Posts Tagged ‘Social Activism’

In “Urgent Care,” The Colored Girls Museum Offers Itself as a Sanctuary and First Responder

Posted July 28th, 2017

“Chamber” by Joy Ude and Petra Floyd

Walking down Newhall Street in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, it’s hard to tell that one of these houses is not like the others. After a moment, you’ll find a wooden sign for The Colored Girls Museum (TCGM) outside of a 128-year-old Victorian twin. Since 2015, TCGM has been quietly redefining the role of museums in Philadelphia. The house is the home of the founder and executive director of the museum, Vashti Dubois. She founded the museum as a celebration of women of color, as well as a living memoir and sanctuary. Michael Clemmons is the curator for the museum, and has known and worked with Vashti for many years. “I think that what our museum does is very unique, distinct from everything else that’s out there,” he says. “In many ways, it’s the only museum of its kind.” From July 29 to July 30, the museum will be presenting its last showings of the current show, Urgent Care: A Good Night’s Sleep, before closing to prepare for its Fringe Festival event, Urgent Care: A Social Care Experience.

TCGM is telling a story that few other art spaces are, in a way that uses art as a place for conversation. The museum is a living monument “for the ordinary and extraordinary colored girl,” bringing her voice out highlighting her concerns. “When you shine the light on anything,” says Vashti, “you begin to notice its extraordinary qualities, but you have to look at it first.” The museum’s exhibitions respond to current social issues, and the “Urgent Care” shows reflect heightened concerns for women of color after the 2016 election. There is a huge variety of beautiful and fascinating objects throughout the house, which are a conglomeration of  historical artifacts and new works of art. Artists who work with the museum either submit their own work, curate a space, or add objects from their own past or family history that are significant to the space’s collective memoir. “Those objects have a story that is important to the woman submitting them,” says Michael, “which is curated into the space.” The museum leaders and staff refer to the museum with she/her pronouns, speaking of the space as a person, rather than a stagnant building. Vashti explains how this reflects the moving and changing aspects of the museum: objects come and go, and rooms within her walls change to reflect changing times.  “The concept in a way is very simple,” says Michael. “In a sense, it’s a story that hasn’t been told, and it should be told. It’s very much a home, it’s relaxing, and it’s a different kind of museum experience.”

Second Floor Bedroom, or “Recovery Suite” in “Urgent Care”

Walking into Salon 1, on the first floor, the museum already feels entirely different from any other galleries. Rather than white walls and echoing hallways, this is a home. Salon 1 is a part of the semi-permanent collection, and many works of art were a part of the inaugural exhibition in 2015. The paintings on the wall are hung in a “salon style,” covering the space, and are interspersed with small statues, old portrait photographs, and personal artifacts, including a singular knee-high tie-dye boot. There are very few name cards on the walls— instead, everyone who comes into the museum is brought on a tour. Through conversation, guests learn which paintings on the wall are by Barbara Bullock, a celebrated African American artist in Germantown that Michael described as almost a “mother figure” in the Philadelphia arts community. There are quilts from fiber artist Toni Kersey, and doll figures by Lorrie Patrice Payne. The experience is intimate and allows for conversations about the art — often, with the artists themselves.

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