Postcolonial Thoughts: Material & Spirit–Maren Hassinger at Spelman Museum

by Christopher Hutchinson

For more than four decades Maren Hassinger, a sculptor, performance artist, and the Director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute and College of Art, has created work that examines the tenuous relationship between nature and industrialism. The Museum will organize and present the original exhibition Maren Hassinger . . . Dreaming. Throughout her distinguished career Hassinger has received awards from prestigious foundations including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Anonymous Was a Woman, and the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Her work has recently been featured in several important nationally touring exhibitions including Now Dig This!: Art of Black Los Angeles 1960 –1980 (2011), Material Girls: Contemporary Black Women Artists (2011), and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art (2012). Maren Hassinger . . . Dreaming will include installations made of newspapers, plastic bags, leaves, and other unconventional materials. This solo exhibition, curated by Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, Ph.D., Director, and Anne Collins Smith, the Curator of Collections, is a timely examination of her life and work. It brings a substantial body of Hassinger’s work to the southeast for the first time.

“Wrenching News,” 2010. Shredded, twisted, and wrapped newspapers (New York Times). Wall: 7′ x 7′ x 1′. Floor: 6′ x 6′ x 1′.

“Wrenching News,” 2010.
Shredded, twisted, and wrapped newspapers (New York Times).
Wall: 7′ x 7′ x 1′. Floor: 6′ x 6′ x 1′.

The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art has consistently produced great exhibitions and this exhibition succeeds at exceeding those. This exhibition will be on view until May 16, 2015.  Being Black History Month, one would expect to see a group exhibition that caters to the cathartic outcry of propaganda work in group exhibitions of African-American artists that now reference iconic images of black males with hands up in submission or the new trope hoodies.  Spelman, under Dr. Brownlee’s guidance, does not fall into this practice of mongering. Spelman offers a true repute to base race icons by exhibiting artists that make great work–that have a dialogue that is more substantive than just mindless reactionary responses. Maren Hassinger’s work is an excellent rubric.

Hank Willis Thomas, “Raise Up”(2014) / Goodman Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach

Hank Willis Thomas, “Raise Up”(2014) / Goodman Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach

Material & Spirit

Hassinger is not absent of the spirit or cathartic experience; it is a more deliberate choice of praxis.  When one first enters her Spelman exhibition, he/she is greeted by Hassinger’s Wrenching News 2010.  The first impulse is to walk around the sphere on floor, not quite noticing the newspaper material circling the installation, building a narrative not yet revealed.  Then you recognize the material newspaper, but it’s too voluminous and strong to be plain newspaper. That becomes irrelevant to the mirrored 6ft sphere on the wall that has now transcended physically and spiritually to a call and response dialogue between two installations, floor and wall, with one/collective unifying dialogue.  

Collective Fiber

Whirling. 1978. Wire and wire rope. Ten units. 1'5" x 7'8" x 9'5".

Whirling. 1978.
Wire and wire rope. Ten units. 1’5″ x 7’8″ x 9’5″.

At times her work is dense and impenetrable while other times the work is stripped to its most vulnerable breaking point.  Hassinger’s Consolation 1996 is one of those vulnerable pieces, where the material itself is unraveling.  The strong wire rope here is as wispy and ephemeral as a field of wheat where each stem and seed may be examined. Each stem is a part of a larger collective fiber.  These intimate nuances come from a mastery of material from a complex fiber perspective of the collective and the individual.  Hassinger’s work moves beyond typical notions and stereotypes of fiber art.  Her work investigates the absolute binary spectrum of a material, and through these inquiries she discovers the spirit.

Consolation. 1996. Wire rope. 10' x 10'. Each unit 18" high. Installed at Trans Hudson Gallery, Jersey City, NJ.

Consolation. 1996.
Wire rope. 10′ x 10′. Each unit 18″ high. Installed at Trans Hudson Gallery, Jersey City, NJ.


Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Categories: Art, Postcolonial Thoughts, Writing


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