Curated by Museum Studies Students, Show Also Looks at Masculine Identity

March 21, 2018
NORTH ADAMS, MASS. — Students of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ (MCLA) “Advanced Museum Studies” class have organized “Witness,” an exhibition for MCLA Gallery 51. The show, to open on Thursday, March 29, will feature drawings and videos by New York-based artist and educator Shaun Leonardo. These works include references to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, and Sean Bell, among other men of color.

“Witness” also will include – for the first time – Leonardo’s recent work, “Atticca.”

An artist talk with Leonardo will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 28, in the Design Lab, 49 Main St. In addition, an opening reception for “Witness” will be held at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 29, in MCLA Gallery 51, 51 Main St. Both events are free and open to the public.

According to the students who organized “Witness,” they created the exhibition as a space for people to approach difficult topics without prescribing an experience. Visitors are encouraged to focus in on these works and acknowledge the subject matter in a public environment.

Leonardo explained, “I interrogate audience members’ memory of these tragedies in order to unpack the complexity of how one internalizes trauma, and in doing so, attempt to restore a sense of humanity to how these events are so often flattened in the media.”

He added, “Ultimately, I question why these particular images of fallen black and brown bodies circulate in the media, and in that, measure our complicity in how an image survives in our collective consciousness.”

Throughout this spring semester, students worked with their instructor, Laura Thompson, MASS MoCA’s director of education and the curator of Kidspace, to realize this exhibition. Students were responsible for all aspects of the exhibition, from interpretation to its layout, and from promotion to programming.

Thompson explained, “Our class challenge was to curate an exhibition that would not offer solutions, take one point of view, or try to form consensus. Rather, we were looking to design an exhibition that would allow for co-searching, collaboration and participation.”

The students aim for the show’s viewers to explore themes such as societal expectations of masculinity, issues of police violence, and systemic racism, as well as their ongoing effects on society. Viewers also should focus on engaging with the art and seek out reasons for their discomfort, with the aim of becoming comfortable with confronting that discomfort, the students said.

Leonardo is a multidisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, N.Y., who uses modes of self-portraiture as a means to convey the complexities of masculine identity and question preconceived notions of manhood.

He received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco, Calif., and has received awards, including those from Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, The New York Studio School, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Art Matters, New York Foundation for the Arts, McColl Center for Visual Art, Franklin Furnace, and The Jerome Foundation.

MCLA Gallery 51 is at 51 Main St. in North Adams. Gallery hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

“Witness” will remain on display through Sunday, April 22.

MCLA Gallery 51 is a program of MCLA’s Berkshire Cultural Resource Center. The Gallery is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. MCLA Gallery 51 is at 51 Main St. in North Adams. DownStreet Art, a cultural and economic development program, is organized by the team from MCLA Gallery 51 and the Berkshire Cultural Resource Center (BCRC).

For more information about “Witness,” (413) 662-5320, or go to For more information about DownStreet Art events and the BCRC, go to and

MCLA Gallery 51, run by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts since 2005, exhibits work from a wide range of emerging to mid-career contemporary artists for the greater Berkshire community. The gallery hosts 10 exhibitions each year, as well as a number of events and happenings. Staffed mostly by student workers, MCLA Gallery 51 provides undergraduates at MCLA with hands-on experience in the day-to-day operations of a gallery. MCLA Gallery 51 is a project of MCLA’s Berkshire Cultural Resource Center.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) is the Commonwealth's public liberal arts college and a campus of the Massachusetts state university system. MCLA promotes excellence in learning and teaching, innovative scholarship, intellectual creativity, public service, applied knowledge, and active and responsible citizenship. MCLA graduates are prepared to be practical problem solvers and engaged, resilient global citizens.

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