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Artist paints a picture of Introspection

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Kameelah Janan Rasheed returned to her alma mater to create the installation, “Worshiping at the Altar of Certainty: 1985,” at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College. In the exhibition, that runs through Dec. 18, Rasheed challenges the concept of knowledge through the use of Xerox-based prints, video and text. / photo by Casi Martinez

Samira Felix
Staff Writer 

Artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed returned to Pomona College after graduating in 2006 with “Worshiping at the Altar of Certainty: 1985,” a site-specific exhibition that is featured in the Benton Museum of Art.

The first iteration of the exhibition was at Williams College Museum of Art in 2021. It was in a rotunda area of the museum that used to be a library at Williams College. Rasheed drew inspiration from the rotunda space for the exhibition, “Worshiping at the Altar of Certainty.”

“The inspiration for the show was to explore the rotunda shape and this idea of literally sort of circling an object which we presume will offer certainty,” Rasheed said. 

When the show moved to the Benton Museum of Art Rasheed was interested in her own time as a student at Pomona College and how it was contextualized 20 years later. She also wanted to challenge the traditional approach to learning and knowing. 

“I was really interested in sort of the human interest in certainty and what might happen if we do not worship certainty, but allow for things to be uncertain, unstable and to be a bit out of order,” Rasheed said. 

Linda Kroff, professor of creative photography and experimental media at California State University, Fullerton said it was great that the exhibition was at the Benton Museum of Art because it is a very constructed high-brow academic environment. 

“I actually think it is perfect for students,” Kroff said. “This is a great exhibition for students to work through.”

Rasheed curated the exhibition alongside exhibition co-curators Mallory Cohen, Nidhi Gandhi, Elyse Mack and Sinclair Spratley. At the Benton Museum of Art she organized the exhibition with Rebecca McGrew, senior curator, and Nicolas Orozco-Valdiva, curatorial assistant. 

Upon walking in, guests are greeted with a black and white exhibition. 

Rasheed said she used black and white because it is an invitation for people to look closer for a more durational engagement with the work.

D. Hill, a photography lab technician at California State University, Los Angeles said he really appreciated that Rasheed only used black and white because it pushes guests to think and focus on the work. 

A video named  “Keeping Count” is on autoplay on a black wall with a white center. In the middle of the room there is an ottoman where guests can sit down and above them there is a speaker that plays the audio of the video. 

Rasheed said she chose to include the video in the exhibition because there needed to be something in the space that held it together in terms of a literal conceptual anchor for the space.

The video was created in 2021 as a part of other work that Rasheed did around math, calculations and ideas of certainty.

On the floor in front of the video there is a collage on a platform with over 200 pieces. Rasheed used Xerox paper, model prints and acrylic paintings for the collage and it is held together by archival adhesive and acrylic. 

Rasheed said she chose to reuse the prints because she is interested in how people throw away things that do not seem to have immediate utility.

“I am a person who keeps and holds on to everything so I wanted to think about how the tangents, the residue or the things that we think may not be immediately important also have space in our learning process,” Rasheed said. 

The collage has glass on top of it that reflects the video, which is something Rasheed wanted to showcase.

“Because the show is sort of thinking about me in terms of 20 years later we wanted to play with ideas of reflection and refraction and opacity and self reference,” Rasheed said. “There are different ways as you move throughout the space where you can view the video through different layers and opacities.”

The reflection of the video can also be seen in the framed pieces on the walls.

Rasheed said the reflection of the video throughout the space allows people to think about positionality perspective, the notions of self reflection and how they can be conveyed. 

On the three white walls in the exhibition there is a combination of small printouts, framed pieces, quotes, brush strokes and Xerox pieces.

“It is all combined to give you a sense of possibility that there is not just one way, but there are multiple ways you can go about learning things,” Orozco-Valdiva said.

Rasheed said she is really proud of the way the Benton team and her collaborated together. 

“I really appreciate the Benton team working with me in terms of lighting and staging the space so that we could achieve the reflective qualities that were really important to me,” Rasheed said.

“Worshiping at the Altar of Certainty: 1985” will be on display through Dec. 18. The Benton Museum of Art is located at 120 W. Bonita Ave. in Claremont. Admission is free and open to the public. 

For more information visit, pomona.edu/museum/exhibitions/2022/kameelah-janan-rasheed.

Samira Felix can be reached at samira.felix@laverne.edu.

Correction
The original version of this story misidentified D. Hill. The Campus Times regrets the error.

Samira Felix, a junior journalism major with a concentration in print-online journalism, is a staff writer for the Campus Times.

Casi Martinez, a senior photography major, is a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine.

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