Course offers hands-on museum curating experience at Lowe

Since May, students, faculty members and visitors have enjoyed the Lowe Art Museum’s fifth installment in the series called “ArtLab @ The Lowe.” The program provides students in the College of Arts and Sciences with hands-on experience in curating museum exhibitions.

The latest one, “From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panama,” gives an inside look at Panama’s most important artistic traditions. Colorful textiles called molas are the main attraction of this exhibition; they help to tell stories about traditional life in Panama. The textiles were made by indigenous Guna women to express their identity and to generate income as well.

Molas are hand-stitched cotton panels and blouses made of a kind of cotton cloth that has multiple layers and multiple colors. They usually depict aspects of the women’s traditional lives along Panama’s islands. Sometimes the designs are abstract, but they are usually interpretations of marine life such as stingrays or crabs.

Traci Ardren was in charge of last spring’s ArtLab course. As an associate professor of anthropology, she is especially interested in New World prehistoric cultures. As an anthropological archaeologist, her research has concentrated on issues of identity and other forms of symbolic representation in the archeological record.

“ArtLab is one of my favorite courses,” she said.

The class explored the connections between the mola collection of the Lowe, the pre-Columbian pottery of the Cocle culture and modern Panamanian artists. Ardren has previously organized exhibitions for the permanent collection of the Lowe such as the first exhibition of Guatemalan textile.

One of the students in her class was Aimee Allen. A senior majoring in public relations and art history, she said she learned a lot throughout the semester.

“The classes were mostly research to begin with,” she said.

The classes consisted of articles and books that Ardren assigned to students to give background on the cultures and types of artwork that the students were researching.

“As part of the class, we traveled to the San Blas District in northeast Panama during Spring Break,” Allen said.

For four nights, the students got to experience Guna life and “interview the people and get their opinions on the molas from the Lowe’s collection.”

Senior Juan Pablo Sanchez, who is majoring in anthropology and art history, said his favorite part of the course was “putting it all together after we researched and traveled.”

Both agreed that the hands-on travel experience made a big difference.

“The collection included more than 150 works of art that we narrowed to less than 50 for the exhibition,” Allen said. “We controlled every aspect of the exhibit: the colors of the walls, the text, even how each piece was displayed.”

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What: “From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panama” ArtLab exhibit
Where: Lowe Art Musuem
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The exhibit will be on display through April 27, 2014.
Tickets: Admission is free for UM students, faculty and staff with Cane Card.
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