“Messages” portrays an artist’s journey navigating social hardships


Alisha Abner

Fairytale Neckpiece, 2020 Joyce J. Scott Peyote Stitch, woven glass beads, thread Purchased by University Museums with funds from the Joyce Tomlinson Brewer Fund for Art Acquisition and Barbara Woods. In the permanent collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2020.38

Behind Joyce J. Scott’s eccentric, beaded necklaces and sculptures, this artist and activist shares her commentary on difficult societal issues. Her experiences with racism, misogyny, equality and heritage as a Black woman are all displayed through her work.

At the Brunnier Art Museum, 35 of Scott’s pieces are on display until April 30. This exhibit is titled “Joyce J. Scott: Messages” and was organized by Mobilia Gallery.

“When you look at some of her necklaces, just like in a quilt, you have all these different sections of fabric that come together and kind of tell a larger story,” said Nicholas Scott, museum security and education program assistant.

The hand-made neckpieces are large and bulky to make a statement about their themes.

“When a person walks into a room, immediately everyone’s going to look at them because they’re wearing this huge piece of jewelry and it’s meant to start a conversation and it’s meant to help people talk about it,” Scott said.

Scott has won five awards for her work, including an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from John Hopkins University last year. In 2016, she received her first award: MacArthur Fellow from the MacArthur Foundation.

Bib Necklace, 2012. Joyce J. Scott. Peyote stitch, glass beads, thread. On loan from the Collection of Marion Fulk. (Alisha Abner)

At 4 p.m. Jan. 31, Scott will hold a virtual artist lecture on her exhibit. This event is open to the public over Zoom.

“She’s an educator at heart and so she feels that sharing her techniques and inspirations will help inspire future generations of artists,” said Allison Sheridan, a museum curator. “It’ll be exciting to have this prominent Black artist talk about her own art instead of having someone talk about it for her.”

In this lecture, she will describe the messages and process of her work.

A lecture on beadwork techniques will also be given by Dr. Brianna Burke, associate professor of American Indian studies and English. Titled “Exploring the Different Beadwork Techniques of American Indian Peoples: Discussion and Demonstration,” this lecture will be held at the museum at 2 p.m. Feb. 5.

“While the different techniques of American Indian people are not necessarily these works of art, it is relevant,” said Alisha Abner, communications specialist. “She has drawn inspiration from American Indian people.”

A curator’s tour will be led by Adrienne Gennett, a museum curator, at 2 p.m. March 12. Gennett will analyze the messages and storytelling of the pieces during this tour.