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The MassArt Art Museum Presents Joana Vasconcelos' First U.S. Solo Museum Exhibition: "Valkyrie Mumbet"

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Boston, MA -- January 29, 2020 -- On February 22, 2020 Joana Vasconcelos will unveil Valkyrie Mumbet, an inaugural site-specific work in her first U.S. solo museum exhibition at the MassArt Art Museum (MAAM), the newest and only free contemporary art museum in Boston, Massachusetts. The latest in her Valkyrie series, Valkyrie Mumbet pays tribute to Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, an enslaved African American woman who was the first to win a freedom suit based on the newly adopted Massachusetts Constitution which declared that “all men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights…” in the state of Massachusetts in 1781.

The MassArt Art Museum (MAAM) is the new contemporary art museum of Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), the first publicly funded freestanding college of art and design in the U.S. As the teaching museum for MassArt, MAAM offers free and accessible contemporary art experiences for all audiences and partners with artists to bring fresh, diverse perspectives to Boston. MAAM connects international artists with MassArt students and educates them about the professional museum field. Valkyrie Mumbet is the newest in Vasconcelos’s Valkyrie series, initiated in 2004, inspired by the powerful female characters of Norse mythology that fly over battlefields on winged horses and bring the bravest warriors back to life to serve as gods. Following the path of the Valkyries specially designed for the Palace of Versailles, Le Bon Marché of Paris, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Vasconcelos now highlights Elizabeth Freeman alongside other notable figures in feminist history -- intellectual, philosopher and political activist Simone de Beauvoir; lawyer and politician Simone Veil; and 4th century pilgrim and first woman travel writer Egeria; among others.

About Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman

For her U.S. solo debut, the Portuguese artist researched Massachusetts history and was particularly moved by Elizabeth Freeman’s story. Born into slavery around 1740, Freeman was offered to a family in Massachusetts as a child. Known as "Mum Bett," "Mum Bet," or "Mumbet," Freeman was a skilled midwife and healer. Although she could neither read nor write, it is reported that, after Mumbet overhead discussions about the new promises of liberty that ultimately shaped the Massachusetts Constitution, she decided to take her destiny into her own hands. She pursued a legal battle in court, was granted freedom in 1781, and adopted the surname "Freeman." She then went on to work for her lawyer, Theodore Sedgwick, as a caretaker in his home. Elizabeth Freeman died on December 28, 1829 around 85 years old. The Sedgwick family celebrated her life and achievements; Charles Sedgwick wrote her epitaph, Susan Anne Sedgwick painted her portrait, and Catharine Maria Sedgwick wrote a book about her life for posterity. The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. highlights Freeman’s accomplishments as part of its permanent exhibition and an independent movie titled "Mumbet" is currently in production.

About Valkyrie Mumbet

From left to right: Valkyrie Mumbet rendering in the Paine Gallery of the MassArt Art Museum, detailed views of Valkyrie Mumbet. Courtesy Atelier Joana Vasconcelos.

Valkyrie Mumbet is a monumental textile installation that pays homage to Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman. References to Freeman are seen in the textile elements representing fabric that Freeman owned (silks, velvets, linen) as well as the beads from Freeman’s golden choker necklace. Vasconcelos is also using capulana fabric from Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony, calling attention to Portugal’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. Other references to the artist’s country include components of Portuguese handicrafts, such as Pico lace, which will be familiar to the Azorean community living in New England. Vasconcelos has painstakingly planned her textile sculpture to be suspended from the 37-ft tall ceiling of MAAM’s Stephen D. Paine Gallery. Visitors may interact with and view Valkyrie Mumbet from multiple perspectives: strolling freely among the four descending arms beneath the artwork; gathering underneath the multiple arms along the perimeter of the gallery; and walking up the stairs to the 20 ft tall by 40 ft wide balcony to see the entire work from above. After six months of production in Vasconcelos’s studio, these components will be installed over two weeks by the artist’s team with the help of the MAAM preparatory team and MassArt students.

