West

Museums ask, ‘What is America?’

Fuller Craft Museum
Beth C. McLaughlin, chief curator of exhibitions and collections at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, stands in front of a mural of photographer Brian Allen's "A Sea of Pink."

A year has passed since women around the world turned handmade pink hats with catlike ears into an unforgettable form of protest against the nation’s new president.

In an exhibit opening this month at Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, some of those protesters will tell why they knitted, crocheted, and sewed their way into history.

“Revolution in the Making: The Pussyhat Project” will feature about 75 hats worn during the Women’s March protests after Donald Trump’s inauguration. The name is an oblique reference to a crude phrase Trump uttered in “Access Hollywood” footage unearthed before the election.

Advertisement

“It’s our responsibility as a cultural institution to hold a mirror to society [and examine] the issues happening today,” said Beth McLaughlin, the museum’s chief curator of exhibitions and collections. “We wanted to capture those stories, and what inspired them to become part of that movement.”

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Far from maintaining dusty galleries unmoved by real-world events, museum operators say they continuously rethink their institutional roles to present shows that are relevant to audiences and connect to their experiences today.

“The overarching question we are asking ourselves and our visitors is ‘What is America?’ ” said Allison Kemmerer of the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover. “We feel the responsibility to keep self-reflecting on what we’re doing and what we’re collecting.”

In “Convergence: Anila Quayyum Agha, Lalla Essaydi, Yun-Fei Ji, and Fred Han Chang Liang,” the museum explores the work of four American artists who draw upon both Western and Eastern traditions, Kemmerer said.

The show opens alongside “Sumi Ink Club!” which will be an opportunity for the audience to participate in creating a work of art.

Advertisement

Each exhibit runs from Jan. 27 to July 31. Both are tied to a current show focusing on the paintings of Mark Tobey from 1920 to 1970. Tobey used artistic techniques from the West and East and was known for his work in sumi ink.

The upcoming exhibitions are also part of the museum’s ongoing self-reflection on how it can best reflect the country’s social landscape, said Kemmerer, the museum’s Mead curator of photography and curator of art after 1950.

“It requires more collaboration and more voices, and it leads to more creative thinking,” she said.

At the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, a current show connects American artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and photographs to garments she designed herself. “Georgia O’Keeffe: Art, Image, Style” features objects that had never before been exhibited.

The show, which runs until April 1, is organized with the Brooklyn Museum and guest curator Wanda M. Corn, the Robert and Ruth Halperin professor emerita in art history at Stanford University.

Advertisement

At the Rose Art Museum, in Waltham, new exhibits look to explore some of the issues facing black Americans.

Included is work from Chicago artist Tony Lewis, who created a site-specific mural that consists of an abstracted symbol for the word “plunder.” The work is in reference to a passage in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2015 book “Between the World and Me,” which explored issues of race in America.

“The plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history, so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return,” Coates wrote.

The Rose will also display the work of New York artist Jennifer Packer, whose paintings and portraits focus on depicting black subjects. The two exhibits are paired as part of an effort to explore issues of equity and racial history.

The Rose, which is based at Brandeis University, has historically been concerned with issues like social justice — particularly now, with the rise of Black Lives Matter and calls for racial equality, said museum spokeswoman Nina Berger.

“The museum wants to address these issues through the exhibits on display,” Berger said. “They can be a critical place for people to have discussions and dialogue about these issues.”

The Davis Museum at Wellesley College is working to build on its longstanding photography collection.

“Clarence H. White and His World: The Art and Craft of Photography, 1895–1925” will explore his contributions to photography as it emerged as an art form in the early 20th century, said Claire Whitner, the museum’s assistant director of curatorial affairs.

Wellesley College has long offered a photography department, and the exhibit can help contribute to the college’s academic programs.

“We are trying to find a connection between history, art history, and contemporary discourse,” Whitner said.

Drawing a direct line between past and present is the focus of the Concord Museum’s upcoming show looking at the fashion interests of 18th- and 19th-century New Englanders — and what they reveal about manufacturing and retail in those days, said David Wood, the institution’s curator.

“Fresh Goods: Shopping for Clothing in a New England Town 1750-1900” will display outfits and articles of clothing from those days — but in a high-tech touch, the audience can interact with the exhibit online through a website designed to look like a 21st-century online store.

The show runs from March 2 through July 8. The exhibit’s website will be available at www.concordmuseum.org when the show opens.

Wood said the website can help make the exhibit more accessible while telling the story of an earlier era of New England.

“It’s inviting people to explore our collection. Once you start doing it, it’s very rewarding,” he said. “The assumption is that if we talk about the real stories in a straightforward manner, you can’t but help to see how relevant they are now.”

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.