SCAD deFINE ART returns in-person and is challenging your perspective on history

Tucked away on downtown Savannah’s Turner Boulevard, the SCAD Museum of Art has consistently brought in thought-provoking work since opening its doors to the public nearly a decade ago.

Now, as they approach the 10-year mark, that mission hasn’t changed and deFINE ART continues to be the conduit for those goals.

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“It’s our signature event for the museum, and we’re excited to be back in person. That’s really exciting for all of us,” SCAD MOA curator D.J. Hellerman said. “We have a lot of artists coming in, we have guests and gallerists, and all kinds of people coming in to engage with the work and engage with the students. I think we all found the virtual environment to be really incredible, but there’s some things that being in person really (is) great for and exhibitions can be one of them.”

'Untitled' (2021) by Katharina Grosse

‘Untitled’ (2021) by Katharina Grosse

Among the featured guests at the 2022 deFINE ART are Katharina Grosse (who will also be giving a keynote lecture), Duane Michals and Doreen Lynette Garner, who’s latest exhibition fits into the mold of pushing the boundaries.

“What’s really exciting too, is that we have artists coming in to install shows, make work and interact with students, and that kind of one-on-one, or kind of small group interaction is really important,” Hellerman said.

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“Like Doreen is here working on a commission, a brand new 13-foot-long, great white shark. It’s here, she’s working on it, and that’s really incredible (to) have the space activated that way even though we installed shows throughout the pandemic, having artists here is really kind of the SCAD ethos.”

Yes, that’s correct –– a 13-foot great white shark.

Doreen Garner

Doreen Garner

The commission fits the bill with what the art community has become accustomed to seeing with Garner and her output. Her overall exhibition, “Pale In Comparison,” features a collection of her provocative works from the last few years.

“The pandemic encouraged me to reflect on the past and peel back a few layers into the ways disease spread by Europeans, aside from inhumane torture and abuse has contributed to the death of millions of black people forced through the middle passage,” Garner said.

“This includes yellow fever, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, the bubonic plague, smallpox, measles, syphilis etc. Now that I’m focusing on disease and using white flesh as a material, I’m trying to draw undeniable parallels between the eruption and perpetuation of the plague both then and now.”

The artist has made it a point to engage with the histories of racial violence, which has become even more pronounced in the past few years with national outcries over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis but even more local with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick.

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“Her work isn’t directly in response to Savannah, and Savannah’s history but it’s definitely informed by those histories, in the conversations of that, and specifically the shark came from a book that came out recently called, ‘The Slave Ship.’ And there’s a lot of information about what life was like on plantations, but there’s not a lot of information about what life was like on slave ships. So this book really talks about slave ships and there’s a section where it talks about great white sharks that followed slave ships, because if there was a slave that was sick, or dying, they would just throw them overboard for many different reasons because you could claim them as lost property,” Hellerman said.

Doreen Garner, Layers (detail), 2016.

Doreen Garner, Layers (detail), 2016.

“I think this idea of thinking about white skin, whiteness and white bodies and black bodies is kind of shifted a little bit in her work for the past couple of years. And it’s really exciting to see the show of really recent work brought together.”

Garner’s work definitely elicits a reaction –– even seeing it from the comfort of your phone screen forces you to respond in some type of way. This type of response seems to be what the artist strives for, and furthers the reason to show up to the exhibitions live, in Hellerman’s opinion.

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“There’s a time you can kind of mark –– before you saw Doreen Garner artwork, and after you’ve seen her work. I think that’s really powerful. I think the work is really powerful that way. I kind of write about (how) you can’t unsee and you can’t unknow some of the things she’s talking about in the exhibition and through the work. So it really gives a lot of information that doesn’t necessarily come out any other way.”

The SCAD Museum of Art, located at 601 Turner Blvd. in downtown Savannah.

The SCAD Museum of Art, located at 601 Turner Blvd. in downtown Savannah.

Garner’s exhibition at the SCAD Museum of Art will be on display beginning with the 2022 deFINE ART showcase and run through July 21. The entire deFINE ART exhibition will kick off on Monday, Feb. 28 and run through March 2.


What: 2022 SCAD deFINE ART

When: Feb. 28 – March 2

Where: SCAD Museum of Art, 601 Turner Blvd.

Cost: $10; free for SCAD students with discounts for seniors, military and high school/college students


Zach Dennis is the editor of the arts and culture section and weekly Do Savannah alt-weekly publication at the Savannah Morning News and can be reached at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Doreen Lynette Garner talks 2022 SCAD deFINE ART, new exhibition

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