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  • Wearing Leadership

    What do leaders in your life wear to denote their role in your school, state, or country? The lei niho palaoa, or “chiefly necklace,” was a symbol of rank worn in the 18th and mid-19th centuries by the people of the highest rank in the Hawaiian Islands.

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  • Water Deity Figure

    The cultural activities, belief structures, and art of the Nahua (Aztec) Empire centered around numerous deities, including the powerful water goddess Chalchiuhtlicue. This sculpture of the goddess was finely carved from basalt, or volcanic rock, in central Mexico during the height of the Aztec Empire.

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  • Safety at Sea

    If you traveled across the ocean by boat, how would you protect yourself from splashing water? In the past, Massim sailors in Oceania used splashboards to shield canoes from waves and mesmerize onlookers when arriving at a trade island for Kula, a ceremonial exchange of shells that reinforced social connections between islanders.

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  • The Flowering of Long Life and Health

    Looking closely at this flower-like object crafted in Jingdezhen, you may notice that it has two layers of what could be petals (12 in total) that swirl in a counter-clockwise direction.

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  • From Architecture to Art

    Start by looking at the solid navy square in the center of this quilt by Lucy T. Pettway and let your eye travel outward to take in the progressively larger squares delineated in thin stripes—like frames for paintings or photos.

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  • What's in a flag?

    A collection of brightly colored flags hangs from the ceiling in Stephanie Syjuco's Rogue States—each one with a distinct design.

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  • Shedding Light on a Loved One

    Henry Ossawa Tanner described this painting as “a hurried study of my dear father,” a remarkably humble assessment of this beautifully rendered and sensitive portrait.

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  • Designing in Crisis

    The Traction Leg Splint pictured is the result of the designers Charles and Ray Eames using their experience making furniture with plywood to craft a new kind of leg splint for injured soldiers during World War II.

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  • Adornment and Identity

    Though this vest—designed for a boy by a Lakota artist—is small, it is rich with beadwork designs in red, white, blue, and green against a background of clear glass beads on leather.

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  • Mother Power and Protection

    This polished wood nkisi sculpture from the Democratic Republic of the Congo depicts a young woman sitting proudly with mirrored eyes, iron earrings, and an elegant high cap. At her midsection sits a rounded, mirrored area.

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  • Finding Common Ground

    A lion and an ox face each other on either side of a fruit tree’s trunk in this mosaic from the ancient city of Antioch.

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  • Monumental Grace

    What comes to your mind when you think of a monument? Perhaps you think of the Statue of Liberty in New York or the monument to Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. Or perhaps there are local monuments you have noticed in your own community. "Grace Stands Beside" by Shinique Smith is a powerful departure from the typical monument.

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  • Resisting Material

    When you look at this wide, round jar, what do you see? The lower quarter of the vessel is an off-white color, but the rest of the jar displays a vibrant range of whites, greens, and browns. This "Jar Decorated with Resist Motif" was made in China in the early 8th century during the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) at the height of the Silk Road.

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  • Espalier

    On a background of bright red linen, a multi-limbed form stretches across the horizontal surface with its individual limbs reaching upward. The title of this artwork by Gloria Balder Katzenberg—Espalier—indicates that this fantastical form is actually a tree.

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  • A Spontaneous Family Portrait

    In this black-and-white photograph by SHAN Wallace, four very young children—wearing warm weather clothes—hold on to each other with unmistakable affection.

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  • Drawing Closer to Healing

    While the works in Jo Smail's Speechless series may seem like modest drawing explorations, the story behind them illustrates the determination and perseverance of the artist.

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  • Humanity Everywhere

    Seven distinct figures stand in a line, framed and enmeshed with a dense variety of shapes and smaller human silhouettes that appear to walk or dance. This artwork is part of Valerie Maynard’s acclaimed No Apartheid series.

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  • Painting Surprise and Wonder

    As you enter the large gallery where Katharina Grosse’s Is It You? is installed, you see a massive, draped fabric form. In some areas, the fabric is left unpainted, but the bursts of color—some disbursed, some densely enmeshed, and some just a light spray of droplets—hint at the possibility that there is more to this work than just the exterior.

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  • The Art of Identity

    A cape, a fringed veil, a decorative skirt apron—these and other garments form the wedding ensemble in a style popular for a Ndebele bride in 1980s South Africa.

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  • Not Just Any Still Life

    A blue vase by Rebecca Salsbury James holds white lilies, pink poppies, one white rose, one pink pansy, and blue forget-me-nots arranged with greenery. The vase itself seems suspended in space, casting a narrow shadow on an all-white background.

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  • Food, Farming, History, Memory

    A sharp, beak-like metal object attached to what looks like a two-rung ladder is suspended at the intersection of three thick, rusted chains hanging from the ceiling. A fourth chain hangs from the central object with a hook dangling from the end. The taut chains create a path for the viewer’s eye as it focuses on the central object. In fact, this object is part of a plow blade that holds cultural, historic, and nostalgic importance for the artist, Melvin Edwards. The title of the work, Agricole, is French for “agricultural,” and evokes Edwards’ time in Dakar, Senegal.

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  • A Rich Rainbow

    Anchored on the left by a vertical rectangle of dense black, this wall piece by artist Shinique Smith unfurls in a rainbow-like sequence of colors— blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and pink.

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  • Starry Skies

    A square white quilt virtually explodes with numerous colorful stars. Each star is unique, varying in the fabrics used, the color and character of the stitching around them, the knotting and other embellishments, and the number of points. Take a look at "Plantation" by Elizabeth Talford Scott.

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  • An Artist Honors the Ancestors

    Epa masks, as headpieces like these are called, can be relatively simple in design, but this mask, with its elaborate, multitiered elements, reflects the artistic mastery of sculptor Bámgbóyè, who is considered one of the leading artists of his generation.

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  • Face and Form

    The words “Application for Employment” appear at the top of this work but this is much more than a simple job application. The artist, Adrian Piper, has used a generic application form and rendering of a face on it to deftly contrast how applications are used to create a “portrait” of a person and their worth in relation to the topic of the form.

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  • A Multitude of Minotaurs

    Four issues of Minotaure, the Surrealist magazine published from 1933 to 1939, reflect four distinct interpretations of the mythical Minotaur by four different artists: Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Max Ernst, and André Masson.

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  • Bee and Flower Syndrome

    Ebony G. Patterson made ... and babies too ... in response to the 18 children killed in her home city of Kingston, Jamaica, in early 2015, memorializing them with 18 pairs of cast glass shoes. Patterson challenges us to contrast the trappings of carefree childhoods with the reality of the pervasive violence that affects so many young people, especially young black and brown people around the world.

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  • Hybrid Power

    In this sculpture, Kenyan-American artist Wangechi Mutu evokes the nguva of East Africa, a feared sea-woman who lures men to watery graves.

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  • Pushed to the Margins

    In "Spoiled Foot," artist Mark Bradford is thinking broadly about the many people today increasingly forced to the economic, geographic, and social margins.

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  • CUT!

    Consistent with John Waters’s ability to sharply puncture pretentions, "Bad Director’s Chair" ruthlessly exposes the chaos of a horribly run film set about to unleash yet another bad film on the public or into the ether in which forgettable movies disappear.

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  • Portrait of a Truck

    Dramatically poised in a darkened tunnel, this truck, named “Tenkamaru” by artist Masaru Tatsuki, hums with light. The photograph, more akin to a portrait of a beloved family member or an important citizen than the simple visual record of a vehicle, grabs the eye of the viewer with its dazzling electricity.

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