Art or Sacred Object?

2019 Dorner Prize winner, Nathan Wong 19 PR, performs a silent piece in honor of the RISD Museum’s ancient Buddha sculpture

The RISD Museum has selected two student projects for its 2019 Dorner Prize installations: Intermediary by senior Nathan Wong 19 PR and Feygeles by grad student Shterna Goldbloom MFA 19 PH. Both projects offer very personal and thoughtful responses to the competition’s call for temporary, site-specific installations that relate to the museum’s collection and/or physical spaces.

The annual competition has been open to all RISD students and teams of students since 1995. Curator of Contemporary Art Dominic Molon and Sculpture faculty member Kourtnie Aileru MFA 17 DM reviewed the proposals submitted this year before selecting two winners to produce pieces that are on view during spring semester.

“Outside of museums, statues of Buddha are ... adorned with flowers, jewels, gold offerings and saffron-dyed silks.”

Dorner Prize winner Nathan Wong 19 PR

Wong stepped outside of his comfort zone as a Printmaking major to create his provocative piece—a silent meditation performed in the Grand Gallery on handmade, saffron-dyed silk and cotton cushions. Inspired by the museum’s 12th-century Buddha Mahavairocana (Dainichi Nyorai)—a steady draw for visitors to the Asian galleries—the performance honors the Buddha as a spiritual presence rather than an archaeological object.

RISD Museum large 12th-century Buddha Mahavairocana
Wong’s performance piece honored the museum’s 12th-century Buddha Mahavairocana.

“Outside of museums, statues of Buddha and Buddhist relics are passionately cared for, eagerly prayed to, frequently visited and colorfully adorned with flowers, jewels, gold offerings and saffron-dyed silks,” Wong explains. On March 15 he filled the large, bright gallery space with a joyful silence for six and a half hours and will offer a repeat performance on Friday, April 26.

Feygeles, a portrait series on scrolls, by shterna Goldbloom MFA 19 PH
Feygeles by Shterna Goldbloom MFA 19 PH is a portrait series named after the Yiddish word for LGBTQIA people.

Goldbloom’s installation—on view through June 2 in the well-traveled Chace Center lobby—showcases her ongoing exploration of otherness within the Jewish community. As a gay and formerly orthodox Jew herself, she merges her portraits of LGBTQIA Jews with traditionally handcrafted Torah scrolls—among the religion’s most sacred objects—to create Feygeles (the Yiddish word for LGBTQIA people).

Feygeles aims to make visible that which has historically been hidden,” Goldbloom says. “Each scroll is open to a different degree, just like my subjects’ identities, revealing images of Jews who have struggled to integrate their history and family traditions with their sexuality and gender expression.”

Simone Solondz

April 23, 2019

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