This year’s IARI inquiry, “Tending to the Body” was prompted by years of research led by the Spencer Museum’s Curator for Global Indigenous Art Cassandra Mesick Braun and acts as a virtual companion to the exhibition Healing, Knowing, Seeing the Body. In a different time, we would have gathered practitioners together physically at the Spencer Museum of Art—including artists and researchers across the sciences and humanities at KU, from our surrounding communities, and across the country—to look at how we tend to the body through multiple lenses and perspectives.
Our inquiries have been restricted, challenged, and even prompted by the global Covid-19 pandemic. We mailed microphones for interviews, created virtual encounters with works of art in the absence of live programming and gallery visits, received videos produced by artists’ studios, and even asked people to meet virtually from their homes as family activity happened around them.
This digital space is a growing document of this year’s inquiry that will continue to be shaped by other participants. It is less a finished presentation and more a log of the way the research and artistic practices of others guide IARI’s work. We invite you to follow the reflections, statements, and resistances as we all think through the body during such an unusual time.
The Integrated Arts Research Initiative (IARI) infuses the arts into the research culture of the University of Kansas by advancing interdisciplinary projects across the sciences and humanities in collaboration with the Spencer Museum of Art.
IARI is funded by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
“Tending to the Body” is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.
Links to programming, exhibitions, and scheduling a visit to the Spencer Museum of Art can be found at the bottom of the page.
The Spencer Museum of Art presents "Tending to the Body," a virtual conversation among artists and other researchers about how to better understand and connect to our bodies through multiple perspectives.
"In this time of quarantine, we rely on artists, makers, writers, musicians, performers, filmmakers, and cultural producers more than ever to bring us together, to keep us at home, to mobilize us, to offer a glimpse of a different reality.”
Andrew S. Yang
"The ritual choreography of hand washing became deeply embedded in our bodies and minds…while forms of protection, isolation, and communion continue to mutate.”
How to Wash Your Hands, 2020
Andrew S. Yang, with Christa Donner
“The connection between the mind and body and the meaning of injury is vital because it determines how quickly the mind and body can heal when the wounds are so deep…The process of tending to the body acknowledges the imposing scars that survivors carry, and that speak to their humanity, vulnerability, and desperate desire to heal from their racial trauma.”
“When my grandmother taught me to bead, she did tell me that when you bead, it's like a prayer because whoever is going to wear it is going to be carrying your intentions with them.”
My name is Mona Cliff, and I am a multi-disciplinary visual artist with a focus on traditional arts, and creating native futurisms. Sitting in front of me is a recognizable gas mask, which is covered with seed beads that are beige, and has leather bead designs that are triangular in shape. The gas mask is also covered in a red paint, including Oklahoma red dirt.
Last year, I had created these pieces that focus on indigenous futurisms. We always think about seven generations ahead of us. And I was at the junkyard and I was scavenging for computer pieces I found these SSD cards from computer boards.
As I was pulling apart the computer boards, I started thinking about my past relations and my ancestors, and how they would use the Buffalo and take every part of the Buffalo and use every piece of that. And I started thinking about like, what is our future going to be like when we don't have Buffalo anymore to live off of? What then are we going to use to survive?
I started thinking about the process of women taking pieces apart from anything that's in front of them, and utilizing every piece. So, this piece is an extension of that native futurism. The image of a gas mask, is usually associated with Dystopian futures.
But it's beaded, so I think that the time that somebody would take to put into that is what ancestors or even myself or what we do now, by placing that sacredness onto an object by giving the care and attention that it needs, bringing relevance to an object by putting prayer into it.
When my grandmother taught me to bead, she did tell me that when you bead, it's like a prayer, because whoever is going to wear it, is going to be carrying your intentions with them. And also what they're wearing becomes a part of who they are too. So, you need to make sure that what you're giving them is in good faith, I guess.
When I made this gas mask, and in bridging these two different techniques, one from the Huichol people. And then also using the techniques that I learned, I created a beads wax resin that I used to keep the beads on there, but it's also like these different kinds of resins that people use in cleansing. And so, I felt like using those helped me impart my prayer into that object too, I think that's why I kind of keep bringing it back to a shamanistic, wearable art, I guess. Because I'm trying to imbue that object with my intentions and using conduits, that people would use and spiritual, and spirit, and praying, and that kind of thing.
I feel like creating these objects right now and imbuing them with the power and the knowledge that I have. So, it's an object that carries that idea of the past, and the present, and the future. I wanted there to be the idea of presence as you're sitting here in the present time, you're carrying everything from the past, and you're also taking it into the future.
It's our job, especially as culture bearers, as people who are walking through this earth, like especially native people who have this responsibility to carry these connections that we have to the earth, and the connection that we have to our ancestors. It's a responsibility that we got to carry forth to the future generations.
