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So Close to Heaven smartguide feature

Vajradhara, 18th/19th century. Nepal. Gilt copper alloy. Private Collection, New York, EX3.2013.11.

Vajradhara, 18th/19th century. Nepal. Gilt copper alloy. Private Collection, New York, EX13.2013.11.

The Museum recently added 10 new stops to its smartguide in conjunction with the opening of So Close to Heaven: Sacred Sculpture from the Weldon Collection. The So Close to Heaven smartguide feature, available for FREE here, complements any visit to the exhibition and allows visitors to explore artworks and themes in-depth.

The So Close to Heaven smartguide feature includes:

  • An overview and welcome to the exhibition from Dr. Donald A. Wood, the Museum’s Senior Curator and Curator of Asian Art
  • Images and more information about individual artworks and groups of artworks in the exhibition
  • Audio commentary from specialists on Asian art, history, and culture
  • Video Masters of Fire, which explores lost-wax casting, molded sculptures, and finishing techniques
  • Close-looking activity about mudras (symbolic or ritual gestures)
  • A new Family Focus! tour, “Animals as Assistants,” for adults and children to explore together

The So Close to Heaven smartguide feature, accessed for FREE here, is optimized for tablets, smartphones, and other web-enabled devices. Visitors without their own devices may check out an iPad for FREE from the Museum’s information desk, located on the 2nd floor in front of Oscar’s café; FREE WiFi is also available throughout the Museum. Headphones are also available in the Museum Store for visitors who would like to access audio and video content in the exhibition.

Using your web-enabled smart device, click here to get started.


Interview: Design Week Birmingham


Design Week Birmingham is a multifaceted event that includes installations, lectures, film showings, exhibits, workshops, and social gatherings inspired by the belief that design matters. In its second year, Design Week Birmingham will be held October 20-25, 2014, featuring plenty of ways for everyone to get involved, learn something new, and see Birmingham’s creative community at work.

We recently spoke with Shannon Harris, Senior Art Director at BIG Communications, who has also been an integral part of beginning, continuing, and implementing plans for Design Week Birmingham.

Shannon Harris

Shannon Harris

1. This year marks the second annual Design Week Birmingham. As a relatively new organization, where did the idea to create Design Week Birmingham begin?

A couple of years ago, several of the core organizers of Design Week were involved in cross-disciplinary design projects all over town. Andrew Thompson of Lewis Communications and Plenty Design Co-op were working on a group show about micro-manufacturing. I was working with a group of architects on a brand for Second Avenue North. Creative Director at the Museum James Williams was working on an early modern art and design exhibit for October 2013 called Vanguard Views. Bruce Lanier of Standard Creative was launching MAKE. Rhea Williams of AIA was launching a new space for designers called the Alabama Center for Architecture. Amy Pleasant was inviting creative folks from all over town to give Rapid Fire presentations in her beautiful backyard home studio.

It was at Amy’s that I met Jared Fulton of Williams Blackstock Architects. He had been working with Andrew on the Plenty Design Co-op project, and the two of them decided that this thing absolutely must happen. It was just the right time in Birmingham for all of these collaborators to combine efforts and create something bigger—and we couldn’t be happier that we did. There are volunteers on our committee from creative companies all over town that have spent the last year planning an amazing Design Week!

2. What happens at Design Week Birmingham? What role do you play in the orchestration of Design Week Birmingham?

Design Week Birmingham is a series of events all over town that brings designers and lovers of design from all disciplines together to celebrate, collaborate, and learn. We have documentaries, workshops, presentations, and even a beautiful design shop. You can check out the full schedule of events on the Design Week Birmingham website. As for my role, I’m involved in the planning of several events including the Printers Fair and Aaron Draplin’s keynote presentation. We’re a small group of all volunteers, so everyone on the committee has to wear a lot of hats.

3. Is there anything we can expect this year to be different from last year’s Design Week Birmingham?

We have 23 events on this year’s calendar compared with 14 last year. It’s bigger, more organized, and maybe even a touch more edgy.

