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Harn Diversity Project: Global Collections

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Within the Gainesville community, there is a large diversity of both culture and ideas within. Because of the University, you can find people from all around the world all within the same block. This provides benefits both to students traveling from afar as well as those local to the community, who now have the option to experience foreign cultures right within their own city. This diversity is important in allowing us to see from other points of view and for understanding the world. By having these viewpoints, we are taught about conflicts and issues outside of our community, as well as ways we can help these cultures. Of course, the Harn Museum collection has works that can help us see these other viewpoints. The Harn’s global collection reflects the diversity in the community by exposing us to many artifacts from various places. These works can show us national symbolism, religious beliefs, the hardships groups of people have pushed through, conflicts of other cultures, and even give us a personal connection and insight to the people who make the works themselves.

The Harn Museum’s Asian collections show a variety of collections featuring paintings, pottery, and even wood carvings. The first of these pieces that I will cover is “Mount Fuji form Miho, Spring”, a work from the Inside Outside collection. This Japanese piece depicts a traditional woodblock print, ink on a paper canvas. It depicts Mount Fuji from a distance, along a black beach and behind a hilly mountainside, putting emphasis on the natural beauty of the landscape over the people within the portrait. This focus on nature, as well as the method used to create this work are common for traditional pieces such as this. This design is like those used for pieces such as Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave off ]Kanagawa. In comparison, these artworks are both woodblock prints focusing on the majesty and power of nature as opposed to looking at human element (Julyan H.E. Cartweight and Hisami Nakamura, 2009). However, another element these works have in common is that Mount Fuji is in both, residing in the background of the works. Another work from the collection, “Viridescence”, also focuses on the natural appearance of the world and features mountainous regions as the focus. This is because the mountains, Mount Fuji specifically, is a sacred symbol in Japan. Beyond that, it is a source of national pride (Michael Ray, 2019). Both “Viridescence” and “Mount Fuji from Miho, Spring” incorporate Japanese culture within them, and help to show a piece of it to those who view the works.

In addition, they also feature pieces such as “Buddhistic Lion Group”, which is focused on the religious aspects of China. While symbols such as Mount Fuji exposes us to culture from Japan, pieces like this are just as important. Rather than show us the symbolism of a culture, it tries to show us the religious aspects of it. In Asian cultures, religious symbols play a large part. Lions are the proud, majestic, often considered a symbol of royalty, protection wisdom, and pride. In Buddhism, lions are the sons of the Buddha, working in this world and renouncing happiness until all sentient beings are free from suffering (Jampa Choskyi, 1988). In Buddhist culture, lions are like how Christians see [image: ]Jesus Crist, he came to this world in sacrifice in order to be crucified for our sins. Of course, China isn’t the only country with religious statues like this. The Male Ancestral Figure from Congo is an example of how the Beembe people believe the dead can help those still alive. Figures like this would have been created in honor of the deceased, displaying both their rank and occupation based on what they held. According to the Harn website, this figure could have been a leader or a medic, since he is holding a knife and a bottle used in medicine. This figure would have been shaped in a flattering manner to respect the dead, as most cultures with effigies of this style do. However, the Beembe people believe that the spirits of their ancestors will help protects them from witchcraft, and they would often put relics of the deceased within their effigy (Stanley Museum of Art, 2014). Works like this expose us to the culture in a different way than the pieces I previously described. While there is still a direct cultural connection, I could tell just by looking at these pieces that there was a religious connotation with them. I knew that while the lion was symbolic in various ways, I had no idea about its importance in Buddhism. While looking into the background of both pieces, I discovered the connection between lions as divine entities and gained a deeper understanding of the belief system overall. The Ancestral Figure led me to investigate the importance of ancestors to the Beembe people. While these works do have a surface value exposure, they can also teach us about the religions of the originating country, and that can lead to more understanding than an average painting could.

Another branch of artwork relevant to the community is modernism, where works such as “The Woodcutter” appeared. The artist, Robert Gwathmey, grew up in a period of racial discrimination. He believed that art and social issues were inseparable, and he painted both white and black individuals while speaking for his beliefs. Often using a style similar to stained glass paintings, he often portrays farmers or workers in a dark, minimalist style (Caldwell gallery, 2008). He used his artworks to advocate for equality, featuring both black and white people in similar situations. Suzy Frelinghuysen also painted during this time. Using a cubist style, she painted more abstract paintings that displayed day to day objects instead of people. She was the first woman to have a painting placed in the permanent collection of in the collection of A.E. Gallatin’s Museum of Living Art. Being a foundation of female artists in America, she was one of the earliest female painters. Both artworks are currently featured in the Harn collection “Modern Highlights”. These artists both pushed for equality with their art. In addition to supporting black rights with his art, Robert Gwathmey featured many African American models. Using these models, he often depicted them as hard working, showing the importance of African Americans on society. Suzy Frelinghuysen’s work also shows a changing time. Being a female artist, she would have encountered many obstacles ranging from people who refused to allow her works into those who just didn’t believe a woman could. However, this piece’s mere existence shows that she overcame everything she faced. While this doesn’t show us a different race or ethnicity, it does show us a different perspective that wasn’t always as common in art. As one of the first female artists, she set the bar and defied expectations, allowing more female artists to follow. By featuring both art works, Harn Museum is showing us early controversial works that tried to change ways of life. These works pushed boundaries simply by existing, and by featuring them Harn is exposing us to what was at the time very controversial views, showing us the history of both feminism and black rights.

