Labors of Love and Loss - About the Exhibit


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photo of exhibit wall with title in vinyl letters reading "Labors of Love and Loss: Marianetta Porter + Lisa Olson." A series of 4 framed photos in a grid pattern is to the right of the title
photo of exhibit wall with title in vinyl letters reading "Labors of Love and Loss: Marianetta Porter + Lisa Olson." A series of 4 framed photos in a grid pattern is to the right of the title

Each semester the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Department of Women’s Studies present an art exhibition in the lobby of Lane Hall. This winter we are pleased to host Labors of Love and Loss, a mixed media exhibit by Marianetta Porter and Lisa Olson, exploring themes of race and gender.

Labors of Love and Loss considers the intertwined lives of caregivers, their dependents and charges. Historically, in both southern African American life and in the tenuous strivings of the 19th century working underclass, the primary care and comfort of others fell to women. Beyond impersonal household chores, these responsibilities entwined with sweetness and hope, heartache and loss, assured the wellbeing of those around them. How did they balance the tangle of necessity and demand against their own emotional involvements and aspirations? Labors of Love and Loss is a tribute to the resolve, commitment and fortitude of women’s love and labor.

Artists' Statements

Lisa Olson -

Lisa Olson's "Child Keeper #1" - series of antique photos of children with the faces cut out, overlaid on black background in a grid pattern.

My grandmother was placed in a small Cincinnati orphanage in the early 1900’s – her working class and widowed mother could no longer afford children.  When I was a child she spoke about that time with a mixture of affection and bitterness, emotions that seemed tangled in her memories.  She told stories about how hard she was expected to work at the ‘home’ but she also formed a lifelong attachment to the orphanage’s founder – the two women maintained some manner of relationship until the elderly woman’s death.

It’s not hard to imagine the tangled emotions a child would feel when suddenly removed from family and home – feelings of loss, fear, separation and confusion.  When I began researching North American orphanages of that time, my original interest was the child.  But as I found more and more documents written by the people who actually worked with these children, I began to appreciate the complexities of the caregivers’ job as well.  They were charged to keep large groups of children healthy, safe and educated following current beliefs in the necessity of regimentation.  They struggled with funding constraints on many fronts.  And, as I learned, the job was often complicated when caregivers formed nurturing relationships with the children they were paid to foster.

The pieces in this show come from an ongoing project I call ‘The Children’s Home.’  Some works consider a child’s experience, some take the voice of a caretaker and some consider both.

Lisa Olson is a mixed media artist and alumna of the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design. Her work takes a variety of forms---books, prints, collage, drawing and sculptural objects. Olson often uses text in combination with visual components to create meaning.  Her interests include studies surrounding the fragility of the individual within historically harsh or oppressive class related social structures and the resulting tools and systems created as strategies to navigate through.  Visit her website for more information.

Marianetta Porter -photo of 5 antique wooden ironing boards with patterns and words burned into them. They are the work of artist Marianetta Porter

These are stories. Stories of love and of loss…of pain and redemption. My stories, our stories…told through objects.

While we are intimately familiar with reading words, material culture experts remind us that objects can also be “read”. Objects are useful, practical tools that are part and parcel of our everyday life. On the other hand, they are also signs, symbols and metaphors that point to something else, beyond their mere physicality or functionality. They hold histories; they are sublime and complicated 'texts', rife with cultural constructs and social meanings. They are containers of memory. Their power and majesty is rooted in their ability to transport us.

These objects, dressed in the patina of time, are stories. Women’s stories...ripe and fluid with meanings, shaped and reshaped by the hearts and hands of individuals and the communities in which they lived; lives of intimate beauty and grace, laid bare by harsh realities that remind us of the difficulties (and sometimes, the impossibility) of repair.

Marianetta Porter is Professor of Art and Design at Stamps School of Art and Design. Her work is grounded in the study of African American history, culture, and representation, drawing on ethnography, religious traditions, folklore, visual culture, and language to investigate the consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the vernacular art of the black church, the politics of visibility, and the poetics of color. View her faculty profile for more information.

This exhibit is co-sponsored by the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Department of Women’s Studies, Stamps School of Art & Design, Residential College, Department of American Culture, Institute for the Humanities, and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies.

The exhibit will be on public display through July 13, 2018.



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