W&L’s Museums Present ‘The Root of the Matter’ The Museums are celebrating Black History Month with an exhibition of works by artist Sharon Norwood, who questions historical constructed identity and explores the intersection of race and beauty.
The Museums at Washington and Lee University presents the works of artist Sharon Norwood in an exhibition titled “The Root of the Matter.” The exposition, which opens Feb. 3, will be on display through May 28 in the Watson Gallery at W&L.
The gallery will feature artwork that, according to Norwood, “investigates past stories, spaces and histories in order to challenge passive notions of looking.”
“The goal of this exhibition is to communicate the interplay of identity and history effectively,” said Isra El-Beshir, associate director of museums. “Having encounters with the artist’s work introduces the university community to art as social commentary to explore issues of race, gender and beauty, especially the embodiment of Black womanhood femininity as it relates to hair.”
By using various media and objects, including ceramic tea services and 19th-century fashion plates, Norwood invites viewers to reframe familiar historical narratives of postcolonialism and power by disrupting the pervading narrative and providing an alternate artistic context for contemplation.
“The Root of the Matter” consists of digital collage prints on paper. The imagery is sourced from the MET 1840’s digital collection and aims to question historically constructed identity and explore the intersection of race and beauty. A number of Norwood’s works will be showcased in the exhibition, including “Hair Matters,” which features found tea sets and plates to which the artist adds her signature curly line; “The Root of the Matter,” line drawings over digital images made from 19th-century fashion plates; and one of the artist’s earliest series, “Split Ends,” in which she explored the curly line both in drawings and on ceramic dinnerware.
Over the course of the semester, several events associated with the exhibition will take place, beginning with an artist talk on Feb. 3 at 5 p.m. in Northen Auditorium titled “Disrupting the Feminine Space.” The talk is free and open to the public.
At 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 and 3 p.m. on Feb. 4, there will be a “Walk and Talk” with Norwood in the Watson Galleries. This event will include conversations with Norwood about the issues and themes illustrated in her works. Registration is required to attend the “Walk and Talk” events.
On Feb. 4, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., there will be an open reception for “The Root of the Matter: Works by Sharon Norwood” during which exhibition curators Patricia Hobbs, senior curator of art, and Posi Oluwakuyide ’24 will give the opening remarks.
“This is Sharon Norwood’s first solo museum exhibition,” said Hobbs. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Sharon in curating this exhibition. She has a playful spirit that emerges in her work, and she talks about her art-making with great passion and dedication. I think anyone who visits the Watson Galleries will sense that. I also encourage everyone to attend Sharon’s gallery talk to meet her in person and to hear her talk about her creative processes and influences. Her enthusiasm is infectious.”
Norwood’s work displays themes of social justice through connections with artwork, including the politics of belonging, invisible labor inhumanity of racism, and Black Lives Matter.
Oluwakuyide, a sophomore at W&L, said cocurating the exhibition has been an invaluable experience.
“I have learned so much throughout the process,” said Oluwakuyide. “I highly encourage everyone to come out and see Norwood’s work because I think it will spark conversations that are needed on campus.”
Norwood has exhibited her work throughout the United States, Canada, Korea, Jamaica and Germany, and participated in national and international residencies. In 2019, she became a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant nominee. She earned her bachelor’s degree in painting from the University of South Florida and her master’s in studio art from Florida State University.
“The Museums at W&L are excited to support an emerging conceptual Black artist of Caribbean descent who engages with themes that are directly relevant to our students and our broader community,” said Lynn Rainville, director of institutional history and the Museums at W&L. “Her work provides a rare opportunity to interact with a contemporary artist who engages with historic objects that we showcase in our Reeves Museum of Ceramics, providing new relevancy for centuries-old objects.”
Read more about the artist on her website and learn more about the exhibition here.
All individuals, including those who are fully vaccinated, are expected to wear masks in public indoor spaces on the W&L campus.