Highlights of Oct 5-6 Symposium – Heritage: Shaping Past, Present, Future

The Heritage: Shaping Past, Present, Future symposium, taking place October 5-6 2023, in connection with our special exhibition, brings together a range of guest speakers who explore how artists, architects, and craftspersons, represent and reproduce cultural heritage across the ages and through diverse media, which may reference, reinforce, or challenge perceptions of society’s past, present and future. Drawing on content within the exhibition and their own research, speakers demonstrate how artworks play an important role in mediating tradition and socio-cultural change, ranging from ancient myths, to the removal and preservation of statues, and the intersection of AI and digital heritage. This short blog provides connections between the speakers and themes related to artworks on display in the exhibition. 

Kathleen Lynch (University of Cincinnati, Department of Classics) speaks on The Heritage of Storytelling and Mythmaking: Connecting Past to Present

In ancient Greece and Italy, terracotta plaques such as this were mass-produced using molds and used to decorate pediments and roofs of public buildings. It depicts an image of a Gorgon, a mythological creature with wings and snakes for hair. The ancient Greek myth of the Gorgon Medusa, who could turn people to stone with a single gaze, was brought to life through visual culture and storytelling.

Antefix with Gorgoneion, mid-4th century BCE, ceramic (terracotta), 6 x 2 3/4 x 6 1/4 inches; Gift of Walter I. Farmer, 1978.S.2.5.

Jeb Card (Miami University, Department of Anthropology): Myth, Disruption and Heritage in Mesoamerica 

This ceramic house model from Mexico may be interpreted as a house of the dead – a primary form of West Mexican cosmological and religious expression. A dog peeks out from the lower level, perhaps guarding the home’s ancestral space. The centering of ancestors with the house demonstrates the importance of continuity of family and community.  

Nayarit, Mexico (Ixtlan del Rio style); Burial House Effigy, West Mexico, 1st century BCE-3rd century CE; Ceramic with polychrome paint, 12 x 6 3/4 x 5 inches, gift of Walter I. Farmer, 1978.S.2.69.

Andrew Casper (Miami University, Department of Art): Ancient Heritage Remembered: Representations of the Ruins of Rome 

The Temple of Faustina, much like works by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, served as a romanticized image of the ancient world revered by the educated elite during the Grand Tours. The focus of many vedute, or “views,” is to depict ancient structures, ruins, and remnants of the past through the lens of the past glory of ancient cultures. This recently conserved painting depicts the portico of the ruins of the Temple of Faustina (center) located in the Roman Forum stand boldly in contrast with present day (18th century) buildings. 

Ferdinando Galli da Bibiena (Italian, 1657-1743), Temple of Faustina, 18th century; Oil on canvas; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William H. Hiestand, 1956.P.1.10.

Erin L. Thompson (John Jay College, City University of New York) in discussion with Mary Rogero (Miami University Department of Architecture and Interior Design) Monumental Change: Recent Responses to Controversial Sculptures in America.

A digital artwork on loan from Kenya (Robinson) is one of a series commissioned by the New York Times in 2018 called “Monuments for a New Era”, entitled An argument that all Confederate monuments are for the birds, 2018. It came in response to 2017 protests and counter protests focused on the removal of the statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a city park in Charlottesville, Virginia. Following years of public protests, episodes of violence and death, and outcry, this Confederate statue and another of Stonewall Jackson were removed from public view on July 10, 2021.

Image Source: Robert Edward Lee Sculpture, Charlottesville. Source: Wikipedia (public domain), Cville Dog, 2006.

Jacqueline Johnson (Miami University, University Archivist and Principal Librarian): History of the Freedom Summer Memorial on Western Campus 

The Freedom Summer ‘64 memorial on Western Campus commemorates activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, as well as honoring the 800 trainees who came to the Western College for Women in 1964 to support Black voter registration in Mississippi and beyond. It serves as a learning and commemorative space, and includes inscriptions of media headlines from that fateful summer. 

Image: Freedom Summer ’64 Memorial, Western Campus, Designed by Robert Keller, Miami University Architect, 2000, Photograph by Scott Kissell, Digital C Print, 30 x 24 inches; University Communications and Marketing, Miami University.

Robert Keller (Retired, former Miami University Architect): Charles Cellarius – Miami’s Architect

Charles Cellarius was a consultant architect for Miami University (1920s-1930s) and then Miami University architect (1940s-early 1970s). A proponent of a Georgian Revival at Miami, he was nicknamed “Colonial Charlie,” as heavily inspired by Colonial Williamsburg. He integrated red brick and neo-Classical style porticos into buildings that contribute to Miami’s distinctive and traditional character. His plan and vision continues to imprint itself on the campus architecture and landscape to this day.

Drawing: area between Stoddard and Elliot Halls by Charles F. Cellarius, 1930s, 9 3/4 x 14 3/4 inches. Walter Havighurst Special Collections, Miami University.

Jared Nally (Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Myaamia Center at Miami University): Culture as Living Memory: Picking up the Threads of Myaamia Weaving

The Myaamia are not a people of the past, but a people with a past. In 2001, the Myaamia Center at Miami University Oklahoma, an initiative of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, began with undertaking the revitalization of a dormant language. Since then, continued documentation and learning has led to astounding discoveries. Among them are the process of handweaving panel bags and the ribbonwork pattern so prominently featured. 

Jared Nally (Myaamia, Native American), ahkimotayi (Panel Bag), 2021, linen with dyes, 8 5/8 x 10 5/8 inches. On Loan from the Collection of the Artist.

Jordan Fenton (Miami University, Department of Art):  Performing Heritage in Nigeria: The Artistic Philosophy of the Ekpe Nkanda Masquerade 

Idem Nkanda is one of the most significant masquerades of the long-standing Ekpe secret society. Nkanda performs to honor the recent passing of a local king or Ekpe lodge head in Nigeria to signal the transition of leadership during a difficult time. The ukara cloth used to create this masquerade ensemble is hand dyed in indigo and features stitch resist white motifs known as nsibidi, which are the imaged form of the esoteric body of knowledge of the Ekpe society. 

Chief Ekpenyong Bassey Nsa, (Nigerian, b. 1973), Idem Nkanda Ensemble of the Ekpe Society, 2022, Mixed media textiles with raffia, 84 x 28 x 24 inches. Museum commission through the Orpha Webster Art Fund with support of the Provost’s Office and the College of Creative Arts at Miami University, Ralph and Barbara Drake Bresler, and Willam Brenner, 2022.16.

Daniel R. Small (artist and filmmaker, Los Angeles): Future Pasts – The Radical Openness of AI in an Expanded Field.

This animation combines reproductions of shaman’s masks and text written by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Natural Language Processor. The AI was trained using initial lines of a creation myth of the Uitoto, an indigenous people of southeastern Colombia and northern Peru. This digital artwork makes the viewer question ways in which intangible cultural heritage is transmitted, remembered, and potentially transformed – in this case through artificial means. 

Daniel R. Small (American, b. 1984), Myth of the Divine, 2021, Digital animation, 1:45 runtime. Museum purchase with support of the John A. Weigel and Milton White Fund, 2023.4

To register and find out more, please visit the Symposium program page: Heritage: Shaping Past, Present, Future symposium

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