For Atlanta artists Julie Torres and Dawn Williams Boyd, the coronavirus was a very good thing.
The 2020 shutdown forced art galleries to close and shift artists’ work online, which is how each of them now has an artwork in the permanent collection of New York City’s prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum has acquired Boyd’s woven work “Sankofa” and Torres’ “Super Diva,” a screenprint portrait of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Boyd’s “Sankofa” includes photographs of her family and some of her own works.
Boyd’s unexpected journey to the Met started last year when Adam Shopkorn, owner of Fort Gansevoort gallery in New York, discovered her work online. “Where else do you do research when you are home for 17 months?” he says. “Dawn was hiding in plain sight. It’s a breath of fresh air to know there is no shortage of great artists in the world.” He was deeply moved by photos of her large-scale, stitched “cloth paintings” that pulsate with the pain, anger, trauma and joy of the African American experience.
Determined to bring them to a wider public, he photographed 15 of them and paired the artist with writer and critic Sasha Bonét. Together they created a compelling virtual exhibit of images and text that launched in September 2020 and is still online. A patron of the gallery was impressed with the exhibit and helped negotiate the Met’s acquisition of Boyd’s “Sankofa.”
Boyd, 69, doesn’t shy away from politics or the rawness of the Black experience in her art, so was surprised the Met chose this very personal piece; it incorporates pictures of her mother, her daughters, her fifth-grade report card and some of her own art works. (Sankofa is a mythical bird that symbolizes going back to the past in order to inform your future.)
She has exhibited her work in the South in person for many years but has never received this much attention. “I’m totally jazzed about the Met,” she says, acknowledging that the Black Lives Matter movement has brought greater awareness to the accomplishments of African Americans. “It’s a terrible thing to say: that X number of people had to die before the world recognized, again, that people of color are accomplished,” she says.