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New Gallery 360 show ‘speaks powerfully of the work of women in contemporary art’

Jan. 17, 2017 - BOSTON, MA. - Students, faculty and staff filled Blackman Auditorium for "A Tribute to the Dream" an annual celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event featured Renée Elise Goldsberry, star of the acclaimed Broadway show Hamilton, musical performances and remarks from President Joseph E. Aoun. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The new show featured in Northeastern’s Gallery 360 “speaks powerfully of the work of women in contemporary art,” says Edmund Barry Gaither, director of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists.

The exhibit highlights the work of two women, Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell and Rene Westbrook. The artists’ work—which is on loan from the museum and on display through the end of February—features different sizes, techniques, and points of view.

The exhibition, as an overall experience, is a tribute to the audacity of contemporary female artists.
—Edmund Barry Gaither, director of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists

In her large oil paintings, Phipps-Kettlewell examines sites of public and personal pilgrimage in her native Haiti. The five paintings curated for the show pay respect to the humanity, dignity, and character of Haitians who have touched her life and work. Gaither described her work as having “a robust painterly quality,” adding that the paintings “are wonderfully imaginative and very physically present, and give great reason for the viewer to really think about what’s before them.”

Phipps-Kettlewell, who is also a well-known poet, has won fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New England Foundation for the Arts, and the Bunting Institute, among others. Bruce Ployer, Northeastern’s campus curator who oversees Gallery 360, says he was immediately drawn to her work when he first visited the museum, which is located in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and only about two miles from campus. “I was awestruck at how beautiful they were,” Ployer said.

Artwork by two African American painters, Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell and Rene Westbrook, is installed in Gallery 360 on Jan. 11, 2017. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Artwork by two painters, Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell and Rene Westbrook, is installed in Gallery 360 on Jan. 11, 2017. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Westbrook’s work on display, by contrast, primarily consists of pieces that are smaller in size, but not in their impact. One series of collages, for example, offers probing commentaries on issues such as colonial capitalism and slavery by juxtaposing various images across time. At first glance, they appear to be photographic montages, Gaither explains. But coming in closer, viewers will notice that Westbrook has cut out and pasted together different pictures to form collages.

Gaither said he first met Westbrook in the 1970s when she was a student at the Massachusetts College of Art. She is a painter, sculptor, photographer, and producer, and in 1989 she founded the Rene Westbrook Studio and Art Peace Institute—an art business with the goal of aiding and enhancing creative and spiritual ideals in education and business environments.

Her work, Gaither noted, is carefully constructed with “exquisite attention.” “Her pieces draw you in close, in a way that is different from how Marilene’s work behaves,” he said. “But what both artists have in common is that they are thinking very seriously about the human experience of the last quarter of the 20th century and the early 21st century.”

He added: “The exhibition, as an overall experience, is a tribute to the audacity of contemporary female artists.”