Given the scale of the Earth and the size of a human, it is hard to figure how we could have made such a mess of it. But time and numbers have conspired to put the planet in a precarious situation, much of it of our collective making. The exhibition And I Must Scream, conceived and curated by Amanda Hellman, boldly and beautifully explores the challenging contemporary environmental, social, and political issues that face us and continue to play out around us in real time. Such projects are central to the Michael C. Carlos Museum’s aim to create original scholarly exhibitions that offer engaging experiences centered around works of art.
In bringing together the work of contemporary artists from Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America, Hellman demonstrates the powerful voice artists have in articulating contemporary social and environmental stresses, and the meaningful voice a curator has in demonstrating their interconnectedness. The works in the exhibition are associated through the figure of the monstrous. These awesome and terrifying creations take on a frightening reality by distortions of scale or species-violating combinations. The idea of the monstrous reaches back to the earliest cultures represented in the Carlos Museum. The word in Greek, teratos, and in Latin, monstrum, bears the notion of abnormality and wondrousness. Such creatures come as warnings or portents. And so they do in And I Must Scream as well. In antiquity, such monsters often populated the edges of the known world, but here we find them living among us.
The exhibition opens with Yinka Shonibare’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters (Africa),” a monumental staged photograph recasting Francisco Goya’s 1799 etching of the same name from the series Los Caprichos. It finishes with performance pieces by Anida Yoeu Ali and Cannupa Hanska Luger that open the possibility of renewal and balance. In the galleries between, Thameur Mejri’s works take us through the human cost of war and oppression following the Arab Spring, and Steve Bandoma’s drawings create powerful commentary on political corruption. Laeïla Adjovi and Loïc Hoquet explore repression and resilience through the figure Malaïka Dotou Sankofa, whose magnificent wings invest each image—whether fully unfurled or crashed into a wall—with supernatural strength and reinvention. Fabrice Monteiro and Kahn & Selesnick confront the environment with detritus-clad monster-gods and dystopian visions of animal-headed characters engaged in human activities. They are at once horrifying and alluring.
The galleries interconnect site-specific installations and performance displays to create a powerful kinesthetic experience for viewers. Several of the works have been created or assembled in the galleries. Visitors must pass through Ganzeer’s monumental mural with haunting skulls oscillating with the smiling face of a toddler. Amie Esslinger’s wall-mounted “viruses” wrap from one room to the next as they change shape, scale, color, and complexity. The 100-foot saffron exoskeleton of Ali’s Buddhist Bug passes through a wall between exhibition spaces, waiting patiently to be activated in the gallery by the artist herself and a student.
The works in this exhibition demonstrate that monsters do not exist simply to horrify. They allow us to focus and objectify our fears; they offer opportunities to create heroes; they provide paths to renewal.
The accompanying catalogue builds on the themes explored in the exhibition, with contributions from curator Amanda Hellman, artist Ganzeer, art historian Rachel P. Kreiter, conservator Renée Stein, and National Heritage Responder Ann Frellsen. In her role as curator of African art for the Carlos Museum, Amanda Hellman has been involved in numerous exhibitions, including most recently DO or DIE: Affect, Ritual, Resistance, held at the Carlos in 2019, with its accompanying publication, Visible Man, centered on the work of Atlanta-based artist Fahamu Pecou.
And I Must Scream is ambitious and timely, challenging and yet beautiful even in the catastrophes it explores. We are proud that the National Endowment for the Arts has given its imprimatur of support. We would also like to thank the Michael C. Carlos Museum National Leadership Board, the Massey Charitable Trust, the LUBO Fund, the Charles S. Ackerman Fund, and the many anonymous donors who have made the exhibition possible.
Virtually everyone at the Carlos Museum has contributed to the success of the exhibition. I second Amanda Hellman’s thanks set out in the acknowledgements, and I add my own expression of gratitude for the pleasure of working with such a committed, professional, and collaborative staff.
Bonna D. Wescoat
Michael C. Carlos Museum