Kea Tawana: I Traveled into the Future in a Dream showcases the John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s recent acquisition of contents from the artist’s small apartment in Port Jervis, New York. It is on view through October 8 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
This is the first museum show of Tawana’s work. Many of the objects — which were gifted to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC) by Gallery Aferro and Kohler Foundation, Inc. — are on view for the first time. The exhibition recontextualizes her work and life in several ways, including her long-running and largely unknown roles as architect, community activist, historian, educator, and craftsperson.
Tawana (c. 1935–2016) is known for the “Ark”, an 86-foot-long, three-story ship she created in Newark, New Jersey, starting in 1982. For decades prior, she had salvaged materials from abandoned buildings in the city’s Central Ward. Incorporating those materials, she built her future home — which she hoped to christen AKE Matsu Kaisha (Red Pine) — on an empty lot. The “Ark” was unfinished when the city condemned it in 1987. Unable to find a new location, Tawana dismantled it in 1988. Its destruction haunted her and she began to imagine a life on land that was free from greed, racism, poverty, and injustice.
Included in the exhibition are about 30 handmade boxes containing collaged and tied “encyclopedic files” and personal effects; blueprints for utopic, unrealized building projects; handmade stained-glass windows; and hundreds of sketches and manuscripts. Little biographical information is known about Tawana. However, her limited possessions convey a commitment to learning, self-reliance, shared responsibility, and the search for freedom.
Tawana’s books and assembled encyclopedias speak to a person who was constantly seeking new information and eager to know. Her ingenuity is evidenced in her handmade tools, antennas, and creative reuse. Her reverence for beauty is shown in the stained-glass windows she made.
Throughout the run of this exhibition, JMKAC staff will be in the gallery photographing and documenting the objects.
I Traveled in the Future in a Dream is on view through October 8 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Admission to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center is free.
To learn more, visit jmkac.org.
Kea Tawana: I Traveled into the Future in a Dream is supported by the Kohler Trust for Arts and Education, the Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust, Kohler Foundation, Inc., and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.