Stamps Gallery's "Have We Met?" explores how institutions can create inclusive, creative spaces


Stamps Gallery’s Have We Met? Dialogues on Memory and Desire explores the artworks of political and social groups that have helped shape Ann Arbor. Curated by Srimoyee Mitra, the large gallery is packed with posters, paintings, digital art, sculptures, installations, video, and spaces for visitors to sit and research social movements and histories represented by the artists. The exhibit takes the gallery space into question, with installations that invite viewers to physically engage with their surroundings throughout the gallery. 

The exhibition specifically draws from social movements in Ann Arbor, such as the anti-war and civil rights movements, and the experimental art collective The Once Group. Have We Met? features materials from University of Michigan’s Labadie Collection and the Bentley Library, in addition to “radical artworks by diverse, multigenerational artists and designers whose works are deeply influenced by the ideas of freedom and self-determination; rewriting canonical accounts of history.”

The range of works on display is impressive and illustrates the collaborative efforts of the gallery in securing artworks and archival materials from a variety of sources. There are not only pieces from the mid-20th century onward but also archival materials in large display cases, including buttons, brochures, and pamphlets.

The exhibit's central question is, “What role art institutions can play in building inclusive and vibrant creative spaces in the 21st century?” The gallery addresses this question not only through the subject matter of the exhibition, but also by supplying the visitor with resources to understand the material in a broader cultural context. There are multiple spaces where bookshelves accompany installations and signage that invites the viewer to browse through them. Inclusivity is also suggested immediately upon entering the space, with a ping-pong table and a sign reading, “Come Play a game of Ping Pong with us!”

The inclusion of welcoming spaces for visitors to reflect on the content of the exhibition is an effort to make the gallery more inviting. Galleries often have a reputation of being austere and unwelcoming. The first effort to disrupt this idea is in the front of the gallery, with the artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s Ecosystems (activation ii), a black-and-white installation made from vinyl posters, books, and a desk. There are pens, pieces of paper, and notecards available for use with the sizable library included in the installation. Any of these materials are available for use, with a caveat that the books must be returned to their original locations.

In the back of the gallery space there is a “Dialogue Room,” designed by Ouliana Ermolova. The Dialogue Room includes a cart of books, chairs, tables, bookshelves lining the walls, and graphic design elements on the surrounding walls. One section of this installation features a “Q & A” that asks visitors three questions about their experience. There are sheets of paper to write your reactions and a public board to post your thoughts. The first question on the sheet reads: “Do you feel safe and included at an art gallery or museum?” With a range of responses, from feeling unwelcome to feeling at home in an art gallery, the experiment seems to suggest that the idea of inclusivity pushed by the exhibition is an important consideration for the future success of gallery spaces.

Featured Artists: Rudolf Baranik, Stephanie Dinkins, Emory Douglas, Brendan Fernandes, Chitra Ganesh, Carole Harris, Maren Hassinger, Al Loving, Josh MacPhee, Native Art Department International, Michele Oka Doner, Yoko Ono, Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Martha Rosler, Buster Simpson, Gregory Sholette, Leni Sinclair, Stephanie Syjuco, Graem Whyte, and Zafos Xagoraris. 

This exhibition is part of the For Freedoms Federation. Described as a “non-partisan, nationwide campaign to use art as a means of inspiring civic participation in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.” 

Elizabeth Smith is an AADL staff member and is interested in art history and visual culture.

Stamps Gallery’s "Have We Met? Dialogues on Memory and Desire" runs through November 18.