Harn Museum also features a variety of African Artworks. Skunder Boghossian is from Ethiopia, where he learned most of his art skills. This work was inspired by a trip to Africa, specifically constructed from pieces of bark cloth from Uganda, moter oid, and sand. This piece is influenced by Ethiopian culture and iconography. The center circle is a cosmogram for many African cultures. It also shows Christian symbolism, showing a connection to the Christian Orthodox Churches and the Ethiopian saint Samuel of Waldebba. Another work displayed in Harn is the Old Man’s Cloth. El Anatsui is an artist from Nigeria, who emerged as one of the most widely acclaimed artists. Old Man’s Cloth is a metal sculpture constructed from bottle tops. It is inspired by ceremonial cloths; however it is made of liquor bottles that instill memories of the history of liquor imports, and the colonial trade in slaves. This work seeks to bring economic, historical, and local politics and events all within one piece. These pieces are from African American artists, but beyond that they make political messages about the individual countries as well as society overall. They bring attention to the African struggles, as well as refer to both the histories and culture of African countries. The fact that Harn shows these works means that people are being exposed to this history. They see the effects of the slave trade on Nigeria today. They see how the culture hasn’t forgotten, and what has become of some of the African cultures.

A museum holds more than just paintings or sculptures. Indeed, everyday objects can be considered (and should be considered) art. These objects are vases but use the traditional term and turn it on its head. Each of these pieces originate from japan, and each one is intended to be a means of sculptural expression (Alachua county library, 2018). While I have already discussed the historical importance and references that many of the Harn’s works display, these vases have a different story as well. Tomani Tanaka, who had a translated quote on her page, said the following about her work; “The anger, happiness and other feelings are always mixed and whirling in my mind… I was thinking how I should express the movements of my inner feelings that exist inside me.” This was her own description of her creative process, in which she explains that she put her own emotions and feelings into her work. These feelings and passions show. Black Flame, appropriately named for this passion, shows a dancing shape that almost seems to move as you look at it. This piece shows not just a piece of Tanaka’s cultural heritage, but also her inner person. This piece was crafted intentionally to show her inner being, her beliefs, and her ideas. This piece is intended to show us not just a sample of Japanese Culture, but what it is like to be Japanese. Matsui Koyo also uses his emotions and passions, but in a different way. Rather than funnel it into his works, he focuses on overcoming his anxieties and finding influence in the world around him. Even so, he focuses on harnessing the influence of life around him and controlling his emotions in order to create his works. Even Asuka Tsuboi focuses on his origins while making his work. He himself said “…I feel that fine art from overseas has exerted a strong influence, but there is very little work inspired by Japanese landscapes and distinctive indigenous styles,” (Asuka Tsuboi, 1991). While the times have changed since this quote, it still speaks to the fact that he took it upon himself to inspire the world with Japanese culture. Each of these artists utilize a portion of their homeland, Japan, to inspire them to create these works. While each one uses Japan as inspiration in a different way, Harn includes these works in order to show the world what the culture is like, as well as the livelihood of the artists themselves. This personal connection to the art greater shows the viewer about the personality of their relationship with the subject allowing them to connect in ways they might not have otherwise.

Collectively, each of these works reflect diversity, showing us other culture’s symbols, beliefs, their hardships, conflicts, and insight to the lives of the cultures. Pieces like this allow us to understand cultures beyond an outsider’s view; they allow us to see the world from the perspective of the artist themselves. By having diversity in our art, we are exposed to, we are allowing and encouraging a diversity of opinions and ideas, in addition to supporting cultures from all around the world. The affects more than just our understandings of the cultures around the world. It also impacts our ability to relate with the people around us. It allows us to relate not just to the people in the painting, but also to the people around us and even look at ourselves in ways we wouldn’t have been able to any other way. Art can show us more than a pretty picture; art is a mirror that shows us where we’ve been and where we are going.


  1. “African Collection: Harn Museum of Art.” African Collection | Harn Museum of Art. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  2. “Artist Statement (English).” 田中 知美, October 20, 2015.
  3. “Beembe – Art & Life in Africa – The University of Iowa Museum of Art.” Art & Life in Africa – The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  4. Cartwright, Julyan H.E., Hisami Nakamura, Julyan H.E. Cartwright Julyan, Hisami Nakamura Chuo University742-1 Higashi Nakano, and Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra. “What Kind of a Wave Is Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa?” Notes and Records of the Royal Society, February 25, 2009.
  5. “ClayCurvyCool: Harn Museum of Art.” ClayCurvyCool | Harn Museum of Art. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  6. “Contemporary Clay: Directions in Japanese Ceramic Art.” Alachua County Library District. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  7. “Exhibition – Highlights from the Asian Collection: Harn Museum of Art.” Exhibition – Highlights from the Asian Collection | Harn Museum of Art. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  8. “Exhibition – Highlights from the Modern Collection: Harn Museum of Art.” Exhibition – Highlights from the Modern Collection | Harn Museum of Art. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  9. “Inside Outside: Outside Inside Exhibition Page: Harn Museum of Art.” Inside Outside: Outside Inside exhibition page | Harn Museum of Art. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  10. “Robert Gwathmey: Biography: 1903-1988.” Robert Gwathmey | Biography | 1903-1988. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  11. Symbolism of Animals in Buddhism. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  12. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Mount Fuji.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., September 11, 2019.
  13. tuboi. Accessed November 22, 2019.
  14. Yasuyoshi Sugiura and Koyo Matsui. Accessed November 22, 2019.

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