Yashua Klos at Hamilton College Wellin Museum explores family

The first impression of Yashua Klos’ work is that of scale.

Entering Klos’s exhibit, “Our Labour,” at Hamilton College’s Wellin Museum of Art through June 12, the eponymous piece dominates the space.

A tribute to Diego Rivera’s ‘Detroit Industry Murals’, ‘Our Labour’ dominates the view as you enter the exhibit, soaring to the ceiling and spanning 38 feet in diameter.

Unlike Rivera’s original work, the people depicted in Klos’ work are not anonymous characters working as cogs in industry. The portraits are all easily identifiable, face-to-face images of his father’s family – and the inspiration for the works in the exhibition.

After more than 40 years, Klos recently reconnected with her father’s family. The experience took him from an only child raised by his mother to a large family overnight.

“I’m really negotiating what my identity means in that larger context of family,” Klos said. “And of course with that comes my family’s story.”

family history

His grandmother, the central figure in the woodcut, had 15 children. These children and other parents appear in “Our Work”, with each portrait a unique hand-crafted woodcut by Klos.

Rivera’s murals accurately portrayed 1930s autoworkers as white and masculine, Klos said, but it didn’t stay that way.

“Of course the demographics of Detroit changed soon after because of urban migration and the population grew sixfold, and it was black people coming from the South, families like mine,” he said. -he declares. “So I felt like I was… personally, kind of missing a visual representation of that part of the story.”

Klos’ family emigrated from Memphis to Detroit in the mid-20th century for jobs in automobile factories.

Installation views of the exhibition "Yashua Klos: Our work" (February 12 - June 12, 2022) at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College.

Delving into the history of her family and Detroit, Klos identified a different kind of work: the work necessary to keep a family together by moving to a new city and facing the trials and tribulations of injustice, racial segregation and more.

“So all the hard work it takes to keep a family together, that’s true, and still be generous and loving,” he said. “And then on top of that, the kind of work that they and I were doing in real time trying to connect and bridge the gap.”

These connections were made through FaceTime, calls and messages. Her brother took his very first flight to see Klos, who is based in Brooklyn.

The work of art

Klos’ method of creating art requires a lot of work. Woodcuts, especially large scale ones, are drawn and carved by hand before being inked.

The technique has a history as a grassroots political art practice, used by artists like Emory Douglas in Black Panther journals and by Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White in positivist images of working black people.

“Of course, in their time, they think about the depiction of invisible labor that helped build America,” Klos said. “So at that time it was important to represent black people as a kind of nation-building.”

Klos said he wanted to recognize the movements rooted in these images using woodblock printing, but also move the discussion forward.

“So it’s kind of a tightrope where I want to pay homage, but I also don’t want to support black body assumptions as a body of work,” he said.

Wellin Museum director Tracy Adler said Klos’ art stood out 15 years ago when he was a graduate student and she was a curator at Hunter College.

“Even then, I knew he was doing something really unique and different in his approach to print media management,” Adler said.

The intersection of work and self-care is common through the works in the “Our Work” exhibition. Michigan wildflowers are woven through the pieces, while man-made elements like bricks and car parts are interwoven.

Installation views of the exhibition "Yashua Klos: Our work" (February 12 - June 12, 2022) at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College.

One piece features a black male hand holding wildflowers. When the idea came to Klos, he said he couldn’t think of many images he had seen of the subject; a Google search confirmed that there were few.

“Even though it’s really a very simple gesture, maybe it’s kind of an act of intervention, to show that the black hand is just holding flowers and admiring the flowers at that time,” said- he declared. ” Do not work ; maybe in a moment of generosity, maybe just in a moment of self-care and reflection.

“It shouldn’t be, but it’s kind of a shocking picture when you look at it and realize that the kind of message that we’ve gotten historically and also through the media is not that of the self-care,” Adler said. .

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One of the pieces in the exhibit, “When the Parts Untangle,” was created with the help of seven students from Hamilton College. It features an exploded diagram of a Ford car on the left, with the same prints used to show the assembled car on the right.

The piece highlights wildflowers and vines, though the assembled car is shown in an interior space with wooden floors and art deco wallpaper. Students worked on a line, completing part of the work before passing it on to the next student.

One of these students, Shelly Cao, is also a teacher at the Wellin Museum. As they worked under Klos, he incorporated ideas or designs from the students as they came together, she said.

“I felt like I was the creative part, working as a supporter, but also creating our own ideas in the room,” Cao said. “So it’s really fun and a really new experience for me.”

Move on

The “Our Labour” pieces were created specifically for the Wellin Museum exhibit, Adler said, but Hamilton College won’t be the exhibit’s only stop.

This fall, Klos’s works will be exhibited at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York. He has been a fan of the gallery for the 18 years he has lived in the city and regularly visits the exhibitions there.

“It’s almost surreal, you know, because it really represents kind of a full circle for me, I think, in my artistic growth,” Klos said.

Steve Howe is the town reporter for the Observer-Dispatch. Email him at [email protected]

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