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Dear Mazie,

Sep 6, 2024 – Mar 9, 2025

Dear Mazie, is a group exhibition inspired by the life and work of Amaza Lee Meredith (1895–1984), the trailblazing artist and educator who became the first known Black queer woman to practice as an architect in the United States. Curator Amber Esseiva has commissioned nine contemporary artists and architects to create responses to Meredith’s multifaceted legacy for this show, which will be accompanied by public programs and a robust publication enriched with archival material.

Honoring Meredith’s prodigious and passionate letter-writing (as evidenced by the hundreds of missives Esseiva found in her 5,000-piece archive), the curator has invited the participating artists to consider the epistolary form as a conceptual framework for their commissions. Dear Mazie, is thus something like an exhibition-as-letter, addressed back to the subject at its heart.

Exhibition Overview

Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1895, Amaza Lee Meredith was denied formal architecture training due to her race and gender. Undeterred, she went on to design landmark structures in her home state (where she built the remarkable Azurest South, 1939, in a modernist style never before seen in Virginia) and beyond (New York and Texas). Also a trailblazing educator and artist, in 1935, Meredith founded the fine arts department at the historically Black college Virginia State University (VSU), which she chaired until her retirement, and exhibited her art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and in galleries in New York and North Carolina. These contributions and many more had indelible impacts, paving the way for Black Americans to see themselves in environments where they were so often prohibited; and yet, today, Meredith’s legacy is woefully underrecognized and in urgent need of attention.

Dear Mazie, intends to redress this by introducing Meredith’s work to new and wider audiences, producing novel art pieces in response to her work and locating them in her home state, and bringing Meredith’s archival material (letters, blueprints, photographs, and more) to light, much of it never before seen by the public. The project will go beyond existing scholarship, plotting Meredith’s life and work within themes of placemaking, gender, sexuality, and Black love, while also exploring Meredith’s legacy in public education, the arts, and architecture. A special focus is placed on the ways she built sanctuaries (from homes to institutions to communities) for herself and other people of color to allow rigorous artistic pursuit, free of persecution.

Inspired by Meredith’s archives, which are the wellspring for this project, the form of the letter serves as a conceptual framework for Dear Mazie,. The new commissions—to be produced in a wide range of media (sculpture, video, painting, installation, and performance) in the exhibition, programs, and a publication—will function as a response to Meredith’s legacy, a note to the past from the present. One example of this speculative approach is a work by Abigail Lucien, a sculptor who uses architectural building materials to draw out themes of care, belonging, and community. Lucien is producing a series of sculptures inspired by various materials found at Azurest South, such as ceramic tiles, mirrors, and glass bricks. These new pieces will bring fresh perspectives to one of Meredith’s most intimate environments. Dear Mazie, can thus be seen not only as an exhibition, but also a conversation with, and even a continuation of, Amaza Lee Meredith’s groundbreaking practice.

Exhibiting artists: AD—WO, Cauleen Smith, Kapwani Kiwanga, Abigail Lucien, The Black School, Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo, and Tschabalala Self.

The exhibition’s presentation at the ICA at VCU is made possible by generous support from:

Terra Foundation for American Art

Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Virginia Humanities

Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts

Pam Royall

Jay Barrows
Jim Klaus

Ashley Kistler
Sharon Larkins-Pederson and Edson Pederson
Margaret Lewis
Celia Rafalko
Caroline and Richard Wright

AD-WO (Emanuel Admassu and Jen Wood) is an art and architecture practice that aims to establish an operational terrain between architecture’s content and container. They are equally committed to designing buildings and reimagining their dynamic sociopolitical contexts.

Cauleen Smith is an interdisciplinary artist with roots firmly within the discourse of mid-twentieth-century experimental film. Her work has been featured at the Studio Museum of Harlem, Houston Contemporary Art Museum, The New Museum, New York, and Decad, with solo shows at The Kitchen, MCA Chicago, and Threewalls. Grants and awards include Rockefeller Media Arts Award, Creative Capital Film /Video, Chicago 3Arts Grant, and Rauschenberg Residency. Smith serves as faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts low-residency MFA program.

Kapwani Kiwanga received the 2020 Prix Marcel Duchamp and was the winner of the Frieze Artist Award and the 2018 Sobey Art Award. Solo exhibitions include Haus der Kunst; Kunstinstituut Melly – Center for Contemporary Art; Kunsthaus Pasquart; MIT List Visual Arts Center; Albertinum museum; Artpace; Esker Foundation; Tramway; Power Plant, Toronto; South London Gallery; and Jeu de Paume, among others.

Abigail Lucien is a Haitian-American artist, working in sculpture, literature, and time-based media. Lucien was named to the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, is a recipient of a 2021 VMFA Fellowship and the 2020 Harpo Emerging Artist Fellow. Past exhibitions include SculptureCenter, MoMA PS1, MAC Panamá, Atlanta Contemporary, and UICA. Residencies include Amant Studio & Research Residency, The Luminary, Santa Fe Art Institute, and ACRE.

The Black School is an experimental art school teaching Black and people of color students and allies to become agents of change. Founded by Joseph Cuillier III and Shani Peters in 2016, its mission is to promote and extend the legacy of art in Black radical histories by providing innovative education alternatives centered in Black love. They have held over 100 workshops that address local community needs, serving over 400 students, collaborated with more than 40 professional artists, and partnered with over 50 organizations. They serve as educators and institution builders interested in engaging with public education and the arts for Dear Mazie,.

Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo is an artist, abolitionist, storyteller, cultural worker and person of multitudes.Through a practice based in the printed multiple, community-based work and installation building, they invite the viewer to recall and share their own lived narratives, offering power and weight to the creation of a larger dialogue around the telling of B.I.Q.T.P.O.C. (Black, Indigenous, Queer, Trans, People of color) stories. Branfman-Verissimo has had solo shows at September Gallery, Deli Gallery, Roll Up Projects, Center for Book Arts and Printed Matter Inc.Their work has been included in exhibitions and performances at MOCA Cleveland, Konsthall C, San Francisco Arts Commision, Leslie Lohman Museum of Art, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and L’Internationale Online, amongst others. They have been awarded residencies and fellowships at The University of New Mexico, Black Space Residency, Kala Art Center, Women’s Studio Workshop and ACRE Residency. Lukaza’s artist books and printed editions have been published by Endless Editions, Childish Books, Press Press and Printed Matter Inc. and is in the permanent collections at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, California College of the Arts Printmaking Archive, University of California Santa Cruz Library, New York University Special Collections and San Francisco Museum of Art Library. Branfman-Verissimo is represented by September Gallery.

Tschabalala Self uses painting and printmaking to explore ideas about the black body. She constructs depictions of predominantly female bodies using a combination of sewn, printed, and painted materials, traversing different artistic and craft traditions. Recent exhibitions include: Performa 2021 Biennial; ICA, Boston; Pilar Corrias; Art Omi; MoMA; Hammer Museum; Frye Art Museum; Yuz Museum; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; Pilar Corrias; and New Museum. Forthcoming exhibitions include: Kunstmuseum St Gallen and Desert X 2023.