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Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Marla McLeod Lecture Explores New Brandeis Art Exhibit

On Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, the Kniznick Gallery presented a lecture by Marla L. McLeod. The lecture was held at Brandeis and was also recorded on a Zoom platform; this hybrid format allowed dozens to attend, local and otherwise.

During her lecture, McLeod walked her audience through all of the pieces in the exhibit, explaining the different elements and research that went into each piece.

California-born, McLeod is an American artist that focuses on Black identity and culture. She creates pieces in a wide array of mediums from painting to textiles to 3-D sculptures.  

“If some tears come our way, the sun skips a day, we still have each other, and our love will see us through.”

This line, sung by Nina Simone on her 1964 album Broadway-Blues-Ballads, is the inspiration for the title of McLeod’s exhibit "We the People (Our Love Will See Us Through)." This exhibition is on display at Brandeis University’s Kniznick Gallery from Aug. 2 to Oct. 29, 2021. 

After being asked by Brandeis, McLeod assembled this group of work to create a powerful exhibit that addresses Black bodies as they exist and are treated within the United States, and represents Black bodies as they intersect with sexuality, violence, and history. Despite the heavy history that weighs on Black bodies, McLeod’s exhibit is meant to “represent hope and promise for unity ahead.”

In 2020, McLeod received her Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. She has worked not only as an artist but also a museum curator; her different roles have allowed her to understand many different aspects of the art world.

Many different mediums were employed by McLeod in this set of artworks. The pieces range from large oil paintings to performance pieces. A heavy amount of research was involved in the process of making these pieces, as well as acts of creation like painting and sewing. Police records, informal history lessons, and indigenous craft contributed to the artist's foundational research. 

"We the People" showcases an intricate blend of traditional and contemporary influences. The textiles she uses to create elaborate gowns are drawn from traditional African textiles and iconography. The voices of Black historical figures are emblazoned across many of these pieces in the form of quotes and overall message. McLeod searches for herself and those that came before her in this exhibition.

Despite the seriousness and heaviness that exists within some of these pieces, McLeod and her exhibit are a pure expression of Black joy and creation. 

Her demeanor throughout the lecture was inviting and her excitement was contagious, and soon the room was buzzing about these topics. Telling of her connection to some of the real-life subjects she worked with, McLeod managed to connect the audience to the intense humanity of her pieces. Not only did she dive into the history and subject matter of the exhibit, but McLeod also provided a peek into the behind-the-scenes of her artistic processes.

She showed us a video of the moment she finished one of her traditional African textiles. We watched her smile as she looked at the finished piece, then quickly put the colorful dress on over her jeans, twirling and laughing. In this exhibit and lecture, McLeod showcased the joy and excellence that is intrinsic to art and creation. Creating something with your own hands allows you to hold the hands of those who came before you.

Here are links to the exhibit and McLeod's website.

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A history major with a fascination in all things old and ancient. Ask me about my photograph collection!

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