MCBA Main Gallery
April 14 – August 12, 2023
Reception: Thursday, June 22, 7–9pm
Free and open to the public
Paper Is People: Decolonizing Global Paper Cultures, co-curated by Tia Blassingame and Stephanie Sauer, offers a new definition of paper within a global and decolonial framework. Featuring works by local, national, and international artists, this exhibition explores the vital role substrates play in human communities and how meaning is made from what we might call paper and papermaking.
Viewed together, the works on display seek to open a conversation around what paper is across cultures today: a vessel for collective memory, a body, a site of meaning, a living ancestor, and a form of cultural survival and resistance. Our ideas about paper are linked to how we value traditions of language, knowledge production, creative expression, storytelling, and history. Many of us think of paper as thin sheets fashioned from fibrous pulp, but this understanding leans heavily on European applications and usage, with its roots in ancient Chinese technology and centuries of violent occupation, enslavement, and trade.
In the Indigenous and oral cultures represented here, baskets, tapestries, and other handmade substrates act as vessels and embodiments of culture and memory.
To appreciate global paper cultures in a decolonial context, it is important to consider definitions of paper that move beyond those created and sanctioned by imperial powers. In the Indigenous and oral cultures represented here, baskets, tapestries, and other handmade substrates act as vessels and embodiments of culture and memory. Some even hold status as animate members of their community. Among peoples subjugated under slavery and denied access to literacy and the requisite tools for creating paper and books, maintaining and building upon their threatened cultural knowledge required creativity like the kind exhibited in African American quilts. Paper Is People presents each cultural substrate as a new definition within contextualized, multimedia displays that invite thoughtful participation and engagement of the senses. Visitors will have the opportunity to see paper samples, handle source materials, watch papermaking processes from source to finish, hear first-hand accounts from traditional practitioners, experience how contemporary artists are finding new applications for ancient technologies, and participate in a variety of workshops and talks.
After premiering at Minnesota Center for Book Arts, Paper Is People will be available to travel beginning in late August, 2023.