RISD Museum opens 'Helina Metaferia We've Been Here Before'

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RISD Museum opens 'Helina Metaferia We've Been Here Before'
Helina Metaferia, Headdress 6, 2019. Mixed media collage; 58.4 x 71.1 cm. (23 x 28 in.). Courtesy of the artist.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- This installation—presented in the cafe and on the courtyard wall just outside the museum’s entrance—features portraits of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) women and femmes, or people who adopt a feminine appearance, manner, or persona. Metaferia, an Ethiopian American artist based in New York City, photographed these and other local people in a 2021 workshop with the museum’s Education Department. She then conducted research at libraries and archives at RISD and Brown University to source historical images. Each subject wears a headdress largely composed of images from protests that relate to an aspect of their identity, as well as their own family photographs. The designs framing the portraits were drawn from Jamaican, Japanese, and Peruvian objects in the museum’s collection, further reflecting each individual’s cultural heritage.

The installation’s process, its placement in a prominent public location, and the works themselves demonstrate Metaferia’s understanding of “how gatherings can be a site for change, akin to how histories of protest give way to political and social change” for marginalized people and communities that are often overlooked. This is a RISD Museum commission, and the vinyl hangings here, the banner outside, and original collages created to produce them will all become part of the collection, further preserving the moments of continued activism Metaferia’s project celebrates.

–Dominic Molon, Richard Brown Baker Curator of Contemporary Art, and Ahmari Benton, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet Fellow

RISD Museum is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and with the generous partnership of the Rhode Island School of Design, its Board of Trustees, and Museum Governors. This exhibition is also made possible with support from the RISD Center for Social Equity and Inclusion (SEI).

Every exhibition is the result of collaboration, care, and shared labor. The artist wishes to acknowledge the work that went into the many facets of this project by thanking those listed here.

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