4. Will you be participating in Design Week Birmingham? If so, what events are you looking forward to most?

Of course! It’s the best week of the year! I’m most looking forward to hearing the renowned/notorious Aaron Draplin do his thing; going to the Printers Fair, where I hope to walk away with all kinds of beautiful new printed treats; and finally heading to Rapid Fire for a night of intense inspiration for people with short attention spans. And I don’t think anyone should miss Ford Wiles’ and James Williams’ ArtBreak on Tuesday during lunch. They’ll be taking us through the process of shaping the future of the Museum’s brand.

5. How does the Birmingham Museum of Art influence your work in design and your outlook as a designer?

I’ve been working with a group for the past few months at BIG Communications and the team at BMA on a new brand for the Museum. During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of touring the BMA’s permanent collection. Besides the obvious visual inspiration and head-clearing powers of the Museum, I’m inspired by the restraint the curators use by showing us only a section of their huge collection at a time. This kind of selection means the Museum is always a new experience for its visitors. We want Design Week to also be sustainable for years to come, so each year we only present a fraction of Birmingham and the region’s rich design culture.

To learn more about Design Week Birmingham and the schedule of events, please visit their website. If you want to get involved with Design Week Birmingham at the Museum, be sure to come for our ArtBreak on Tuesday, October 21 at noon, and to Andrew Freear’s lecture on Wednesday, October 22 at 4PM. Both events are free and open to the public!


Art Inspires Art

Lucy JonesTeen BMA is the Museum’s leadership and volunteer program for teens in grades 9-12. Members, who come from a variety of different schools in the Birmingham metro area, learn more about the Museum and careers in the arts, and go behind-the-scenes with curators and visiting artists. They learn about objects in the Museum’s collection and share that information by interacting with visitors in our family gallery, Bart’s ArtVenture, on the weekends.

Most of the students in the program specialize in fine art, but not all. Some, like Lucy Jones, a creative writing major at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, are interested in art and museums but express their creativity through other outlets. Lucy learned about Teen BMA from her older sister Abby, who participated in the program for all four years of high school and is now a freshman in college. A writing assignment on ekphrasis (poetry inspired by art) at school prompted Lucy to select and write about an artwork in the Museum that Teen BMA had not studied together: a portrait of King George III by English painter William Buchy. Lucy’s poem, below, was awarded the Electra Award from The Birmingham Arts Journal, where it was first published.

George III, 1761. William Buchy (English, 1713-1784). Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William M. Spencer, Jr., 1959.116.

George III, 1761. William Buchy (English, 1713-1784). Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William M. Spencer, Jr., 1959.116.

Mr. George the Third I’d Like to Ask

Can I build trenches in the folds
of your undergarments?
can I wage war across your skin
and spend my after-battle feasts
in the dark red of your cloak,
as thick wine drips like potions
in your belly?

King, there is no ocean in your eyes,
not like the one you’d like to rule,
because you are the sky before midnight
when everything is waiting,
you are the pounce of a flickering candle flame
onto a curtain,
listen to the screams of the people under your boots
and tell me

did the painter do justice to your crimson cloak
or did he water down the color
to try and cover up all the blood you’ve shed?



5 Facts About Gandhi

1000509261001_2033463483001_Mahatma-Gandhi-A-Legacy-of-PeaceIn a speech, Martin Luther King Jr. once referred to Mahatma Gandhi as “a man in the hearts of all of humanity.” Through acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi has earned a spot in our hearts as an icon for peace. As we reflect on Gandhi and his life on his birthday (Gandhi Jayanti, celebrated on October 2), we wanted to share 5 facts you may not have known about him:

  1. Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times between 1937 and 1948. After his death the Nobel Committee publicly declared its regret for never awarding him the Prize. When the Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Prize in 1989, the chairman of the committee said that this was, “in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.”
  2. The railway station at Pietermaritzburg, South Africa is named in his honor (Mahatma Gandhi Station) because it was there in 1891 he was unceremoniously thrown out of a first class train compartment just for being a person of color. This was his first experience of racism and became a turning point in his life.
  3. He had a set of false teeth he carried in the folds of his robes that he took with him when he went on his daily walks, which were usually 11 miles long.
  4. He spoke English with an Irish accent because one of his first teachers was an Irishman.
  5. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948, shot at close range by Nathuram Godse. Prior to his death, there had been five unsuccessful attempts to kill Gandhi, the first occurring in 1934.

