Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities is an ongoing project of the Lynden Sculpture Garden and is open to the public April through October (weather permitting). The Cabinet remains at the center of our education and public programming, with new programming each summer.
In the summer of 2016, Chicago-based artist Folayemi Wilson unveiled Eliza’s Peculiar Cabinet of Curiosities on the grounds of the Lynden Sculpture Garden. The full-scale structure is both wunderkammer and slave cabin; it imagines what a 19th-century woman of African descent might have collected, catalogued and stowed in her living quarters. What did she find curious about the objects and culture of her European captors? Southern plantation life? The natural world around her? Informed by historical research, but represented in the past, present and future simultaneously, Eliza–animated by an Afro-Futurist vision that embodies a hopeful version of an African American future–presents an imagined collection of found and original objects, furnishings and artifacts.
With Eliza’s Cabin, Wilson positions the Black imagination as an essential element in Black survival and self-determination. The fictional Eliza not only assumes the role of collector, anthropologist and naturalist; as curator of her wunderkammer she asserts her right to creative and artistic forms of social commentary about her time. Through Eliza–and the materialization of her interior world–participants have the opportunity to experience history from the point of view of the “other,”as well as through the eyes of an artist who takes history as one of her materials and employs contemporary media and installation strategies to disrupt the viewer’s assumptions about the institution of slavery.
In this project, architecture and material culture become important agents for the inclusion of voices in American history that are usually marginalized. Eliza’s collection includes more than 100 found and original objects and specimens, some that relate directly to the period and others that traverse time. In Eliza’s world, the symbolic architecture or enslaved space becomes a vehicle for and expression of freedom, as well as a container for her fanciful interpretation of an alien world and her critical assessment of her perilous situation.
About the Artist
Folayemi (Fo) Wilson uses constructed space and furniture forms to create experiences that reposition historical objects and/or aesthetics in a contemporary context and offers audiences new ways of thinking about and interacting with history. Wilson earned an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and is an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago. A grant recipient of Creative Time, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Propeller Fund, her design work is included in the collection of The Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design. Wilson has been awarded residencies or fellowships at ACRE, Haystack Mountain Center for Craft, Purchase College, and the Anderson Ranch Arts Center. She leads a team that has been awarded a public art commission for the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, a project of the Chicago Parks District and The Field Museum, and is a 2015 3Arts Award awardee. More info: fowilson.com