Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body

Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body

Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania

Barbara Earl Thomas, A Joyful Noise, 2022. Paper cut with hand-printed color. Photo: Spike Mafford / Zocalo Studios. Courtesy of Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, and the artist.

February 8, 2024
Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body
February 17–May 21, 2024
Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania
220 South 34th Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
United States
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 10am–5pm,
Saturday–Sunday 12–5pm

T +1 215 898 2083

Barbara Earl Thomas’ most recent series of portraits weave an exquisite tapestry of light and color to depict individuals illuminated in moments of creativity. Invoking the history of portraiture, Thomas’ nine large-scale cut paper pieces celebrate great Black cultural icons such as August Wilson, Seth Parker Woods, and Charles Johnson, alongside Thomas’ friends, family, and acquaintances. Set in contexts ranging from public performance to the quiet of daydreaming, they honor the creative spark in all its manifestations. Thomas describes her subjects with nuance and care, encouraging extended viewing of these vibrant and layered portraits. The portraits are presented with The Transformation Room, a luminous installation created from light and intricately cut Tyvek, which offers a moment of respite for reflection and inspiration.

The Illuminated Body is the first time the work of this celebrated artist, writer, and thinker will be seen in Philadelphia. A visual storyteller for over 40 years, Thomas draws from history, literature, folklore, mythology, and the Bible to reflect the social fabric of our times. Her narrative and figurative imagery has a deep philosophical and emotional force, leveraging the powerful imagery of light and dark. Thomas’ most recent commissions include six major stained-glass windows for Grace Hopper College at Yale University, a 33-panel commission for the façade of the Central Courthouse of Multnomah County in Portland, and a large-scale glass commission for the Judkins Park Light Rail Station in Seattle.

In addition to the exhibition, public programs organized in conjunction with Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body include a performance of Difficult Grace featuring Seth Parker Woods, an opening conversation between Barbara Earl Thomas and Dr. Kemi Adeyemi, a lecture with Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, an artist talk with Marisa Williamson, and a community-organized celebration.

The exhibition catalogue Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body presents the artist’s newest body of work, examining the conceptual, visual, and processual links that she makes among various media. The catalogue contextualizes these artworks within Thomas’s artistic practice and in terms of her creative influences and art historical context. The catalogue—which contains essays by Carolyn Swan Needell, Kemi Adeyemi, and Emily Zimmerman—is published by the Chrysler Museum of Art and distributed by the University of Washington Press.

Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body is organized by The Chrysler Museum and curated by Carolyn Swan Needell, the Carolyn and Richard Barry Curator of Glass. The presentation at the Arthur Ross Gallery and the public programs are organized by Emily Zimmerman, Interim Director of Exhibitions and Programs. Barbara Earl Thomas: The Illuminated Body has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Opening reception: February 16, 5:30–8pm
A celebration featuring a conversation between Barbara Earl Thomas and Dr. Kemi Adeyemi.

Lecture by Dr. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw: March 26, 5–6:30pm
“Black Girl’s Window: Re-framing Contemporary Reparative Artistic Practices.” Kleinman Center, Fisher Fine Arts Library, Room 414.

Seth Parker Woods, Difficult Grace: April 11, 7–8:30pm
A multimedia concert tour de force featuring Grammy-nominated cellist Seth Parker Woods. Penn Live Arts, Zellerbach Theater.

Artist talk by Marisa Williamson: April 26, 6–7:30pm
“Lightbox: An Illuminated Lecture.” Kleinman Center, Fisher Fine Arts Library, Room 414.

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Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania
February 8, 2024

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