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March 24, 2000
Volume 37, No. 13


Collinson exhibits the art of engagement
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Collinson exhibits the art of engagement

Vicki Rovine, curator of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas and curator of the Bogolan exhibit, points out masks on a Bogolan textile to Howard Collinson, the new director of the Museum of Art. Photo by Helen Spielbauer.

As Howard Collinson shows visitors around the UI Museum of Art, the sense of care he feels is apparent. He stops to pick up a small bit of litter from the carpet of a gallery. He apologizes for the mess in the former, and soon-to-be-renovated alumni center. He greets early morning visitors. Collinson’s duties as the new director of the Museum of Art began less than a month earlier, but it’s clear that he already cares about this place and the face it puts forth, and is enthusiastically determined to make it shine.

Bogolan: Contemporary African textiles 

On March 24, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Howard Collinson and Museum of Art staff members will welcome visitors to a reception for Renewing Tradition: The Revitalization of Bogolan in Mali and Abroad. Vicki Rovine, curator of the exhibit, will give a gallery tour at 6 p.m. Bogolan, a traditional Malian textile known as mudcloth, is traditionally woven by men and decorated by women. The cotton fabric, painted with dyes made of earth, leaves, and bark, is adorned with symbolic patterns that refer to local history and mythology. Bogolan textiles hang in museums, are worn during women’s initiation ceremonies, are used by hunters as spiritually charged, protective garments, and are sold by the hundreds in tourist markets. The exhibit is the first to present bogolan in all these contexts, each a reflection of Mali’s current economic, political, and social circumstances.

On March 29 at 12:30 p.m., Rovine will give an additional gallery tour as part of the Perspectives program. On April 12 at 12:30 p.m., Baba Wagué Diakité, a Malian-born artist and author, will present a talk and bogolan demonstration. The events are free and open to the public.


And he’s determined that others should care as well. Collinson says that while some new directors might be intent on curating a particular exhibition, his interest is different.

"My agenda is to make this a more-visited place," Collinson says. "This museum, the collections, the University will help to tell me what to do. I’m interested in changing how that’s accomplished."

Collinson came to the University from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, where he served as the Mona Campbell Curator in the department of Western art and culture.

"The museum had more of an anthropological focus," Collinson says. "But anthropology museums tend to be further ahead than art museums in understanding how to attract visitors—they’re a tool for a purpose."

Collinson credits the UI museum’s staff with lining up an exciting group of upcoming exhibits. He hopes to increase attendance at these exhibits and to make their presentations more accessible.

"Getting visitors to think about art is the goal," he says. "You’ve got to stop and put yourself in the head of our average visitor—they’re very intelligent, but may not know about art.

"Think about some of the best professors you’ve had. They may be interested in the most obscure piece of knowledge, and they make it fascinating because they share their passion. That’s what we need to do with the art here. We’re not going to simplify the content, but we’ll take complex notions about art and make them lucid and exciting."

Collinson, who is originally from Kansas, was drawn to Iowa because of its reputation of regard for the arts.

Bogolan robe by Alou Traoré, 1997. Collection of the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

"Here the arts aren’t ghettoized in some school of fine arts— they’re right up there with history and mathematics," Collinson says. "The prominence of the arts is part of Iowa’s self-image.

"It’s even goal number three in the University’s strategic plan—to foster distinguished research, scholarship, and artistic creation. It places the creative process within, not apart from, other intellectual endeavors."

Collinson hopes to engage those involved in other sorts of intellectual endeavors in projects at the museum. A copy of the 2000-2001 semester assignments sat on his desk, and research ideas that sparked his curiosity were circled.

"I’m looking forward to working with faculty and staff from all over the University, and from the most unexpected quarters, including medicine, business, and engineering," Collinson says.

"Art is one of the ways we organize our perceptions of reality, of what exists within and outside ourselves," he says. "It’s a way to break the world into digestible chunks. History, the sciences, and other disciplines do the same thing."

Article by Linzee Kull McCray


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