Reopening the museum to the public last summer was a full-time job for Fowler staff. During its 15–month closure, the museum had delayed exhibitions, extended loans of objects from the museum’s collection and halted on-site classes. Working closely with UCLA Environment, Health & Safety, the museum reviewed capacity limits for each gallery, and adopted an evolving list of safety requirements and sanitization protocols, including proof of vaccination from visitors.
“Then it all went off without a hitch,” said David Blair, deputy director. “We opened at 50% capacity in July 2021 and steadily returned with classes, walk-throughs and private events once it was safe to do so. Every day, there are campus news briefs to digest, testing requirements to communicate, and a slew of if-then scenarios to rehearse. And it’s all paid off.”
On March 2, the Fowler will be open late for its first public event: a welcome back party for campus. Aimed specifically at gathering students, faculty and staff, and open to all, “Celebrate Winter Openings” will take place at the Fowler from 5 to 8 pm The festivities revolve around the four exhibitions on view, with curator-led tours of the two larger installations on offer. Visitors can enjoy Australian and West African food and drinks, a traditional Ghanaian musical process, and contemporary art from Australia, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“We are so excited to welcome campus and local communities back to the galleries,” said Amy Landau, director of education and interpretation. “We are especially looking forward to working with a 10-person student council, which launched in January, and our student members, which now number over 900. Collectively, this student body is energizing the museum, and moving forward they will play an integral role in shaping educational programs, which in turn is nourishing campus life.”
Now able to reach international audiences with online public programs, the staff remains committed to continuing virtual offerings, while inspiring an appetite for in-person gatherings, tours and live performances — all the ways in which galleries serve as a space for community engagement.
“If there is one thing we’ve learned throughout the pandemic,” said Matthew Robb, chief curator. “It’s how exhilarating it is to be in front of art with other people.”
Gosette Lubondo: Imaginary Trip (through July 3)
This series by Congolese photographer Gosette Lubondo probes the intersections of memory and architecture, examining tensions between residual colonial constructs and contemporary life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Stylized, almost nostalgic tableaux are staged in one of two settings: a train car and a school, both abandoned and devoid of their erstwhile vitality. Placing herself in these spaces, Lubondo imagines her way through the lingering remnants of her country’s colonial past. Schools and stations once humming with movement and exchange now conjure the ghosts of a bygone waystation — a fitting metaphor for Lubondo’s journey and the memory of previous generations who passed through.
“How Do You See This World?”: The Art of Almighty God (through May 15)
A retrospective of paintings by prolific Ghanaian artist, Kwame Akoto surveys a surprising array of subject matter, from portraits to animated biblical scenes to expressionistic accumulations of paint, all linked by a through line of textual commentary that appears in each work. Addressed as “Almighty” by friends and acquaintances, Akoto is the owner of Almighty God Art Works in the city of Kumasi, where his studio produces signs for small businesses as well as the artist’s fine art practice, or what he calls “creativity arts” — the focus of this exhibition. Almighty’s practice as a sign writer permeates his creativity arts in the form of texts running the perimeter of wooden frames or embedded in the paintings. In addition to scriptural quotes and descriptions of a given subject, the texts include expositions on the process of painting, maintaining Almighty’s firm belief that his creations “speak” to both artist and viewer.
Aboriginal Screen-Printed Textiles from Australia’s Top End (through July 10)
More than 70 textiles and seven videos make up the first US exhibition devoted to contemporary textile artists from Aboriginal-owned and operated art centers. Custodians of their land, language and inherited ancestral stories, the artists draw on 65,000 years of continued cultural practices in the Northern Territory, and their work provides a sustainable income for those living “on the country.” Indigenous designs have long been traced in sand; painted on bodies and rock outcrops; and carved, incised or applied to culturally resonant objects made from wood, bark, shell or fibre. Textile artists transfer these motifs to cotton, silk and linen cloth; augment the customary palette of muted ochres with vivid modern inks; and add layers of complexity with the use of multiple screens, offset “shadow” printing, and ombré or colorwave techniques. Indigenous artists from five art centers — Tiwi Design, Jilamara Arts and Crafts, Injalak Arts and Crafts Aboriginal Corporation, Bábbarra Women’s Center and Merrepen Arts, Culture and Language Corporation — played an active role in this exhibition.
Communication Systems in a Global Context (through June 26)
Written and visual communication has taken many forms over human history, whether based on graphic signs or phonetic-alphabetic systems. This installation features an ancient Egyptian stela, an early modern Inka knotted khipu that records sophisticated numerical accounting, the manuscript of Hank Levy’s 1973 musical score “Whiplash,” after which the 2014 film was named, and the logbook recording “the birth of the Internet Here at UCLA. A selection of rare books and manuscripts showcases the distinctive writing systems of Japanese, Ge’ez, Arabic, Javanese and English. Religious texts embody the divine; calendars often guide prophecies; and all these texts seek to move a message from sender to receiver. Meanwhile, the art of writing itself has inspired many artists, such as the 20th-century Senegalese painter Yelimane Fall whose inventive calligraphic style manifests the healing power of words.