DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Into the Archives > Exploring book arts at DePaul Special Collections and Archives
By Nora Gabor /
February 24, 2021 /
Posted in: INTO THE ARCHIVES /
In “Transforming Hate: An Artist's Book," artist Clarissa Sligh uses events in her own life to understand more fully the many levels of oppression and violence at the intersections of race, gender, class and sexual orientation. (Image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives)
When you hear the words “rare books," you may think of old leather bound tomes. What you might not expect to find in DePaul's rare book collections are artists' books. Using different media and formats, artists invite the reader to experience art through the act of reading and exploring the piece's relationship between image and text.
Special Collections and Archives actively collects artists' books and other book art materials that expand the university's historical collections with contemporary voices and perspectives. In particular, staff focus on collecting artists' books that explore gender, identity, race, religion and social justice activism.
“Transforming Hate: An Artist's Book," by Clarissa Sligh, touches a cross section of many of DePaul's collecting interests. The book grew out of a group art exhibition put on by the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, Montana, and the Montana Human Rights Network. The artists involved were asked to create pieces that used, transformed or reacted to white supremacist hate books. For the exhibition, Sligh created origami cranes from the pages and began reflecting on the process of turning hate into a beautiful work of art. The project stayed with Sligh and in 2016 she published “Transforming Hate: An Artist's Book" using events in her own life to understand more fully the many levels of oppression and violence at the intersections of race, gender, class and sexual orientation.
Faculty use works like Sligh's regularly to encourage students to engage with topics from a different perspective. In 2018, Special Collections and Archives purchased “Voces de los Artistas," published by Booklyn Artists Alliance. From protest banners and photographs to flyers and videos, the issues, concerns and crises captured in this artwork illustrate and represent the contemporary moment, but are rooted in events from the past with which society still grapples.
This quarter, students Mónica Ramos' LSP 200 course, Multiculturalism in the United States, analyzed the banners and photographs for a class discussion.
“It was interesting to connect what we have learned to the art. The posters spoke about keeping immigrant families together, which is something we have all heard about," a student noted in a discussion post for the class. “The piece that hit me the most was the posters with the butterflies. When I was in high school, I read 'In the Time of the Butterflies,' a book detailing the struggle of the Mirabel sisters living under Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Their symbol was butterflies. A butterfly also symbolizes freedom and migration; two things immigrants seek out."
Special Collections and Archives continues to grow its book arts collection with similar sets of prints and pieces about protecting the environment and water sources; the effects of gun violence; sexism; the criminal justice system; and confronting racism. The print collection, “Settled: A Handbook," by Tia Blassingame, features poems about Trayvon Martin, Relisha Rudd and Eric Garner. Blassingame describes each of their stories and how it affected her.
“Diverse themes are explored from the criminalizing of the victim in the case of Trayvon Martin to the absence of concern and media coverage for kidnapped African Americans such as Relisha Rudd."
The type flows on paper handmade from the artist's clothing to create unique forms, culminating in a powerful visual as well as an emotional experience as you read.
This is just a small introduction to DePaul's artists' books and book arts collections. In honor of Black History Month, Special Collections and Archives highlighted its artists' books focused on Black history and experiences.
While in-person research is not available at this time, when it is safe to do so the campus community is welcome to view these pieces. To learn more about our artists' book collections or if you would like to incorporate any of these works in an instruction session, contact Nora Gabor.