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Hell and Sexism Are Spotlighted in New Exhibits at the de Saisset Museum

The de Saisset Museum opened two new exhibits: “Michael Mazur’s L’Inferno di Dante” (on view through June 16, 2018) and “(Re)Writing the Narrative” (on view through Dec. 1, 2017). Mazur’s exhibit shows his gripping, and at times haunting interpretations of Dante Alighieri’s “The Inferno” (“Hell” in Italian) in mostly black and white etchings. “(Re)Writing the Narrative” is a group exhibit featuring the diverse works of a number of artists, including Santa Clara resident Kathy Aoki.

Lauren Baines, assistant director of the de Saisset Museum, walked through Dante’s “The Inferno.”

“‘The Inferno’ is the first part of ‘The Divine Comedy,’” Baines said. “Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ was an epic poem divided into three parts. The first part was ‘The Inferno,’ and that was followed by ‘Purgatorio’ and ‘Paradiso.’ So essentially, it’s Dante’s journey through Hell and he’s guided in the poem by the poet Virgil. Dante and Virgil are characters journeying through the layers or circles, in this case, of Hell.”

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According to Baines, Mazur went to Italy when he was in college to study Italian so he could learn to read “The Inferno” in its original language.

“So we fast forward a few decades later and [Mazur] was friends with U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky,” Baines said to attendees at the opening reception. “Pinsky was invited through a publishing house to translate one canto (section of a long poem). So they had brought together about 20 different authors asking each of them to translate a different canto from ‘The Inferno.’ Mazur went up to Pinsky after one of the readings and [asked if he could illustrate his translations]. So this started their collaboration…That got the attention of another publishing house who approached them and said, ‘let’s do this as a book.’”

The collaborated book between Mazur and Pinsky, with Mazur’s art and Pinsky’s translations, is called “The Inferno of Dante.” Mazur passed away in 2009.

Attending the opening night reception was Kathy Aoki, Associate Professor of Studio Art and chair of the Department of Art and Art History at Santa Clara University. Aoki’s pieces conveyed social commentary about sexist expectations for how a woman is expected to look.

“‘Beauty….It’s Your Duty’ is part of [Aoki’s] 2015 series ‘Patriotic Beauty Posters,’” Baines said. “For this body of work, she imagines a world in which women who may have been part of a war effort (Rosie the Riveter types) are now transitioning back in civilian life and the government offers these patriotic posters to transition women into their new duty, their duty of beauty. This work brings together her ongoing exploration of the ‘cult of cute’ with patriotic overtones. Of the works in the current exhibition, both ‘Beauty….It’s Your Duty’ and ‘I Want You…to Weigh 110lbs,’ are from this series. Not unlike Uncle Sam and other propaganda imagery of the 1940s inviting Americans to be part of the war effort, here we see a Barbie-esque blonde instructing us to achieve an ideal weight and a bald eagle reminding us of our duty to maintain appearances.”

The de Saisset Museum is on the Santa Clara University campus, adjacent to the Mission Church. Visit scu.edu/desaisset for details about museum hours and directions.

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