Current Exhibit

Colleen Mullins: Women of Leisure/Action

Through December 2020

Colleen Mullins is a San Francisco based photographer and book artist. She holds a BA from San Francisco State University, and an MFA from the University of Minnesota. Her work is concerned with incongruous storytelling, ranging from environmentally-concerned urban forest management in disaster to the monument removal movement. She has garnered four Minnesota State Arts Board and two McKnight Fellowships. Her work is in the collections of Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Southeast Museum of Photography, and the United States Embassy, Moscow among others. Mullins has been an artist in residence at Vermont Studio Center, Penland School of Craft Winter Residency, and In Cahoots Residency. She was recently nominated for the prestigious Leica Oskar Barnack Award, and has been exhibited extensively in the United States. Her work The Bone of Her Nose will be shown in a solo exhibition at The Griffin Museum in Boston next July.

There are two bodies of work shown here. The selection was made long before we knew the relevance protest and cruise ships would take on in 2020. Long before we understood the perils of gathering in a post-Covid world, I made these pictures documenting my life. One body of work made travelling with my mother in the last act of her life, and the other at the Ashville Women’s March, January 21st, 2017.

The cruise photographs were taken over a six-year period traveling one to four times a year on a six-star luxury cruise line. The project is one that examines a private world, far beyond the first-class curtain on an airplane. To me, the work taken on whole, represents an exploration of my mother’s unrealized hopes to be a part of society’s elite, and her hopes that she could push me there in her stead. Outside her several cruises a year, she spent most of her time secluded in her apartment in San Francisco, a far cry from the persona she’d developed over her years of cruising. I now live in this same apartment, secluded because of a virus.

This work is contrasted with images from the first Women’s March, in January of 2017. On the eve of the next presidential election, re-looking at this moment when our deepest fears for this administration were only fears, is instructive. Across the country these protests weren’t the first in the common era of protests—Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street had paved the way—but they marked the opening of an area that had, the day before, been defined aptly by the incoming president American Carnage, and so it has come to pass. 

In reflecting on this work for this exhibition, in this configuration, I see privilege. Economic and racial privilege are the least opaque in these works, but really, it distills down to one word: No. In the cruise ship pictures, we see a rarified environment, in which enough money has been exchanged that no staff member is allowed to decline anything. The answer to any question is “yes,” or “let me look into it.” And in the protest pictures, we see an echo of huge swaths of people, resoundingly screaming at the top of their lungs, “No!”

They are call, and response.

Today the streets are filled with Americans of all races calling out for racial justice. And the cruise ship industry has been unmasked and dismantled by a virus. These pictures are relics of a world walking a narrow plank.

– Colleen Mullins

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