Visual Voice

The WFMA celebrates the artist’s visual voice by exploring artworks on view in the galleries from multiple view points. Learn about the artworks and then see them in person.


Women’s History Month 2021 and Dwelling: Experiences of Shelter

Deep and Divergent Roots

By Cammie Dean, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Director, MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center

There is no one story of African American history. In fact, the mix of influences between economics, geography and interracial experiences made for the emergence of a number of cultural subgroups around the US. The intermingling of African, Native American and French cultures that occurred uniquely in Louisiana is a prime example of this. Creole culture expressed through food, art, music and spirituality attracts millions to the New Orleans area annually. Something magical or mystical seems to fascinate us. Part of the mystique is the practice of voodoo, though not universally practiced by all creoles.

In a reference to voodoo spiritual practices, this work’s title calls to mind the Loa (Voodoo spirit) Damballah — traditionally associated with the creation of earth and the universe. Most prominent in the image, however, is a woman, face obscured, belly exposed… One source of life inspired by another?

Cammie Dean, 2019

Recurring Damballah Dream

1999

Lithograph

Gift of Joe Zanatta, 2019

The common thread running through bodies of my work of the past several years is the continuing need for self-discovery and the need to understand and make sense of human motives and the way we relate and respond to each other. …I see each one of my pieces as a fragment or installment in an ongoing narrative that’s my contribution to telling the story of who we are as a society at this point in time.

Renee Stout, quoted from http://www.reneestout.com/Statement.htm

Director’s Tour

In this monotone or single color print, what do we see? A young woman sits in the foreground on a hard bench. She looks down at a small parcel dangling from a string tied to her raised finger. Above her shoulder is the statement “In the dream they always tell her to listen to the snake”. The woman wears a sports bra and a pair of jeans, exposing her belly and a heart shaped tattoo above her belly button.

Two figures in silhouette stand behind her and appear to be moving toward her. They both wear hats. Their hairless outlines and broad shoulders suggest they are men. Butterflies hover above the woman’s hand as if on the shoulder of one of the background figures. Spots of light frame the men’s heads.

The print’s signs or signifiers raise a multitude of questions. Is this woman Damballah, the voodoo spirit Cammie Dean refers to above, or does she dream of Damballah? What is in that pouch, tied to her finger as if to remind? What symbolism resides in her tattoo design? Why butterflies and a snake?

The woman seems absorbed, as if mesmerized by or communing with the pouch hanging in space. Her hair falls down around her face, her shoulders are relaxed, and her free hand drapes quietly across her belly. The hats the men wear look like those of old-time parsons, reporters, or detectives—exuding the establishment over the personal. Finally, the snake in all types of literature often brings allure and deception, with a self-serving end.

Art is generally an expression of what life feels like. Here Stout gives us the elements of dream, spirit, societal power, and personhood. How do these fit together in your life?

Tracee Robertson, 2021

Installation view 2021

Artist’s Biography

Born Junction City, Kansas in 1958 and based in Washington, D.C., Renee Stout works in a variety of media including sculpture, drawing, and printmaking. Inspired by the belief systems of African peoples throughout the African Diaspora and by her immediate environment, Stout’s works encourage self-examination and empowerment.

As a young girl, Renée Stout became fascinated by the Central African minkisi figural containers she encountered at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum where she grew up. Later at Carnegie-Mellon University, Stout pursued realist painting in the style of Edward Hopper.

Stout soon realized that her street scenes, devoid of people, were like portraits of houses. This led her to consider the concept of ‘house’ as a home of the spirit—a container of memories and dreams, and, by extension, a symbol of human activity and aspiration.

After graduating and moving to Washington, D.C., Stout made photo-realist paintings of everyday urban neighborhoods. As she began to study her African American heritage, she developed mystical interests, delving into ancient African traditions alongside her witness of the often wretched realities of urban life. In 2010, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta awarded Stout the David C. Driskell Prize, which annually recognizes scholars or artists whose work makes an original contribution to African American art and history.

Sourced from Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of Women


Recurring Damballah Dream from the Permanent Collection of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas