A painting by Mexican-born artist Aliza Nisenbaum, who is known for her portraits of under-represented communities in the US, has been commissioned by the Contemporary Art Society for Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VNXXCAS) initiative. The museum is receiving the work through this scheme after making a strong case for addressing the representation of female artists within their existing collections.
Aliza Nisenbaum said: “’Susan, Aarti, Keerthana and Princess, Sunday in Brooklyn’, 2018 depicts a two-mother mixed-race family with two strong-willed, joyful girls. Their collective heritage is Indian and African-American. They are a family that came together through immigration, adoption, and New York City and are deeply committed to social justice and racial equity – both women have devoted their careers to advancing education and human rights.”
Aliza initially met Susan in 2015 while completing a residency for Immigrant Women Leaders, through the NYC’s Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs. This residency took place in honour of the 1995 UN Conference on Women and the resulting Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Aliza has painted the 15 women who participated in this residency together as a group, and individually. Susan Shah is someone the artist admires deeply, they kept in touch over the years, and this painting is a result of their friendship.
The unveiling of the work at the museum coincides with the WOW – Women of the World festival in Norwich, 27 – 29 April 2018, and will be the centrepiece of the exhibition Visible Women (opens 14 April 2018), which brings together work from the museum’s modern and contemporary collection made by women.
Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society is a joint initiative of philanthropist Valeria Napoleone and the Contemporary Art Society to purchase and donate a significant work by a living female artist to a UK museum each year.
Open to all Contemporary Art Society Museum Members, the scheme aims to provoke an examination of collecting practice that has a wider impact beyond the acquisition of the awarded work and act as a focal point for debate on gender imbalance in museum collections.*
Aliza Nisenbaum is a Mexican-born artist based in New York. Between 2012 and 2016 Nisenbaum painted portraits of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America whilst teaching English at an immigrant community space in New York, using the process of portraiture to get to know her students. The shifting immigration policy in the US under the current administration has made these works both more urgent and more dangerous. More recently the artist has focused on communities surrounding the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where she has been artist in residence.
Her deeply observed paintings are part of a socially engaged practice that challenges the social and representational hierarchies of traditional portraiture. For Nisenbaum, her subjects are not merely sitters but are active collaborators who are depicted with grace, composure and a certain stature at a time when society treats them as largely invisible. Nisenbaum’s work was shown at the Whitney Biennial in 2017 and she has had recent solo exhibitions at Minneapolis Institute of Art (2017) and Mary Mary Gallery in Glasgow (2015). In 2018 her work will be shown at One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art at MOCA, Los Angeles.
Caroline Douglas, Director, Contemporary Art Society, said:
Aliza Nisenbaum is re-invigorating the portrait genre with her particular perspective and political motivation. The commission builds on a strand of collecting work by female artists with a female perspective and both last year’s acquisition and Nisenbaum’s work reflect the experience of race in America.
Valeria Napoleone said:
Aliza Nisenbaum’s newly commissioned portrait ’Susan, Aarti, Keerthana and Princess, Sunday in Brooklyn’ for the Norwich Museum & Art Gallery has come to fruition thanks to a deep conversation and serious consideration of the museum’s collection and the interests of its community, with the ambition of helping the museum to take a step further into building on its future.
This work serves as more than just an important addition to the historical portraiture collection already in the museum’s hands. Its mastery and technique nurtures the museum’s past, while the female gaze and perspective of its subject matter highlights the power of painting in addressing both the social issues of today and of the future. We hope the public will engage beyond the formal quality of the work, and into a broader conversation about life.
Harriet Loffler, Curator of Contemporary Art, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, said:
This is a landmark acquisition for Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. It comes at an important moment when we are actively addressing the underrepresentation of art made by women in the collection. It also stands as the first work to enter the collection that represents women of colour. Susan, Aarti, Keerthana and Princess, Sunday in Brooklyn has significant links to existing works in our collection that explore the multiplicity of roles occupied by women and in particular how they see themselves and are seen by others.
Susan, Aarti, Keerthana and Princess, Sunday in Brooklyn, 2018 will remain on show until Sunday 11 November 2018.