On October 17, we invite you to celebrate the life and birth of Gandhi through Gandhi Jayanti. The celebration will incorporate an essay and poster contest by students, as well as feature Vijay Seshadri, a renowned Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Click here to learn more. We hope to see you there!


BMA Behind-The-Scenes: New Logo

The age of digital media and technologies has quickly changed the way we communicate and connect with one another in ways we could have never imagined. With the incorporation of new communication platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the Museum saw the need for a more dynamic logo, one that could be easily adapted across a multitude of channels.

Earlier this year, we called up the branding experts– and art lovers– at BIG Communications to see if they could help. What followed were many months of meetings and brainstorming sessions, yielding hundreds of logo renderings. Ultimately, we settled on a timeless mark, which (literally) embodies the Museum. Working with our Creative Director, James Williams, the group at BIG developed countless ways the logo can be applied, and at times transformed, to serve the many facets of the Museum’s communications.

Collaborating with our friends at BIG was a great experience, and we look forward to utilizing our new logo in future communications.The best part is, the whole project was captured on film by Gigi Douban and her team for “Alabama, Inc.” a series about Alabama industries which airs on Alabama Public Television. Check out the video to get a glimpse of the creative process and a sneak peek at BMA’s new logo.


Meet the Curator: Wassan Al-Khudhairi

Wassan Al-KhudhairiWe are excited to welcome our new Hugh Kaul Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Wassan Al-Khudhairi, who began her appointment on May 5, 2014. Al-Khudhairi was previously Co-Artistic Director at the Gwangju Biennale Foundation in South Korea, Founding Director of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar, and has held positions at the Brooklyn Museum and High Museum of Art. “Her extensive curatorial experience has exposed her to incredible collections and networks around the world,” says BMA Director Gail Andrews. “I am confident her international experience will strengthen efforts to expand our global approach to the collection, while her engaging curatorial style will only deepen our relationships within the community.”

Don’t miss Wassan’s first lecture in her new role at the BMA, happening at October 2’s First Thursday at 7PM!

MY MUSEUM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
WASSAN AL-KHUDHAIRI: I was born in Kuwait to Iraqi parents and although I never had the opportunity to live in Baghdad, where my family is from, I have traveled there often as a child. I’ve lived in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, England, California, Georgia, Egypt, Qatar, Korea, and now I’m in Birmingham! Traveling is a big part of my life since most of my family lives overseas, but also because I enjoy the adventure, being in new environments, and challenging my perceptions about the world.

MM: How would you describe your curatorial style?
WAK: Constantly shifting, adapting, and changing. Context and audience are two big things I think about, and I like to find ways to engage audiences and make connections. I often consider how to interpret the world (maybe the world of contemporary art more specifically) from the context of where I am. I want to understand my context and then be a sort of lighthouse, looking beyond and finding ways to interpret it from my position. Taking a multidisciplinary approach, I often try and find alternative ways to engage with art through literature, music, science, and so on. Recently I’ve found myself re-considering the model of the exhibition—I think there can be multiple ways to manifest the research and work that comes from curatorial thinking. Sometimes it takes the form of an exhibition, but other times it could be through a discussion, workshop, program, series, or something totally new.

MM: What is one of your top priorities in your new position?
WAK: My first area of focus is the permanent collection and learning what we have. But I also want to think about new ways to present our collection, as well as develop a strategy for the direction we will take for expanding our collection.

MM: What are you most excited about for your move to Birmingham?
WAK: I’m excited about exploring Birmingham, its restaurants and different neighborhoods. I’m also looking forward to traveling around Alabama and visiting other cities in the state. I’m most looking forward to driving down to the beach this summer!

MM: Why do you like Modern and Contemporary Art?
WAK: I like the opportunity that artworks present—great works of art create opportunities to think about things in a new way, whether they challenge your existing ideas, confirm your thoughts and experiences, or just allow you to contemplate new thoughts. Contemporary art can often be a great tool for talking about the world we live in, our past, present, and future. Sometimes it can be challenging and present itself in new forms (installation, video, sound), and I like that constant flux that it often occupies.