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Zimmerli Introduces New Works by 14 International Artists Who Examine Accessibility in the Museum World

originally published: 07/01/2024

Zimmerli Introduces New Works by 14 International Artists Who Examine Accessibility in the Museum World

JJJJJerome Ellis (with m. nourbeSe philip, Roshaya Rodness, and Maria Stuart), "Impediment is Information," 2021. Single channel video. 15 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- This fall, expand your understanding and perception of accessibility through Smoke & Mirrors, opening September 4, 2024, at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University—New Brunswick. This major exhibition features the work of 14 artists with disabilities from across the globe who conceptualize access through humor, antagonism, transparency, and invisibility. The exhibit runs until December 22, 2024.

For the non-disabled museumgoer, visiting an art institution is likely an experience with few obstructions. For visitors with disabilities, however, wayfinding through a museum—not to mention, simply accessing the entrance—is challenging. And the barriers are often invisible.

Organized by guest curator Dr. Amanda Cachia, a prominent disability arts activist and scholar, this unprecedented exhibition showcases work by artists with disabilities, who are underrepresented in museums. It also encourages visitors with disabilities and their allies to become active participants in telling their own stories.

“This exhibition aims to show audiences more expansive encounters with the sensory,” said guest curator Amanda Cachia, an assistant professor at the University of Houston, who has driven initiatives in research and practice to raise awareness of the artistic genre “access aesthetics” over the past decade. “The outstanding work in this show will give audiences more insight into the many innovative ways that disabled artists navigate a world that wasn’t built for them. Innovative sensory engagement is critical to how these artists experience the environment.”



 
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Included are videos, drawings, sculptures, textiles, and multi-media installations by: Emanuel Almborg, Alt-Text as Poetry (Bojana Coklyat and Finnegan Shannon), Erik Benjamins, Pelenakeke Brown, Fayen d’Evie, JJJJJerome Ellis, Vanessa Dion Fletcher, Sugandha Gupta, Carmen Papalia, Finnegan Shannon, Liza Sylvestre, Aislinn Thomas, Corban Walker, and Syrus Marcus Ware.

These artists present an intersectional approach to disability that creates conversations about its relationships to race, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity, generating a more expansive and inclusive understanding of the disabled experience. They create immersive environments for visitors to experience access—or lack thereof—upending traditional ideas of spectatorship. Among their thought-provoking experiences are: 

* videos by JJJJJerome Ellis that explore how histories of Black resistance intersect with his experience of having a speech impediment and its impact on how he navigates the world;

* an intervention by Corban Walker, who employs stanchions to reroute space and spread awareness of how movement is often restricted for persons with disabilities; and

* a site-specific work by Finnegan Shannon that provides accessible and therapeutic chairs, addressing the need for ample and comfortable seating in museum spaces. 

“This exhibition of contemporary artists with disabilities is central to the Zimmerli's mission of focusing on diversity, equity, access, and inclusion (DEAI),” said Maura Reilly, the Zimmerli’s director. “We always strive to open the museum to new and underrepresented voices and to provide new means of access to reach all audiences. We are equally committed to rethinking the function of a museum to be a responsive and inclusive institution, and Smoke & Mirrors demonstrates that commitment.”

The public is invited to free exhibition-related events throughout the fall. Programming kicks off with an Opening Reception (September 14), followed by SparkNight: Celebrating Disability Awareness Month (October 10), Art Together: Celebrating Differences (October 13), and a performance by JJJJJerome Ellis (November 21). Amanda Cachia also will take part in two virtual events (dates to be announced): an artists’ roundtable and a launch for her upcoming book. Visit zimmerli.rutgers.edu/events for all details and updates.



 
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On view from September 4 to December 22, 2024, Smoke & Mirrors is made possible by the leadership support of the Ford Foundation. Additional grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund. Generous support for bilingual text was provided by Art Bridges Foundation’s Access for All programs.

About the Curator - Amanda Cachia is an established curator, consultant, writer and art historian who specializes in disability art activism across intersectional axes of difference, including gender, race, and sexuality. She is the tenure-track Assistant Professor and Assistant Director of the M. A. in Arts Leadership Graduate Program at the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts at the University of Houston, where she also serves as Coordinator of the Graduate Certificate in Museum and Gallery Management, and the Graduate Certificate in Arts and Health. Her first book, The Agency of Access: Contemporary Disability Art and Institutional Critique (Temple University Press) will be available in Fall 2024. In 2023, she won the Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Arts Writers Grant for her second monograph, Hospital Aesthetics: Rescripting Medical Images of Disability. She has a Ph.D. in Art History, Theory & Criticism from the University of California San Diego. Cachia has curated approximately 50 exhibitions, many of which have traveled across the United States, England, Australia and Canada.



The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, with strengths in the Art of the Americas, Asian Art, European Art, Russian Art & Soviet Nonconformist Art, and Original Illustrations for Children's Literature. The permanent collections include works in all mediums, spanning from antiquity to the present day, providing representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, which stands among America’s highest-ranked, most diverse public research universities. Founded in 1766, as one of only nine colonial colleges established before the American Revolution, Rutgers is the nation’s eighth-oldest institution of higher learning.

Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.

The Zimmerli Art Museum is open Wednesday and Friday, 11:00am to 6:00pm; Thursday, 11:00am to 8:00pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5:00pm. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday, as well as major holidays and the month of August. For the most current information, including parking and accessibility, visit zimmerli.rutgers.edu/visit.

The Zimmerli's operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Endowment Fund and the Andrew W. Mellon Endowment Fund, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and the donors, members, and friends of the museum.


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