Block Museum Student Associates select work by Derrick Woods-Morrow as 2023 Student Acquisition

The Block Museum of Art and the 2022-23 cohort of Block Museum Student Associates (BMSA) are pleased to announce the selection of four works by artist Derrick Woods-Morrow as the annual student-led museum acquisition. The works, recommended by the Student Associates after a ten-week research and decision process include: Her Name was Saartjie | Not Sara (2015), and she was to be ‘seen,’ not watched… (2015), Standing Before Grace (as Grace Jones) (2015) and Frederick on Lake Pontchartrain | after Lincoln Beach (2019)

Derrick Woods-Morrow (he/they), is a Chicago and Rhode Island-based artist and MFA graduate of The School of Art Institute of Chicago. The artist’s boundary-bending work traverses form to explore the intersections of Blackness and Queerness and prioritizes process-oriented collaboration with Black, Queer people. Woods-Morrow is an active member of the Concerned Black Image Makers (CBIM) artist collective.

The selection is the fourth annual Block Museum student-led acquisition to the collection, succeeding the 2022 selection of Michael Koerner‘s Blue DNA#1205L – #1201R (2021),Worlds #0318 (2020), and The Beast Diagnosis #8942 (2019); the 2021 selection of Leonard Suryajaya’s Quarantine Blues (2020); and the 2020 selection of Myra Greene’s Undertone #17, #23, #51 (2017–2018). Each year’s acquisition search centers around a guiding theme, with 2023’s search focused on works that allowed for an exploration of gender. The BMSA cohort also sought works that would complement the museum’s collection, connect to the mission, and coincide with curriculum across Northwestern University.

 “In Derrick Woods-Morrow’s work we find that he’s presenting Blackness and Queerness as inextricably tied, really rejecting the limits of either identity and depicting an image of Black Queer life that is more than just the sum of those two terms. We find that he’s making visible the dynamic of race, gender and sexuality, disrupting any normative interpretations, as well as identity, culture and history.”

Solome Bezuneh (Communication Studies and Sociology ’24)
Block Student Associates observe acquisition works in The Block’s Eloise Martin Study Center

2023 Student Acquisition Justification

All acquisitions to The Block Museum of Art’s collection require a formal justification presentation and documentation to the museum’s Acquisition Committee composed of staff across departments and museum leadership. In the text below, excepted from their presentation, Student Associates present an overview of the artwork and the justification process for selecting it.

Her name was Saartjie | Not Sara’ (2015, printed 2020) and “and she was to be ‘seen’, not watched…” (2015, printed 2020) present Woods-Morrow sitting as subject, clad in a faux fur cloak atop a bed of lettuce. The artist refuses the gaze of his audience as he turns away, hiding the contours of his body from the viewer. These photographs evoke Saartjie Baartman (1789– 1815), a South African Khoikhoi woman who was paraded as an attraction in 19th century Europe where she was referred to as “Sara Bartman” and the “Hottentot Venus.” Her brain, skeleton and sexual organs remained on display in a Paris museum until 1974. Her remains weren’t repatriated and buried until 2002. Collectively, ‘Her name was Saartjie | Not Sara’ and “and she was to be ‘seen’, not watched…” refer to the denial of Saartjie’s personhood. What Woods-Morrow puts forth with this work is that Saartjie was to be seen as a person, that she should have been seen as a person.

Derrick Woods-Morrow, Standing Before Grace (as Grace Jones), 2015, printed 2020, inkjet print. 2022–2023 Block Museum Student Associates acquisition, Block Student Impact Fund purchase, 2023.6.1.

Standing Before Grace (as Grace Jones) (2015, printed 2020) shows the figure of the artist posed in the middle of the frame without clothing other than two red pieces of material around his stomach and calf.  In this work, Woods-Morrow digests and reinterprets Grace Jones’ iconic cover art for her 1985 album Island Life. The photograph was originally created by Jean-Paul Goude for a story in New York Magazine in 1978 and was created using a series of shots cut together to give the appearance of acrobatic impossibility and grace. Woods-Morrows’ version is the artist’s attempt to achieve the impossible-seeming image without editing. Here, Woods-Morrow tries to create an empathy with celebrity by placing themselves in the very stances and gazes that sensationalized these star’s bodies. Jones’ 1985 cover art hung from the bedroom walls of millions, to highway billboards, to mass produced t-shirts, to skin as tattoos.

Derrick Woods-Morrow, Frederick on Lake Pontchartrain | after Lincoln Beach, 2019, printed 2020, inkjet print. 2022–2023 Block Museum Student Associates acquisition, Block Student Impact Fund purchase, 2023.6.4.

Frederick on Lake Pontchartrain | after Lincoln Beach (2019, printed 2020) is a black-and-white photograph taken in 2019 in New Orleans on the coast of Lake Pontchartrain, when Woods-Morrow spent time at Lincoln Beach with two acquaintances, Frederick and Lynell.  Lincoln Beach was the first Black beach segregated in the Jim Crow era. Frederick wore a dress for the first time when posing for this photograph.  This work captures a contemplative moment in a location known for its racism with an individual in attire a viewer might assume to be viewed as unacceptable by society. However, the composition is framed in a meditative, unremarkable manner, which seeks to remove the emphasis from what a heteronormative society would consider “remarkable.” Instead, the effect of the work is a simple capture in time of a figure on a beach, whose shores should be populated with play and laughter yet are embedded with historical inequities and suffering.

