Center for Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins is
welcoming renowned visual artist Renee Stout to the
Homewood campus this spring as its inaugural artist in
residence for a series of lectures
and workshops, beginning with an introductory lecture for
students at 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 26,
in the Shriver Hall Board Room.
Ben Vinson, director of the center, said that the
program began as an idea hatched in fall 2006
by a group of Africana Studies faculty drawn from
throughout the Krieger School of Arts and
Sciences. "It was initially an idea without funding until
a generous donation was made by alumna
Christina Mattin," he said. Current plans call for visits
from two artists.
Stout was chosen by an advisory board comprising
Vinson; Jay Fisher, senior curator of prints,
drawings and photographs at the Baltimore Museum of Art;
and two Johns Hopkins alumni: Leslie King-Hammond,
graduate dean emeritus and founding director of the Center
for Race and Culture at Maryland Institute College of Art,
and Lowery Stokes-Sims, director of the Museum of Art and
Design in New York City.
"We had a blue ribbon group of people looking
nationally at artists who could speak to our
campus needs while addressing our ability to think about
how race is represented through imagery,"
Vinson said. "It's all about the students — in the
end, that's why we are doing this."
Stout, who takes inspiration from found objects, is
encouraging students to bring things to the
lecture that might help her create pieces that will
initiate a campuswide dialogue on critical questions
concerning race and culture, both on campus and beyond.
Some of the items on her wish list: skeleton
keys, old postcards and photographs, wooden boxes, odd
buttons, old medicine jars, flattened rusty
bottle caps, old bits of lace and swatches of fabric with
"I have an idea of something that I would like to do
while I'm there that would involve creating
an installation that the community could contribute to by
bringing found objects," Stout said. "I would
then try to incorporate everything that's contributed into
what I will be working on so that people
can feel that they helped to make this happen. I would
also like people to understand that an object
they consider worthless may not be so worthless to an
artist or someone who sees that object in a
"At this point," she continued, "the process is very
organic. Personally, I would just like to go
into it with an open mind and allow the environment that
I'm about to step into to inspire me and lead
me into an interesting creative situation."
Stout — who says she enjoys residencies because
she likes connecting and sharing ideas with
other people — is known for addressing a variety of
social issues in her work.
"Renee will be looking at the intersection between
art and race, and that's particularly timely
given all the excitement generated in the past few months
on matters of race," Vinson said, referring
to the election of President Barack Obama. "What's
appealing to us is that her artwork highlights the
Diaspora, [studying] race and ethnicity from a cultural
vantage point that is inclusive and resonates
with the time we are living through right now."
Stout grew up in Pittsburgh and earned a BFA from
Carnegie Mellon University in 1980. She
moved to Washington, D.C., in 1985 and then began
exploring the roots of her African-American
heritage, according to the biography on her Web site,
www.reneestout.com. In creating pieces "that
encourage self-examination, self-empowerment and
self-healing," Stout says she finds inspiration in
the belief systems of African peoples and their
descendants throughout the African Diaspora as well
as her immediate environment.
"When an idea hits me, I immediately decide which
materials will best allow me to make that
idea tangible," Stout writes in her artist's statement.
"As a result, my bodies of work have included
paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and photography. I
see each one of my pieces as a fragment or
installment in an ongoing narrative that's my contribution
to telling the story of who we are as a
society at this point in time."
Stout also writes that her art conveys her
"continuing need for self-discovery and the need to
understand and make sense of human motives and the way we
relate and respond to each other." She
often uses imaginary characters — including her own
alter ego, Fatima Mayfield, a fictitious herbalist
and fortuneteller — as role-playing devices to
address "romantic relationships, social ills or financial
woes in a way that's open, creative and humorous."
During Thursday's lecture, Stout will present a slide
show of her work and will discuss her
inspirations. Other events include a lecture, on Friday,
April 17; student workshops, on Saturday and
Sunday, April 18 and 19; a lecture looking back at her
time here, on Thursday, April 23; and a
community workshop and panel discussion on Saturday, May
The dialogue will continue in the fall with a second
artist in residence, photographer Hank Willis