Past digital exhibition
AMPLIFIED DIGNITY
February 2, 2021

These drawings encapsulate a history of individual and collective opportunity and excellence, as well as disenfranchisement and marginalization. The exhibit contains a mix of well and lesser-known artists, and nameless groups of dancers, who have contributed to the history of dance in America. To be rendered by Hirschfeld is to be immortalized in the fraternity of American popular art. The volume of images in his archive demonstrates a great reverence for the people and art of New York, especially during the Harlem Renaissance era. Ultimately, my intent is to place these dancers at the center of the cannon, not on the margins. A rightful place, as the foundation and evolution of dance in America, on stage and in social settings, is intertwined and indebted to innovation and performances by Black people in America.

In accepting the invitation to curate the images for this exhibit, I am purposefully engaging with the complexities of caricature and race before and during the twentieth century. To draw a caricature is to exaggerate, often to comic or grotesque affect. The same can be said of the damaging, racist images associated with minstrel stereotypes, images that continue to wound centuries after their first appearance. Given the role of racial stereotypes in this particular visual art form, every caricature depiction comes loaded with the weight and implications of history. How does one render exaggerations of physical characteristics as homage or reverence? And how will we recognize it?  In her book, The Content of Our Caricature, Rebecca Wanzo notes an important distinction, “Caricatures can be about individuals and thus are not the exact same as stereotypes, even as they can also circulate ideas about groups through stereotyping.” She goes on to assert that while stereotype simplifies and objectifies, caricature is about excess of subject. This is the context though which I have assembled these images.

Melanie George, Guest Curator

Melanie George is a dance educator, choreographer, dramaturg and scholar.  She is the founder and director of Jazz Is… Dance Project and an Associate Curator at Jacob’s Pillow.

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Past digital exhibition
A NATIONAL INSANITY
November 11, 2020 to January 1, 2021

75 years ago, Al Hirschfeld began to hide his daughter's name, NINA, in the designs of his drawings when she was born in 1945.  According to the artist he put it "in folds of sleeves, tousled hairdos, eyebrows, wrinkles, backgrounds, shoelaces —anywhere to make it difficult, but not too difficult, to find." Over the next half century Hirschfeld tried to end what he called "a national insanity," but he "learned, the hard way, to put Nina's name in the drawing before I proudly display my own signature."

Sunday mornings looking for NINAs was a custom shared by New York Times readers, a game played with children and grandchildren. Finding NINAs was an unspoken initiation into the worlds of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Hollywood. For Hirschfeld, drawing NINAs became second nature, and they appeared spontaneously as he worked, forcing him to count them at the end like everyone else. At a reader’s suggestion in 1960, he began to put a number next to his signature when there were more than one NINA to hunt for.

In this exhibition we have gathered drawings that all touch on some part of NINA history, from the very first drawing to the one with the most NINAs (it is probably not the one you are thinking of). These images will show the different ways he chose to hide it, and what happened when he left it out, or made the foolish mistake of trying to include other names. We wish you happy hunting for NINAs in these works, and the thousands of others we have on our site.