Precarious Prototypes is a textile installation that responds to and transforms selected objects from the Walters Art Museum’s collection. In considering the relationship between ornament and oppression, this inquiry comprises appropriation and historic archival research. In Precarious Prototypes, the museum’s own collection has been used to focus on the mannered representation of enslaved peoples and other figures-in-service throughout the history of art (over thousands of years).
This project began by searching for objects in The Walters Museum collection that depicted enslaved peoples. Queries in their online collection for ‘slave’ or ‘enslaved’ only returned a couple of dozen artworks out of thousands (similarly, when searching the Rijksmuseum collection in Amsterdam, this search returned less than 200 of 528,729 objects — and for the Metropolitan Museum in New York, out of 419,038 records, this query yielded only a few hundred). Expanding my inquiry into the museum as labor archive, Precarious Prototypes ultimately explores the mannered representations of servitude and objectification within the museum’s collection. Elaborating on both known and unknown relationships depicted in the collection of the Walters Museum, the chosen images reveal specific instances in art historical references that confirm or challenge categorization. (Two examples of this are the inclusion of all 3 figures in ‘Odalisque with a Slave’ by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres  and ‘Mexican War News’ by Richard Caton Woodville ). Further, there is no shortage of ways in which the body has been contorted for utilitarian and decorative purposes. Select objects are exhibited as well as printed, to understand and unsettle the role of the museum as master narrator. Representations are re-presented in this work, and so, the drapery both reveals and conceals, becoming an index of unstable contradictions. Specifically, I am looking at how depictions of the body as subservient, contorted, dehumanized, grotesque and lacking agency, unravel how art history becomes art as history.