“Woods-Morrow gives visual form to the underrepresented discourse of what it means to be both Black and Queer, not as separate, but as intersecting identities, which is especially evident in the work Frederick on Lake Pontchartrain | after Lincoln Beach, where the viewer is invited to spend time with Frederick and reflect on how we think about Blackness and gender norms.”

Ipsita K (Art History and Social Policy ’24)

How does this work relate to The Block’s collection?

Through his diverse body of work, artist Derrick Woods-Morrow looks beyond the gender binary, blurring lines, creating space, and questioning social stereotypes and pressures surrounding Black sexual freedoms and gender expression. Through film, sculpture, photography, and narrative performance, he meditates on the complicated histories of the Black queer communities and the “painful, personal, and shared experiences” of holding these identities and navigating the current and past social terrains of America.

This acquisition will enrich The Block’s existing collection and enhance the critical conversations taking place within the museum with regards to history, representation, and identity, particularly in dialogue with many of the works included in the fall 2021 exhibition Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection. Woods-Morrow’s artwork joins the museum’s enduring collection of photographs and prompts further consideration of not only whose stories are told, but about what stories exist out there and are worth foregrounding.

 Wood-Morrow’s work further presents the opportunity to deepen ties between The Block’s collection and overall campus initiatives and conversations. One Book One Northwestern’s 2022-2023 book How the Word Is Passed, and theme of grappling with invisible histories perfectly encapsulates how Woods-Morrow’s work continues, expands, and progresses existing conversations not just at The Block, but across the wider Northwestern community. Within The Block, works like Ritual and Revolution (1998) by Carrie Mae Weems and Definition 1 (2018) by Chris Pappan provide a productive space for thinking about both One Book One Northwestern’s 2023 theme and Woods-Morrow’s work, as they all explore both archival erasure and recreation, while imagining new futures.

What is the potential use in teaching and research?

Woods-Morrow’s work focuses strongly on gender, sexuality, Blackness, and meditation. Areas of study like Global Health, Gender and Sexuality studies, and Black studies can be applied to the themes that Woods-Morrow focuses on.  Classes in the Gender and Sexuality Studies Department may align with Woods-Morrow’s work, especially those related to concepts of masculinity. Undergraduate student groups within the Northwestern Center for Awareness, Response and Education (CARE) network like Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators (SHAPE) and Masculinity, Allyship, Reflection, and Solidarity (MARS), work to dismantle many systems of oppression that Woods- Morrow touches on in his work.

In addition, Woods-Morrow’s relationship to Chicago offers many opportunities for co-curricular connections and potential conversations around what being a Chicagoan meant to him and what it means for Northwestern students to spend time temporarily (for most) in the Chicagoland area.

How does this work respond to and support The Block’s mission?

Created by a queer Black artist, these photographs add to the diversity of perspectives represented in the collection. They also build awareness of underrepresented histories or practices; dynamically explore, reframe, and challenge representations of the past; and inspire reflection on or action around the issues or events of our time. Woods-Morrow’s purposeful disruption, or queering, of the historical archive invites viewers to think of identity untethered from inherited norms and brimming with creative potential. The artist’s interest in the archive, as seen in works like Her name was Saartjie | Not Sara, complements The Block’s commitment to interdisciplinary and multidimensional thinking that unsettles predetermined canons in the spirit of generating new and inclusive ways of thinking and being. Furthermore, his work highlights the missing narratives inherent in modern history and artistic practice by calling attention to the systemic erasure and misrepresentation of Black lives as previously explored at The Block in exhibitions like A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence (2022) and Who Says, Who Shows, What Counts: Thinking about History with The Block’s Collection (2021).

Works on display in The Block’s Eloise Martin Study Center

Acquisition research and report contributed by 

Mayán Alvarado-Goldberg, Neuroscience and Global Health ’24
Solome Bezuneh, Communication Studies ’24
Gabrielle Bliss, Chemical Engineering and Data Science ’25
Carolina Carret, Legal Studies ’23
Zayn Elmasry, History and Science in Human Culture Program ’24
Kevin Foley, Gender & Sexuality Studies ’24
Eli Gordon, English Literature ’23
Zeki Ülgür Hirsch, Art History ’24
Ipsita K, Art History and Social Policy ’24
Katy Kim, Art History and Political Science ’23
Jaharia Knowles, Journalism ’25
Rowan McCloskey, Dance and Political Science ’26
Nozizwe Msipa, Communication Studies ’24
Margeaux Rocco, Economics ’23
Bengi Rwabuhemba, Cultural Anthropology and Global Health ’2023
Meena Sharma, Learning Sciences ’25
Toy Suliman, Asian American Studies and Radio, Television, Film ’23
Tamara Ulalisa, Journalism and Political Science ’24
Joyce Wang, Economics, and Radio, Television, Film ’24
Bobby Yalam, Comparative Literary Studies and Economics ’24
Hank Yang, Journalism and Religious Studies ’24

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