by Maya Tetali ’21 (she/her/hers)

From Pandemic to Protests: Visualizing Social Isolation and Social Injustices through the Davidson College Permanent Art Collection is currently on view in the Van Every and Smith Galleries until October 18th. The exhibition features selections drawn from the collection created after 1970, including a few created within the past few months. The show seeks to straddle the space between the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement by simultaneously highlighting experiences created by the pandemic — such as economic hardship and the disproportionate impact on Indigenous groups and people of color — as well as acknowledging the continued violence against Black people in this country.

The coronavirus pandemic stalled many events and plans throughout the Davidson community including the exhibition schedule in the Van Every and Smith Galleries. The two resident gallery spaces typically see a rotation of exhibitions throughout the year from either visiting artists or traveling exhibitions, like the Rodin exhibition this past spring. The restrictions and travel barriers due to COVID-19 led to a gap in the gallery schedule that needed to be filled. 

As a result, Lia Newman, Director and Curator, and Elizabeth Harry ‘14, Gallery and Collection Coordinator, collaborated with gallery interns Adrienne Lee ‘21 and Sebi Sola-Sole ‘21 to put together an exhibition sourced from the extensive art collection owned by the college. When selecting the art, focus was put on how the piece translates in the current climate rather than the original intention of the artists.

“As a curator, I’m often working 1.5-2 years out on exhibitions. We hope that the projects are relatable when they are finally executed. Pivoting, however, allowed us to respond directly in the moment. Some works are a direct response to current issues, such as David Shrigley’s lockdown drawing, or the commissioned artwork by Bethany Collins. Other works were made years or decades ago. They represent a reframing or re-interpretation of an artist’s work. I think they demonstrate how as viewers we bring our own ideas and experiences to a work of art,” Newman explained.

Besides works that have been a part of the collection for many years, the gallery was able to add to exhibit through commissions and gifts. The piece by Bethany Collins, Dixie’s Land (1859-2001), was supported with funds from the Justice, Equality, and Community Grant. This work has an intimate relationship with Davidson, as the song referenced was played at Davidson athletic games well into the 1960s. Other new pieces include the additions of Mark Thomas Gibson, gifted by John Andrew MacMahon ’95, and a Kara Walker, promised by George McLendon and President Quillen.

Along with a shake-up in the exhibition schedule, the Van Every and Smith Galleries also had to brainstorm new ways to present the exhibition in a virtual format as non-Davidson community members are prohibited from visiting the galleries in person due to campus COVID restrictions. Lee and Sola-Sole worked very closely with Newman and Harris to put together extensive virtual offerings that include a virtual tour of the gallery as well as images of each piece featured and artist biographies. All of this information is featured on the gallery website. Newman also has hosted various conversations on YouTube Live with the artists featured. The upside to this virtual reality is that it has allowed greater access for a variety of artists being able to speak to the community and a wider audience being able to attend the gallery programs.

When asked about what they hope visitors to the exhibition take away, Lee commented, “For me, the major takeaway of From Pandemic and Protests is to re-examine, re-evaluate, and re-appreciate the privileges we have and benefit from, however minor they may seem. I hope that the works at the gallery will provide newer insights for the viewers too.” Newman elaborated on this same idea by adding, “The hope is that encountering such works through the sensitivity of artists may help us consider or reconsider the events that brought us to this moment. Recognition is our path forward.”

Maya Tetali ‘21 (she/her/hers) is an Art History major and French and Francophone Studies minor from Malvern, PA. She can be reached for comment at matetali@davidson.edu