Renée Stout (b. 1958) is a contemporary American artist whose work is renowned for its potent reflections on African American heritage and the visual culture of the African diaspora. This exhibition highlights her 2012 portfolio Ghosts,which is part of the Ulrich Museum collection. In these haunting prints, Stout explores the ideas and visual language of Haitian Voudou and American Voodoo and Hoodoo. These syncretic religions, which address both the spiritual and physical needs of their practitioners, were first created by enslaved people in the Americas as an amalgam of traditional African beliefs from several different cultures with Christianity and the lived experience of oppression. They are a testament to creativity and resilience in the face of unimaginable adversity, and they remain important cultural touchstones in many Black communities to this day. At the same time, they are often unknown or misunderstood in larger American culture, which itself is haunted by centuries of prejudice and marginalization of Black experiences. In Ghosts, Stout unpacks many layers of haunted history while connecting her viewers to universal concerns—the desire to maintain health, find love, know the future, stave off death, and connect to a spiritual realm—that the belief systems she’s interested in address.
Renée Stout’s work has been deeply influenced by her decades of research into the art and traditions of both Africa and African diasporas. To honor this influence and help our audiences better understand the connections that Stout’s work makes, this exhibition incorporates six objects from the collection of Wichita State University’s Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology. All six objects come from the Yoruba culture of present-day Nigeria, which historically had a great influence on Black diasporic culture in the Americas and whose art is particularly well represented in the Holmes collection. We are pleased to partner with the Holmes Museum and grateful to its director, Rachelle Meinecke, for her collaboration.
Brittany Beck, a graduate student in WSU’s Museum Studies program, contributed research and writing on the Yoruba objects. Brittany says of her experience, “Learningabout the Yoruba provided a welcome challenge for me as a researcher because so much of their stories and culture has been lost or transformed through the African diaspora created by the slave trade. This transformation reflects the universal human behavior of adaptingand changing in new situations, which is an essential foundation of anthropology. It brings me joy to share my research on the Yoruba with students of new cultures, the endlessly curious, and those who seek to understand their own cultural heritage.”Carter Bryant and Nellie Elliott, Ulrich Museum’s Mary Joan Waid undergraduate interns, also contributed extensive research and writing on Renée Stout’s work. As a university art museum, we see advancing student learning as key to our mission and want to thank all three of these students for their excellent contributions to this exhibition.
The Ulrich is grateful for the ongoing support of Salon Circle members who make the Museum’s exhibitions and programs possible through their Salon memberships. We also thank the City of Wichita for its 2021 Cultural Funding grant.
Banner: Renée Stout, Grinning Ghédé from the portfolio Ghosts, 2012. Monotype. Museum Purchase, Collection of the Ulrich Museum of Art.