Artist Marisa Williamson '04 returned to GFS this week to speak to Middle and Upper School students about her multimedia explorations of gender, freedom, race, authority, and love at the annual Abigail Rebecca Cohen '91 Art Lecture.
Marisa presented on her recent performance, video, and installation work about the life of Sally Hemings, slave of President Thomas Jefferson. With the goal to make the past seem alive, Marisa recreated the persona of Sally Hemings at Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, and in Paris, where Sally debated returning to the US as a slave or embracing a new life of freedom. Marisa's work challenges viewers to consider how narrow the distance is between then and now, and how the actions, emotions, and tensions of the past connect to today.
Marisa's work is timely and important for students, visually telling a history of conflict and resistance, and inspiring individuals to find their voice through challenging times.
"My work explores how power differentials are inherited, and looks to the past to see how we arrived where we are," said Marisa. "By articulating resistance and history through art and experiences, we can more effectively work on making change."
Marisa also highlighted that discomfort can be a source of inspiration and can help students find their artistic or written voice, "Find out what makes you uncomfortable and then dig into that."
She ended her remarks with a challenging idea that "the process of creating portraits—especially self-portraits—is a process that doesn't end," reminding students that our lives, stories, conflicts, and history are constantly evolving, and to never stop asking important questions of yourself and others.
The Abigail Rebecca Cohen '91 Lecture was created in memory of Abigail Rebecca Cohen, a 1991 GFS graduate. Her life as an artist and photographer was dedicated to the pursuit of social and aesthetic concerns. The Cohen Art Lecture is made possible by the generous support of Abigail's brother, Jonathan Cohen '88, and his wife Julia Pershan. The Cohen Art Lecture reflects GFS' Quaker philosophy that guides students to understand and appreciate their world through inquiry and artistic expression.