Addenda: Gina Adams, Merritt Johnson & Sonya Kelliher-Combs
January 29 – June 12, 2022
Curated by Julie Lohnes, Director & Curator of Art Collections & Exhibitions
Custodians of archives wield great power and responsibility in considering who might be left out, disempowered or silenced in the creation of a specific narrative by those who use their records. Addenda centers interpretation and augmentation of past and present through the archive in an effort to construct a fuller future.
The three contemporary artists featured in this exhibition, Gina Adams, Merritt Johnson and Sonya Kelliher-Combs, draw on history, cultural traditions, and archives, along with a strong belief in seeking alternative narratives to create artworks that exist dually, as both physical constructions and as a record of unconsidered perspectives and often unrecognized pasts.
Each artist was asked by the Mandeville Gallery to create artwork in response to the Sheldon Jackson (Class of 1855) collection of archival materials held in the Union College Special Collections and Archives. Jackson was a missionary and the first general agent of education for the territory of Alaska, and these archives detail his missionary path as he traversed North America, from east to west, and north to Alaska. As general agent, Jackson made decisions whose impact on Alaska Natives continue through today. Rather than highlighting Jackson’s known and heralded accomplishments in their response pieces, each artist questioned and examined his life found in these papers, bringing three different perspectives and their own lived experiences to their artistic process.
Adams focused on the earlier materials of the archive that chronicled his travels and interactions with Native tribes in the west. Johnson took in the sheer volume of inked script and pages making up the archive, reflecting on the generational impact not found in these words. Kelliher-Combs narrowed her response to a specific section of the archive, reproducing the pages and creating a new interpretation. The resulting artworks are featured in the Mandeville Gallery alongside additional pieces by the three artists. These works all pose questions about the purpose of archives and how the artists’ active additions to these collections can illuminate the people often silenced by what has been recorded in the past.
Concurrent with Addenda, an exhibition that examines the Sheldon Jackson archive and Jackson’s life will be on view in the Schaffer Library Lally Reading Room during spring and summer 2022. It is being mounted by student-curator Matt Giarratana ’23, along with Andrea Foroughi, associate professor of history and department chair, and Sarah Schmidt, director of Special Collections and Archives.
Generous support for this exhibition and concurrent programming has been provided by the Kelly M. Williams (1986) Discretionary Exhibition Fund. Additional support was provided by the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies program through the Annual Katharine Van Meter Sadock Women in the Arts Lecture; the History Department, the Office of Intercultural Affairs, and the Department of Visual Arts.