Art Hounds®

Art Hounds: Ableism and art, African diaspora music and Gordon Parks

People sit at table in a red-colored room
Installation view of "Hot Hang" (2024) by Ezra Benus and Finnegan Shannon at the Perlman Teaching Museum at Carleton College in Northfield.
Courtesy of Eric Mueller

Carleton College senior Esme Krohn loves the Perlman Teaching Museum on campus, and she was at the opening night of its new exhibit Towards a Warm Embrace by Finnegan Shannon and Ezra Benus.

The hands-on, interactive exhibit explores themes of ableism and disability as well as the power of touch in a post-pandemic world. Both artists are New York-based, though Shannon is a Carleton grad, and some of the pieces were created in collaboration with Carleton art students.

One such piece that Krohn particularly liked consists of a series of heating pads with original cyanotype prints for covers. The heating pads are in a room with warm lighting, creating a space where she could imagine chilling with friends.

Many pieces invite visitors to touch them, and there are numerous places to sit, including a bench whose label says, “This exhibit has made me stand for too long.”  

The show runs through April 14. The Perlman Teaching Museum is free and open to visitors. It’s located inside the Weitz Center for Creativity on the Carleton College campus in Northfield.  

There will be an event connected to the exhibit on Jan. 19, Convocation with Jerron Herman.

Sarah Larsson is a Minneapolis-based singer and an organizer of next weekend’s Klezmer on Ice. This Friday evening, she’s looking forward to Abinnet Berhanu’s Ahndenet at Icehouse in Minneapolis.

Ahndenet means “unity,” and this performance will combine music from both the East and West African diaspora. Ethiopian drummer and composer Abinnet Berhanu of Minneapolis brings his deep knowledge of Ethiopian and American jazz and pop, featuring the talents of local Ethiopian vocalist Genet Abate.

They share the stage with Kevin Washington, who incorporates Afro-Latino, hip hop and R&B beats along with West African diaspora rhythms and jazz. 

“One thing that I think is really interesting about Abinnet and his music,” says Larsson, is that “he talks a lot about how there are so, so many different styles and traditions of music that come from Ethiopia, but kind of what people tend to hear is only one very kind of sterilized and also almost Americanized style of pop music. And he’s been doing a lot of work for many years to go down into the roots and study these very specific different lineages. He names the teachers and the singers of the songs. And what he’s trying to do is illuminate and bring together these different styles, by actually naming them and where they come from.” 

Person stands in room
A Gordon Parks photo taken in Washington, D.C., in 1942, shows Johnnie Lew, owner of the laundry under the apartment of Mrs. Ella Watson, a government charwoman.
Minneapolis Institute of Art

Artist Brian Sago teaches photography and printmaking at Blake School, and he often includes the photography of Gordon Parks (1912 – 2006) in his classes.

Sago was excited to see a collection of Parks’ photodocumentary work at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Parks, who lived in St. Paul during his teens and young adulthood, is considered one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, in addition to his work as a composer, author and filmmaker.

He was the only Black photography fellow with the Farm Security Administration when he met Ella Watson, who worked cleaning the building. The 60 photographs on display portray Watson’s life and work, which Parks used to document the social inequities in Washington, D.C., in 1942.

His most famous photograph shows Watson holding a broom and a mop in front of the American flag — a visual reference to Grant Woods’ “American Gothic” painting. 

Sago says Gordon Parks’ photographs offer “a window of the history on what it's like to be a Black American. His photographs give such a nuanced level. They’re beautiful to look at: his photographs are all gorgeous. But the sensitivity with which he was taking pictures and the situations he was able to get into by being a Black photographer who was paid by the federal government for much of his career, that’s really profound.” 

“American Gothic: Gordon Parks and Ella Watson” is on display through June 23 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Admission is free. 

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.