About the Artist

Joana Vasconcelos (1971) lives and works in Lisbon. She has exhibited regularly since the mid-1990s. Her work became known internationally after her participation in the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005, with the work A Noiva [The Bride] (2001-05). She was the first woman and the youngest artist to exhibit at the Palace of Versailles, in 2012. Recent highlights of her career include a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the project Trafaria Praia, for the Pavilion of Portugal at the 55th Venice Biennale; participation in the group exhibition The World Belongs to You at the Palazzo Grassi/François Pinault Foundation, Venice (2011); and her first retrospective, held at the Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon (2010).

Other highlights include exhibitions at Kunsthal Rotterdam (2019); Museu de Serralves, Porto (2019); Royal Academy of Arts, London (2018); Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg (2018); La Monnaie, Paris (2017); ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark (2016); Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (2015); Waddesdon Manor - The Rothschild Foundation, Buckinghamshire (2015); Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester (2014); Tel Aviv Museum of Art (2013); Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, Lisbon (2013); CENTQUATRE, Paris (2012); Kunsthallen Brandts, Odense, Denmark (2011); Es Baluard, Palma de Mallorca (2009); Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow (2009); Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (2008); The New Art Gallery Walsall, United Kingdom (2007); Istanbul Modern, Istanbul (2006); Passage du Désir/BETC EURO RSCG, Paris (2005); Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Seville, Spain (2003); Műcsarnok, Budapest (2002); Museu da Eletricidade, Lisbon (2001); and Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto, Portugal (2000). 

Her work is represented in private and public collections such as: Amorepacific Museum of Art, Seoul; ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark; Caixa Geral de Depósitos, Lisbon; Centro de Artes Visuales Fundación Helga de Alvear, Cáceres, Espanha; City of Lisbon; City of Paris; Domaine Pommery, Reims, France; Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris; FRAC Bourgogne, Dijon, França; Fundação EDP, Lisbon; Gerard L. Cafesjian Collection, Erevan, Armenia; MUSAC, Léon, Spain; Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; the Pinault Collection, Paris and Venice; the Robert & Nicky Wilson Collection, Edinburgh; and The Rothschild Collection, Waddesdon, Buckinghamshire.

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About MassArt Art Museum

Opening February 2020, MassArt Art Museum (MAAM) is Boston’s newest free contemporary art museum. After extensive renovations, MAAM will open in the space formerly known as the Bakalar & Paine Galleries at the heart of MassArt’s campus on the Avenue of the Arts. MAAM will be a kunsthalle, or non-collecting museum, showing temporary exhibitions that feature the work of emerging and established artists to bring fresh, diverse perspectives to Boston. As MassArt’s teaching museum, MAAM will be a resource for MassArt students and faculty, educating students about contemporary art, partnering with faculty to support the curriculum, and preparing students for careers in the museum field. As an extension of the College’s public mission, the Museum will also be a vital resource to the community, offering a pathway to education in the arts and free, unique educational programming to Boston-area public schools and community groups. Always free, MAAM will be open year-round to the public. Follow MAAM at @maamboston on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. To learn more visit maam.massart.edu.

About MassArt

Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) is a public, independent institution that prepares artists, designers, and educators from diverse backgrounds to shape communities, economies, and cultures for the common good. One of the top colleges of its kind in the United States since its founding in 1873, MassArt has built a legacy of leadership as the first freestanding public college of art and design in the country, and the nation’s first art school to grant a degree. The College offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate degrees in art, design, and art education, all taught by world-class faculty. MassArt is also home to MassArt Art Museum (MAAM), opening February 2020. Formerly the Bakalar & Paine Galleries, MAAM is MassArt's free contemporary art museum, professionally curated to enrich the academic curriculum and make contemporary art an accessible experience for all. Among MassArt’s most accomplished alumni are designer Brian Collins, multimedia artist Sam Durant, art dealer Arne Glimcher, Oscar-winning set designer Nancy Haigh, visual artist and composer Christian Marclay, 2016 Project Runway winner Erin Robertson, interior and lifestyle designer Kelly Wearstler, and conceptual artist William Wegman. To learn more, please visit massart.edu.