Associate Professor of Art and Art History Priscilla Briggs recently exhibited a collection of photos from her visits to India in a Hillstrom Museum gallery titled “For The Gods.”
The exhibit was accompanied by a personal gallery talk last Saturday, March 16, in which Briggs walked visitors through her photographs. The event was attended by both Gustavus students and members of the local art community.
“It was about two years ago that we first discussed having this exhibit, around the time that Priscilla had her sabbatical and traveled to India,” Hillstrom Museum Director and Instructor of Arts and Art History Donald Myers said.
The museum had worked alongside Briggs for quite a while in order to set up this gallery. However, a few of the photos displayed in her gallery were taken more recently.
“I went specifically to work on a photography project about globalization and its effects on culture and the environment in India,” Briggs said.
Many of Briggs’ photographs reflect these themes. There is one photo in particular that serves as the exhibit’s namesake.
“There’s one particular photo titled ‘For the Gods’, which is also the title of the exhibit. The photograph is from a wholesale market that sells garlands of flowers sold to worshippers at the temples in Varanasi. In Hindu ritual, flowers offered to the gods represent the good that has blossomed in the worshipper,” Briggs said.
“We worked closely together to plan the layout of the exhibit, trying to take full advantage of the special qualities of our exhibition space, including the sweeping, curved wall, the sight line through the Museum window from down the hallway,” Myers said.
The majority of Briggs’ photos were placed along the large curved wall of the museum.
“For each exhibition that I design, I take into consideration how the images fit into the space and how they create a dialogue between one another. In other words, the groupings of images work to create a visual language. For this exhibition, there were groupings of images that each had its own conceptual foundation,” Briggs said.
There were a few sections of the gallery that had a specific theme in mind.
“Although the caste system was made illegal by the Indian constitution, it is difficult to eradicate in reality because it has been embedded in the economic and social structure for centuries,” Briggs said.
Many of the photographs in the gallery showcased a pattern of economic, social, and also environmental issues India is facing today.
“The images of the forest are about the absence of people, the absence of the tribal people who have been evicted from their ancestral home,” Briggs said.
‘Absence’ is an important idea in Briggs’ exhibit. There are very few photographs featuring people.
“I thought the gallery talk was very interesting. Had I not been able to sit in and hear Priscilla tell the stories behind each of the pictures she took, I wouldn’t have been able to understand them and appreciate them as much,” First-year John DeGonda said.
Hearing Briggs explain the meaning behind each set of photographs seemed to give a whole new understanding of the art to those in attendance.
“It made me think about all of the individuals and the lives that they lead with different cultural practices than I am accustomed to, and how there are differences yet also fundamental similarities between all people,” DeGonda said.
Briggs’ message about culture and society seemed to speak to her audience. It even increased interest in Hillstrom in general.
“As expected, the reception of Priscilla’s work has been very strong, and not only have I had visitors tell me directly how strongly they reacted to the exhibit but also there have been numerous positive comments made in the Museum’s guest book,” Myers said.
The museum offers visitors the opportunity to leave comments on their way out through a guest book. Reactions to Briggs’ talk were very positive.
“I would love to go to Hillstrom again to see an exhibition, and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t been there before to explore it and appreciate the interesting art it has to offer,” DeGonda said.
Students still have the opportunity to see ‘For The Gods.’ Briggs’ exhibit will be open to the public only until April 18. However, Briggs is always looking to get students more interested in art.
“I would invite students to go see my exhibit. Also, I am always open to meeting with students who might want to discuss my work or the issues surrounding it,” Briggs said.
Even after the exhibit is gone, Briggs and the art department will be receptive of students wanting to know more.
Hillstrom’s most recent gallery featuring Professor Briggs’ exhibit has been a work in progress for years now, but the effort has paid off.
Students and members of the community alike came to take in the art with a deeper meaning behind it.