In celebration of 20 years of UCHI and as part of our ongoing You Should… series, we’ve asked former fellows and other friends of the Institute to recommend something related to their work or process. Read them all here.
UConn Professor Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar’s playlist for the exhibition Facing History: Social Commentary in Contemporary American Art, on view at the William Benton Museum of Art through March 11, 2022. The show presents work by artists who confront the legacies of past injustices and underscore the enduring impacts of American history on contemporary society. The playlist pairs specific works of art in the exhibition with songs from the 1960s to the present. For example, Ogbar juxtaposes And One (2011) by artist Hank Willis Thomas—a jarring image where the culture of lynching and the commodification around professional sports collide—with Childish Gambino’s “This is America”—a track that provocatively interrogates race and violence in American culture. Or, he asks us to consider how jazz singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone’s “Four Women” informs our experience of A Means to An End… A Shadow Drama in Five Acts (1995) by visual artist Kara Walker, and vice-versa. Listen to the playlist on Spotify or in the exhibition at The Benton.
– Amanda Douberley
Assistant Curator/Academic Liaison
The William Benton Museum of Art
Who is Amanda Douberley? Amanda Douberley is Assistant Curator/Academic Liaison at the William Benton Museum of Art, where she is responsible for connecting the Benton’s collections and exhibitions with teaching in departments across the university. She has curated numerous exhibitions at the museum, often in collaboration with faculty and other campus partners. Amanda holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin with a focus on 20th-century American sculpture and public art. Before coming to UConn in 2018, she taught in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“You should hear Songs in the Key of Life, by Stevie Wonder. In 1975, Wonder had considered leaving the music industry, moving to Ghana and working with children with disabilities. At only 25 years old, he had already released 17 albums, sold millions, and won dozens of awards, including Grammys for Album of the Year (1974 and 1975). After some prodding from friends, family, fans (and the biggest record contract for any artist in history), he returned to the studio to record. In the midst of the dominance of the carefree hedonism of disco, the double LP, was released in September 1976 to critical acclaim. Like his previous work, this LP proved to be a beautifully discursive exploration of the human condition. Wonder assembled a group of artists from different genres and filled the album with an aural style and literary brilliance that was organically balanced with social commentary and festive jaunts about mistakes of our youth. “Isn’t She Lovely” is as infectious and fun as songs get. “Sir Duke” is classic Wonder. With more hit singles than any Wonder LP ever, it’s a challenge to justify focus on one song, but Wonder’s highpoint is one of the best love songs ever, “As.”
Songs became Wonder’s best-selling album of all time. It won Grammy Album of the Year among three other Grammys. Auteurs from Prince to George Michael have praised it as the best album ever made. The list of awards and honors is too long to put here. When you hear it, know that it offers us many ways for its consumption. Focus on the sonic, and isolate the various instruments and vocals from Herbie Hancock or Minnie Riperton. Concentrate on the enthusiastic flow of Wonder on some songs, the playful laugh, improvisation, or prattle on another. Appreciate the jazz inflections on R&B vocals. Listen to tales of love, God, struggle and joy. It is a lush, incredible example of exceptional talent and a reminder of how important it is to encourage the creation of wonderous art. ”
– Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar
Director of the Center for the Study of Popular Music
Professor of History