With an indigenous worldview, I believe that there's still an understanding about what our connection is to the earth and how we need to take care of it because it takes care of us. And with Standing Rock that had gone on and people trying to protect the water, and kind of this idea about where we're headed right now, if we don't make serious changes.
We all lend our voices in, however, which way that we possibly can. And so this is my way of doing that.
Imani A. Wadud
The Blackout Doors, 2021
Imani A. Wadud
"The Blackout Doors" is a film-choreography about the ordinary politics and poiesis of Black enclosure amidst and within the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. This durational meditation dialogues through movement out of bounds, through the power and truth of unexpected transitions.
This text is part of Imani Wadud’s meditations for the five year anniversary of the publication of Christina Sharpe’s book, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, for the Black Agenda Report. Read the full contribution here.
Binta was among the first HIV-positive women I interviewed early in my research in 2006, and she was widely recognized within her HIV support group as a skilled saleswoman. She earned her money by participating in a category of labor defined broadly as care work; that is, work involving an array of routine caregiving activities centered on meeting or manipulating the embodied and sensual needs of other people. Prior to her recent marriage, Binta’s business centered on preparing herbal treatments for different kinds of illnesses and bodily ailments: including fertility problems, bleeding, pregnancy and delivery, sex, and sexually transmitted infections, among others.
Binta’s body was central to her success in her herb-selling business. She not only sold medicinal items, but she also provided valuable information about her own experiences in healing with these objects. If Binta were to fall sick—a particular concern given her HIV-positive status—she undoubtedly would have had difficulty selling these items. After all, if she could not take care of herself, how could she be entrusted to take care of others?
Kathryn Rhine is an associate professor in the Departments of African & African American Studies and Geography & Atmospheric Science. She was a Spring 2020 IARI Faculty Research Fellow. Read her full essay here.
A preview into the Museum’s recent acquisition of artist Dario Robleto’s portfolio, The First Time, The Heart (A Portrait of Life 1854-1913), that will be displayed for the first time at the Spencer Museum in the exhibition, Healing, Knowing, Seeing the Body curated by Cassandra Mesick Braun, opening to the public February 6, 2021.
Dario Robleto | Portfolio
Dario Robleto | Making as Humanities, Making as Care
"The research is important for me especially with the heart – because there's no way to tell this story unless I try to be well versed in the way the heart is understood from multiple points of view, multiple forms of knowledge.”
Dario Robleto | Religious Guilt
Dario Robleto | Body as Data
“It was interesting too that it [Embrace, 2021] was built during the time of Covid when touch among individuals became impossible…I was hoping to use the intense materiality of felt, of this gentle sound, to create an experience of touch, that yet wasn’t tactile.”
Artist Ingrid Bachmann discusses her work, Embrace (2021), in the Spencer Museum’s exhibition, Healing, Knowing, Seeing the Body, curated by Cassandra Mesick Braun.
felt, steel, welding, magnets, copper
Courtesy of Ingrid Bachmann; Circuit Design: Martin Peach; with support from Canada Council, IA2021.001.a-d
“I have some questions... How does memory live in the body? How does it differ from memorization? How does memory reside, as lived experience becoming corporal? How does it differ from the inherited body, a body that holds the memories of our ancestors, a history that shapes us but is not always readily accessible? What does it mean to know something? What is the difference between attaining information and embodied learning? How does experience get digested and incorporated, becoming the body itself? Lastly, how are we changed and made by our embodied wisdom?”
Janine Antoni responds to the Tending to the Body digital space. You are invited to listen to this audio recording. It will create a space for contemplation and give you an opportunity to experience your bodily sensations and how they connect to your emotional landscape. Just hit the button below. It will take 13 minutes of your time.
Cassandra Mesick Braun
Healing, Knowing, Seeing the Body explores the diverse, dynamic, and sometimes contradictory ways we understand and experience our bodies. The exhibition directly confronts chronic illness and infectious disease, aging and death, social stigma and inequity—topics that are achingly relevant given that the show opened during a global public health crisis that has resulted in an unfathomable loss of life and placed our bodies under near-constant threat.
It is also the most hopeful exhibition that I have ever curated.
The idea for Healing, Knowing, Seeing the Body began in 2013, when I was inspired to investigate global healing practices as a way to question the tyranny of Western biomedicine as the best—or sometimes only—way to diagnose, treat, and cure illness or injury. That critique remains, but the pandemic prompted me to radically reframe the exhibition. For one, it did not seem like the moment to challenge informed, evidence-based knowledge about health and the body. On a more personal level, I knew that using art solely as a form of societal and epistemological critique would not accomplish what I, like so many others, craved in a time of unprecedented and profound isolation and fear: to create connection, foster empathy, and spark inclusive dialogue.
Healing, Knowing, Seeing the Body highlights artists who work productively across disciplinary boundaries to contribute their knowledge, share their methodologies, and raise humanistic questions about the role of care, compassion, and community in tending to our bodies, ourselves, and one another.