Emma Ridgway, Modern Art Oxford: Ruth Asawa


“Art will make people better, more highly skilled in thinking and improving whatever business one goes into, or whatever occupation. It makes a person broader.” – Ruth Asawa
Join Emma Ridgway, Chief Curator at Modern Art Oxford for a talk on the great, yet quiet, American modernist Ruth Asawa, ahead of the forthcoming exhibition Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe, due to open in Oxford in February 2021.

The first major exhibition of Asawa’s work outside the USA, Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe takes a unique look at the visionary artist, educator and activist Ruth Asawa (b. 1926, Norwalk, CA – d. 2013, San Francisco, CA). Asawa called for an inclusive and revolutionary vision for art’s role in society. As a teenager, she lived in an internment camp due to the forced relocation and incarceration for some 120,000 Japanese-Americans by the US government on the eve of World War II. Despite the extreme conditions she learned artistic skills from professional artists and left in the firm belief that art can be life-changing and a positive force for social good.
Asawa studied at Black Mountain College from 1946-49, nurturing her philosophy of the “integration of creative labour within daily life”. Here she formed a lifelong friendship with visionary designer R. Buckminster Fuller, who once described Asawa as one of the greatest artists he knew. As a result of her experiences at the college, Asawa recognised that people can choose to transcend race, class and nationalistic divisions.
For Asawa, living a full life meant being socially engaged, having a family, creating art with them, and fully participating in the life of her local community. Quietly charismatic, Asawa chose to identify as a “citizen of the universe”, developing a sense of higher purpose grounded in improving life through art. Foregrounding these ideas, this exhibition is an affirmation of her timely relevance as a champion of the vital role creativity plays in society at a time of unprecedented change and racial tension.

Citizen of the Universe is the first public solo exhibition in Europe of Ruth Asawa’s work.
It is curated by Emma Ridgway (Modern Art Oxford) and Vibece Salthe (Stavanger Art Museum). The exhibition is organised in partnership with Stavanger Art Museum, Norway where it will be on display from 16 October 2020 – 31 January 2021.

Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Primary research has been supported by a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from Art Fund.

Emma Ridgway is Chief Curator at Modern Art Oxford, leading the artistic programme of exhibitions and learning at the public venue since 2015. Previously she was a curator in London at the Barbican, The Royal Society of Arts, Serpentine Gallery, and Khoj International Artists Association, New Delhi. She has degrees in fine art, art history and curating contemporary art from Goldsmiths and The Royal College of Art in London and is a Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow.

For the full credits and acknowledgments to accompany this talk please click here

Find out more about Modern Art Oxford here modernartoxford.org.uk


Jul 01 2020


6:30 pm - 7:30 pm



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