By Subha Ali, The Seattle Medium
Mud reveals stories and inspires poetry as part of an art exhibit that closes this weekend at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Eight artists contributed to the exhibit, “Thick as Mud.” Henry curator Nina Bozicnik organized the exhibition and show, which features poetry edited by Jourdan Imani Keith, Seattle’s 2019-2022 civic poet and written by Roberto Ascalon, Aleyda Marisol Cervantes, Amber Flame, Rasheena Fountain, Kamna Shastri, Savannah Smith, Ebony Welborn as part of the gallery’s ongoing effort to engage communities outside of the gallery’s institutional boundaries.
The idea of “Thick as Mud” was based on Bozicnik’s childhood in South Florida, where she played in mud flats. “The mud there is composed of layers of decaying organic matter that nourishes new life and sustains a robust food web,” she said in an email. “To think about the vitality and density of the mud in these ecological terms inspired me to further consider how human history lives in and through the mud.
“With these thoughts swirling, I started seeing artworks that intersected with this idea of mud as a dynamic medium that animates relationships between people and place.”
The exhibition includes a variety of media, from audio recordings to sculptures to textiles. “They are addressing a range of dynamics embedded in the landscape, including colonial and racialized forms of dispossession, cultural reclamation, narratives of self-actualization, and ecological loss and adaptation,” Bozicnik said. For example, an alligator made from ceramic, clay, earth, mortar, and lard infused with a custom scent evokes various histories that are tangible in the present.
The poetry reading’s purpose on April 22 was to share insights and responses to the art in the collection. Some of the responses referred to rebirth, memories, Earth/nature, shelter, or connections to personal stories. Bozicnik said the poetry event was part of the Henry’s Interpretive Guide series where community members respond to a Henry exhibition. Keith chose these poets to voice their reactions to certain pieces and as an alternative to the traditional wall text featured in exhibits.
Given Keith’s previous writing on social and environmental histories, relationships, and entanglements, Bozicnik said, “Keith’s perspective was particularly intriguing in the context of the artwork in the exhibition and the themes of environmental memory, history, and imagination that it explores.”
The poets workshopped their writing together, and many had never written poetry before. “The group understood the intersectionality that is represented in this work and how to bring gender and ethnicity and change of climate into it,” said Keith.
As for the artwork, Bozicnik reached out to the artists after seeing how their work connected to the themes she had in mind. Most of the work already existed, and the artists were willing to give the work to use in the exhibition. To guide her selection process, Bozicnik used the question: “‘How might stirring the mud reveal an archive of experience that is present but that dominant narratives do not register?”
“The title Thick as Mud aims to evoke the depth and density of mud in relationship to the histories and stories it holds. It is intended to evoke the vitality and richness of this material and the place it holds in the individual and collective imagination,” said Bozicnik.
The exhibition is open until May 7 at the Henry Art Gallery, where you can find the pieces and interpretive guides to go along with them.