Islam Aly, Inception, Cairo, Egypt: Islam Aly, 2019. Edition of 30.
September 18 – December 31, 2021

Common Ground

Selected Works from The Rollins Book Arts Collection

This exhibition publicly introduces the Rollins Book Arts Collection, a new collaborative project between Olin Library, the Rollins Museum of Art and the Department of Art & Art History. This teaching collection houses contemporary works that represent diverse perspectives on social, cultural, political and environmental issues. Founded in 2018 to support the college’s long tradition of liberal education, this interdisciplinary and multifaceted teaching collection is informed by our mission to educate students for global citizenship through a critical discussion of challenging and relevant worldwide issues.

As an artistic medium and as a discipline of study, book arts produces objects called artists books, interactive book-based works of art that often invite viewers into an intimate, tactile experience through sequences of text and image. Artists books exist in an infinite array of structures, shapes and sizes, from tiny, photocopied zines to large sculptural installations, and everything in between. As a form of artistic self-publishing, artists books are an ideal vehicle for addressing difficult subjects and imagining solutions. The selection of works chosen for the exhibition offer compelling narratives and striking visuals in support of relevant and challenging themes including climate change, immigration, racial and social injustice, as well as contemporary perspectives on gender identity and sexuality. These artists represent a diverse array of experiences and perspectives, and their thoughtful work compassionately engages viewers in difficult conversations in our search for common ground amidst our differences. As a teaching collection, these works provide pathways for students and faculty to engage in critical conversations by starting with innovative and interactive artworks.

“Inception” by Islam Aly explores the immigrant and refugee experience through a circular Coptic-bound book attached by colorful straps to seven miniature books—an intricate, repetitive structure reminiscent of prayer books and ritualistic beads. The poem inside, written in both English and Arabic, is based on the twelfth-century Persian verse poem 'The Conference of the Birds' by Farid Aldin Al-Attar which recounts a story about a flock of birds searching for a new king through a journey of adversity, an extended metaphor Aly uses to mirror the common desire amongst immigrants and refugees to re-discover themselves through the hardships of immigration.

“The Radiant Republic” by Sarah Bryant explores the ethical and moral conflicts around designing utopian cities. Reanimating the voices of Plato and Le Corbusier, two thinkers separated by 2,000 years who both prescribed morality through urban planning, Bryant highlights how these plans for perfection can go awry— leading to troubling visions of class and family separation as well violence and warfare. The book is comprised of multiple objects in a glass-topped box: a series of pamphlet-bound books whose covers form a geometric cityscape when placed side-by-side, and several five-sided Platonic solids made from cast concrete which are meant to wear down over time, just as the concept of a perfect utopian city and the city itself will crumble under examination. 

Ben Blount’s “Racial Activity Coloring Book” uses the visual conventions of a children’s activity book, but inside its mainly white and black pages, each “activity” bluntly addresses the impacts of systemic racism on black people. The front cover of the book has an illustration of a young man with an Afro and an orange crayon labeled “colored.”  Throughout pages of subversive crossword puzzles, word matching and drawing activities, Blount speaks directly to young people of color about the practice of racial profiling by police, shares tips on how to survive interactions with police and examines cultural stereotypes about skin color, intelligence and economic power which have emerged from historic and ongoing systemic racism in the US.

It is our hope that this exhibition will bring these important conversations into our campus and local communities, as we look for ways to humanize one another and find common ground in a time of uncertainty and political divide. If we can begin with a familiar human activity, picking up a book and turning the pages, then we can share our thoughts on what we learn from that experience with one another.

Ben Blount, Racial Activity Coloring Book, Evanston, IL Open edition, 2018.
Sarah Bryant, The Radiant Republic, Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Big Jump Press, 2018. Edition of 50

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