Above: Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Easter Egg Hunt, 1993, watercolor with thread, 29 ¾ x 44 in., Columbus Museum of Art, Estate of the Artist.
In 2015, Columbus-based artist Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (1940-2015) bequeathed her estate, including her home and studio, to the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA). For the past five years, CMA has documented the art, writings, archives and library that remained in her house. Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s House and Journals is the first major exhibition of the artist’s work since her death and a celebration of Robinson’s vision and the home and community she cherished. On view at CMA from Nov. 21, 2020-Oct. 3, 2021, Raggin’ On presents more than six decades of Aminah Robinson’s art and writing.
Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson lived and worked in Columbus, Ohio, where she created sculpture, large complex works she called RagGonNons, rag paintings, paintings on cloth and drawings. She also created books about her family and community, African American history, her travels and the stories she was told by her elders. Her goal was to create art that fills the gaps of African and African American history and encourage others to research and document the history of their families and communities for the next generation. In 2002, CMA organized Symphonic Poem, the first retrospective of her work, which traveled throughout the United States. In 2004, Robinson participated in a residency in Santiago, Chile, where she was the first woman artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Her commission for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is on permanent view at the Center in Cincinnati. Robinson’s work has also been presented at Akron Art Museum, Oakland Museum, Baltimore Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Studio Museum in Harlem, Toledo Museum of Art and museums and galleries around the world.
Guests in Robinson’s home remember a profound sense of both the spiritual and the sacred. The design of Raggin’ On encourages museum visitors to experience that environment through vintage photographs and ephemera, newly recorded conversations with family and friends, and the reconstruction of Robinson’s Writing Room. In addition to drawings, prints, paintings, sculpture, beaded dolls, puppets and one-of-a-kind books, Raggin’ On highlights some of the more than 150 journals that Robinson kept from the time she was a teenager. An opportunity to digitally peruse a sampling of Robinson’s journals will reveal memoirs filled with poetry, prose, illustrations, imaginative doodles and detailed pen, ink and watercolor depictions.
“Visitors, both in-person and virtual, will have the opportunity to experience the breadth of Aminah Robinson’s creative genius,” noted Carole Genshaft, exhibition co-curator. “Through an array of art in many media and never-before-seen journals and memoirs, visitors will understand the mission of her work as an effort to fill in the blank pages of African American history. Furnishings from her home, art she traded with other artists and recollections from those who knew her well create an atmosphere where we all can share in the sacredness of her journey.”
Raggin’ On, the title of the exhibition, references Robinson’s belief that her art and writing never end – because the next viewer or the next reader are always adding new perspectives. This interaction between people is at the heart of her effort to record and pass on history and handed down stories. Her life and work is grounded in the spirit of Sankofa, the African concept of understanding the past in order to move forward. The exhibition invites visitors to experience the artist’s home and creative processes and to better understand her intention “to celebrate the everyday lives and culture of Black people and their endurance through centuries of injustice.”
“The exhibition is designed to conjure the feeling of entering Aminah’s home studio, sitting on her couch and having a conversation with her about what matters most in her world – love, respect for family, community, ancestral history and elevating consciousness about Black life in America and around the world – amplified through her art and writing,” said Deidre Hamlar, exhibition co-curator. “Aminah was a visual griot whose very survival was dependent on her creativity. Raggin’ On reveals how Aminah’s home sanctuary became her muse, and how her art became her sustenance.”
The exhibition is presented in a series of sections starting with Beginnings, which explores the artist’s early life and work including her participation in the 1963 March on Washington. Street Cries documents both the lively spirit and the relentless poverty of the neighborhoods where Robinson lived. Ancestral Voices: From Bondage to Freedom is the artist’s depiction of African and African American history based on her research and the narratives of her elders. Raggin’ On showcases Robinson’s ongoing series about women, the integrated world of the Sellsville Circus and her travels to Europe, the Middle East and South America. The Writing Room is a reconstruction of the small, private room in her home where Robinson wrote in her journals, corresponded with friends, and listened to her favorite classical, jazz and gospel music. Material Matters explores Robinson’s ingenious use of natural substances and found objects in two and three-dimensional work. Friends and acquaintances of the artist share their recorded recollections of her and her home in Conversations, the final section of the exhibition.
Raggin’ On is a reflection of CMA’s commitment to the legacy of MacArthur award-winning artist Aminah Robinson and the Shepard community of Columbus. It is part of the Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson Legacy Project, which includes exhibitions, publications, archives, special projects and an artist residency for established and emerging Black artists. The exhibition is organized by the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, and is co-curated by Carole Genshaft, who worked with Robinson on Museum projects for nearly 20 years, and Deidre Hamlar, who, inspired by Robinson, is a multicultural arts administrator, educator and voice for underrepresented arts and artists. This exhibition is the most recent of several CMA exhibitions devoted to the artist and reflects the strong relationship Robinson and the Museum shared for many decades. CMA holds the most significant collection of Robinson’s work in the world and is a central location of her archives and library, which the Museum continues to make available to students and scholars.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 235-page catalogue with more than 200 illustrations and essays by Curators Carole Genshaft and Deidre Hamlar, an introduction by CMA Executive Director Nannette Maciejunes and additional essays by scholars including Lisa Gail Collins, Ramona Austin, Lisa Farrington, Debra Priestly and William McDaniel. Themes explored in the catalogue include the sacredness of Robinson’s home studio; her relationship with the Columbus Museum of Art; the importance of the writings and illustrations in her journals; the feminism that permeates her work; her work in conversation with contemporary artists; her art as a means of healing in the face of social injustice; and an examination of musical notation as a form of artistic expression.
This exhibition is supported in part by a major Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding provided by PNC Arts Alive