in both the Sculpture Court and in the special exhibition gallery. In the Sculpture Court participants could use construction paper, scissors, and crayons to respond to the prompt, “What do you believe in?” Upstairs there were magazines that could be cut apart and used to make collages in response to the Martha Rosler collages displayed in the gallery. The Neuenschwander Ze Carioca activity, led by the BSU Museum Club, was very attractive because of its direct interaction with a work of art and the fun of drawing with chalk on the wall. These activities were related to the current special exhibition, Fractured Narratives, which asks the viewer to think and engage with the content that is presented in the exhibition. There were also a few kid-friendly tours over the Fractured Narratives exhibitions during the event.

After an afternoon filled with fun in the museum all the families went home, hopefully having gained many new experiences with art and museums. Near the end of the event I spoke with a family about their time at Family Day as they were excitedly working on an I Spy activity. The family seemed to have really enjoyed their time spent at the museum. The children told me that their favorite parts were drawing on the wall during the Ze Carioca activity, drumming with the drum circle, and learning in the Chinese gallery.

Be sure to look for other family friendly events in the future. Visitors are welcome to visit the museum any time during our open hours, Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

How Ball State shaped Art Executive Carter Wolf

Carter Wolf, image courtesy of the Indianapolis Art Center

Carter Wolf, image courtesy of the Indianapolis Art Center

The Alliance members at their Wednesday, March 11 luncheon and program had the pleasure of hearing Carter Wolf, recently retired president and CEO of the Indianapolis Art Center, speak about his experiences as an art executive and the impact Ball State has had on him throughout his career.

Wolf transferred from Hanover College to join the Ball State architecture program. After a while, he realized that design and arts were more appealing to him, and he switched to the fine arts program. As a fine arts student, Carter had the opportunity to work with Dr. Alice Nichols, former chair of the BSU Art Department.

Bust sculpture of Alice Nichols located by the Riverside entrance to the David Owsley Museum of Art

Bust sculpture of Alice Nichols located by the Riverside entrance to the David Owsley Museum of Art

Nichols had a big role in shaping the David Owsley Museum of Art, back then known as the Ball State University Art Gallery. Nichols helped the gallery receive formal accreditation from the American Association of Museums in 1927 before her retirement. “Alice was her own pioneer,” Wolf reminisced, “and she broke a lot of ground. A lot of ground we didn’t know she was breaking.”

Wolf also mentioned his fine arts professor, Dr. Ned Griner, who taught him the importance of craftsmanship. “That is one of the best lessons I’ve learned overall – it doesn’t matter what the subject is, craftsmanship is everything, because otherwise it’s not finished.” The impact Griner had on Wolf’s craftsman ship is evident in the work at his contemporary furniture and housewares store Wolf would open later in life.

Ned Griner, image courtesy of nedgriner.com

Ned Griner, image courtesy of nedgriner.com

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a focus on painting and sculpture and sociology from Ball State University, Wolf continued with art education while beginning his career as a secondary school art teacher in northern Indiana. Wolf’s career as an art teacher was shaped by his relationship with the head of the art department at Burris Laboratory School, Pete Carr. While working with Pete, Wolf remembers him saying “Never teach down to kids. They can do a lot more than you think they can.” Carr’s passion for and commitment to children’s education impacted Wolf’s experience as an elementary educator.

Once he left teaching, Wolf opened a contemporary design store in northern Indiana. After the real-estate market took a hit, he jumped into the world of nonprofits. Wolf headed the movement to revitalize downtown South Bend in the 1990s as part of the nationally-recognized Main Street Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. His time in the non-profit field was directly influenced by the art club, Kalista, he was president of during his time at Ball State. “It was an incredible leadership opportunity,” Wolf said. He also paid homage to the fact that his Ball State degree opened up doors and opportunities in South Bend for him that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

After his time in South Bend, he was asked to come to Indianapolis by the Governor of the state Frank O’Bannon. Once in Indy, Wolf had the opportunity to oversee the directors of the Governor’s Commission on Community Service and the Indiana Arts Commission, which he described as “a great experience.” Wolf also got involved with homeless prevention. “My reputation of running fiscally responsible, mission driven non-profits and my art degree from Ball State helped me get the job of CEO of the Indianapolis Art Center.”

Facade of the Indianapolis Art Center, image courtesy of the Indianapolis Art Center.

Facade of the Indianapolis Art Center, image courtesy of the Indianapolis Art Center.

The Indianapolis Art Center is a nonprofit community art center that provides interactive art education, outreach to audiences in under-served areas, support of working artists and exposure to the visual arts for residents in central Indiana. The Indianapolis Art Center offers classes in fine arts from ceramics, to painting, glass blowing, and jewelry making. The center is dedicated to the Indianapolis community, and invites people of all ages to take advantage of their facilities. During Wolf’s time at the Indy Art Center, the organization saw a 25% increase in class enrollment from when he started—which he attributed in part to the creation of shorter-term classes, including single-session events—and an investment in improving studios.

Wolf ended his talk by saying, “Thank you Ball State. Thank you to all of the people who are no longer here who influenced me, and thank you for the experience that I had. It [Ball State] was the perfect place for me.”