Providence Curates: cultivating a transformative experiment
Featured here are the three individuals selected as the initial curatory for Providence Curates: cultivating a transformative experiment. Read beyond these succinct biographies to discover the context for Providence Curates--the first mentoring program of the Providence Biennial--and learn of the exhibition theme they will explore through concurrent exhibitions in 2023.
Natalie Cohen is a graduate of Newton North High School and Harvard College, where she studied literature and art history, developed several exhibitions for the student Art Collective, was art editor for the college's literary and arts magazine, and researched and catalogued archival photographs of Syria for the library system. Natalie interned in administration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before resettling in Providence, where she participated in the Social Enterprise Greenhouse business education program. Natalie currently works in fundraising and programming at Rhode Island Latino Arts, and she teaches art to local elementary school students at Providence CityArts for Youth.
Melaine Ferdinand-King is a thinker, poet, and curator from Brick, New Jersey. She received her BA with honors from Spelman College, where she majored in Sociology with concentrations in African Diaspora & the World (ADW) and Women & Gender Studies. As a PhD candidate in Africana Studies at Brown University, Melaine teaches and engages in discussions on issues of race, culture, aesthetics, and ethics. Her dissertation research currently explores Afro-Surrealism in U.S. and Caribbean Black life. Through the Cogut Institute she earned a Mellon fellowship in Collaborative Humanities as part of her commitment to developing alternative practices for interpersonal engagement in public, private, and professional spaces. She also serves as a graduate fellow of the Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice at Brown University. In addition to her scholarship, Melaine works as a cultural practitioner, archivist, and project manager. Her most recent practice includes co-curating the inaugural Black Biennial, a community Black arts exhibition at the Gelman Gallery of the RISD Museum in Providence.
Photo credit: Rey Londres
Joel Rosario Tapia
Joel Rosario Tapia is known as TAPIA, Tureygua Taíno Cay and Chief Tureygua. He is an aboriginal urban artist of what is currently referred to as Puerto Rican descent, and a cultural practitioner of Boricua.
Tapia was born in Providence and served two tours of combat in Iraq with the US Army. He is the Superior, the Chief of the Cibuco-Bayamon Taíno Tribe, and an active voice and writer in the Indigenous Rights and Taíno diaspora. His work is influenced by indigenous Taíno Culture and hip-hop. He is a multi-hyphenate and creative director, and was the 2021 RISCA Folk Arts Fellow.
Tapia practices independently, and is the professional project manager of Caona Contractors LLC. He curates urban and indigenous BIPOC centered shows from his private gallery studio, “Da Art Dealers” in Providence. He also administers yearly Areito (indigenous Caribbean celebrations). Tapia is an author of two books on his artistic body of work, Ab-Origin and Kiss The Girls and is a co-author of the Implications & Ramifications of the Artificial Black Identity: Including a Legal Chronology of the Americas 1492 to 1968, Editions I and II, 2019/2021. Tapia is a member of Providence's Racial and Environmental Justice Committee.
Photo credit: Michael Olaseinde, 2017
Founded in 2011, the nonprofit Providence Biennial for Contemporary Art is governed by a volunteer board of directors comprised of professional curators, artists, art historians, professors, writers and non-profit leaders. As an organization we proceed from understanding art's capacity to disrupt and transform conventions of perception and experience. From the outset, our mission has been to generate curated exhibitions that expose individuals and communities to transformative experiences—provoking new ways of seeing, thinking and engaging with others.
The Providence Biennial has always sought the assistance of organizations and individuals active in the art field--and beyond--in an effort to create, motivate and maintain a supportive, diverse social network.
By unanimous vote, the board in 2021 expanded the Biennial’s mission by launching Providence Curates, an initiative that focuses specifically on recruiting emerging curators and assisting them in developing exhibitions of contemporary art. The collaboration with seasoned professionals is intended to strengthen activist curatorial practice in realizing ambitious, creatively conceived presentations that cross borders, identities and circumstances. It goes without saying that this approach includes consideration of alternative spaces and sites across Providence County. Stimulating diverse audiences is another key goal.
The experiment outlined below is conceived as an experience to help yield a vision for the future—one respecting the integral role of curating visual art as an indelible portent of social change.
By unanimous vote, the board in 2021 expanded the Biennial’s mission by launching Providence Curates ...
Providence Curates: cultivating a transformative experiment
The theme of our inaugural exhibition, scheduled for spring, 2023, is Curating Commemoration: marking space, making time, living with(in) memory. Curating Commemoration affirms a vigorous connection between remembrance and the contemporary art/culture matrix. It will investigate the perpetuation of historical memory through form, also providing understanding of current memorializing practices.
Interconnections in memorializing that move beyond self-serving values of earlier (if persistent) 'timeless' monuments will be explored. By activist curatorial response to the fraught commemoration theme--expressed though intensive research leading to selection and juxtaposition of thought-provoking, culturally diverse works of art--the group will reckon afresh with broad historical, structural and systemic dilemmas.
Natalie Cohen, Melaine Ferdinand-King and Joel Rosario Tapia, all Providence-based, have been chosen to develop separate exhibitions on the commemoration theme for 2023. The decision of a triadic model was made to highlight individual modes of curatorial activism as well as to underscore the meaning and distinction of curating itself. The simultaneous presentations offer both a unique opportunity for comparison and a heightened emphasis on the very nature of curatorial choice and the relativity of curatorial argument.