Exhibitions banner - photo of artist Vanessa German in a blue dress with one arm raised standing in front a vibrant gold installation in her exhibition "sometimes.we.cannot.be.with.our.bodies."
2019 Season

sometimes.we.cannot. be.with.our.bodies.

Vanessa German

On View

Sep 14–Nov 30, 2019

“this work is a dimensional living reckoning. the living reckoning is bold, eruptive, disruptive work against systems & pathologies that oppress & subvert overt & covert violence onto & into the lives & humanity of marginalized people on this land.”

This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.

The exhibition is also made possible through the support of the Nebraska Arts Council and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. The Nebraska Arts Council, a state agency, has supported this program through its matching grants program funded by the Nebraska Legislature, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Nebraska Cultural Endowment. Visit www.nebraskaartscouncil.org for information on how the Nebraska Arts Council can assist your organization, or how you can support the Nebraska Cultural Endowment.

The Union also wishes to thank Omaha Steaks, Mutual of Omaha, Karen & Robert Duncan, and the Pavel Zoubok Gallery and Director Kris Nuzzi for their generous contributions to the exhibition.

Vanessa german sponsors: Logos for the National Endowment of the Arts, Nebraska Arts Council, and Nebraska Cultural Endowment Vanessa German Sponsors - logos for Omaha Steaks and Mutual of Omaha Vanessa German Ritual Reckoning walking path map - full frame showing path from The Union to Douglas County Courthouse Vanessa German Ritual Reckoning Map - Detail, showing locations where Will Brown's body was hung and burned.

For the 2019 Wanda D. Ewing Commission, the Pittsburgh-based artist Vanessa German presents sometimes.we.cannot.be.with.our.bodies. — a multimedia installation that originated at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA and is being reimagined at The Union. In the artist’s own words, “this work is a dimensional living reckoning. the living reckoning is bold, eruptive, disruptive work against systems & pathologies that oppress & subvert overt & covert violence onto & into the lives & humanity of marginalized people on this land.”

sometimes.we.cannot.be.with.our.bodies. was originally conceived for the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2017. It was organized for The Union by Nicole J. Caruth. Before traveling to The Union, the exhibition was presented at The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.


Artist Talk at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Wednesday, September 4, 5:30 pm
Richards Hall 15

The Hixson–Lied Visiting Artist & Scholar Lecture Series at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln presents Vanessa German. The Lecture Series brings notable artists, scholars and designers to Nebraska each semester to enhance the education of students. This lecture is free to the public. For more information, visit arts.unl.edu/art

Opening Reception
Saturday, September 14, 12–2 pm

Join us for the opening reception of Vanessa German’s multimedia installation sometimes.we.cannot.be.with.our.bodies. The afternoon will feature presentations by German as well as locally-based artists. Drinks and refreshments will be served.

Ritual Reckoning
Saturday, September 14, 2 pm

Following the Opening Reception, Vanessa German will lead a “ritual reckoning” — a two-mile procession in honor of Will Brown and other people of color whose lives have been lost to violence. Accompanied by seven local performers, German will walk silently from The Union for Contemporary Art (2423 N. 24th St.) to the front steps of the Douglas County District Court (1701 Farnam St.) where the group will perform a goodbye ritual song inspired in part by Mende birth and funeral rites.

Viewers are invited to encounter the performance as it meanders through Omaha, joining at any point for as little or as long as desired. We expect the performance will take approximately 1-1.5 hours to complete. For the safety of spectators and performers alike, we ask that everyone stay on city sidewalks and out of the streets. (See maps to the left.)

PERFORMERS: Vanessa German, Dawaune Hayes, Liz Gre, Mary Lawson, Aaliyah Leacock, Nadia Ra'Shaun, TammyRa, and Mariah Person

Community Forum: LGBTQ+ Advocacy
Thursday, October 3, 7–8:30 pm

This forum brings together representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Black & Pink to engage in an open dialogue with community members about achieving justice for LGBTQ+ individuals. The organizations will share the work they are doing in Omaha to combat oppressive practices and create new legislation, and share ways that community members can get involved in current initiatives.

About Black & Pink

Black & Pink's mission is to abolish the criminal punishment system and to liberate LGBTQIA2S+ people/people living with HIV who are affected by that system, through advocacy, support, and organizing. For more, visit blackandpink.org.

About the ACLU

The ACLU is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. For more, visit aclu.org.

Vanessa German Biography

Vanessa German is a visual and performance artist based in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood. Homewood is the community that is the driving force behind German’s powerful performance work, and whose cast-off relics form the language of her copiously embellished sculptures. As a citizen artist, German explores the power of art and love as a transformative force in the dynamic cultural ecosystem of communities and neighborhoods. She is the founder of Love Front Porch and the ARThouse, a community arts initiative for the children of Homewood.

German’s work is in private and public collections including Everson Museum of Art, Figge Art Museum, Flint Institute of Arts, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, David C. Driskell Center, Snite Museum of Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College. German’s fine art work has been exhibited widely, most recently at the Figge Art Museum, Fralin Museum of Art, Mattress Factory, Everson Museum of Art, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Studio Museum, Ringling Museum of Art, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Her work has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered and in The Huffington Post, O Magazine, and Essence Magazine. She is the recipient of the 2018 Don Tyson Prize, 2018 United States Artist Grant, 2017 Jacob Lawrence Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and 2015 Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant. German is represented by Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York, NY.

Download "sometimes.we.cannot. be.with.our.bodies." Exhibition Activity Guide

Developed by The Union's Youth Engagement team, exhibition resource + activity guides serve to provide educators, families, and alternative learners with accessible resources and engaging content to further explore topics and themes within past and present Union exhibitions.

Download Guide

Gallery Images

Vanessa German - Exterior of Union building with text written by Vanessa German filling one window frame and quotes from Toni Morrison and other filling the second window.

Vanessa German - antechamber to exhibit, black painted walls, green Astroturf on the floor, eight white sculpted heads hanging on the walls, and red curtains leading to the main exhibit.

Vanessa German - Two white sculpted heads against a black wall in the exhibit antechamber. The heads, made with large shells for mouths, also include antique ceramic figures.

Vanessa German - White head sculpture against a black wall (birds and an out stretched hand extend from the head). Second image is the back side of an life-size sculptural figure, made with bright, tightly-woven fabric and a gilded mirror on the back.

Vanessa German - Full frame and detail image of one figure in the exhibit. The life-size human figure, with no head, braces itself with one hand against a wall. The figure is made with woven colorful fabric, bottles and other found items.

Vanessa German - Detail of assembled figure, wearing a skirt made of bottles, brightly colored fabrics, and a torso full of long, rusted nails.

Vanessa German - Detail of figure, wearing a blue assembled dress, a license plate at the navel, and gesturing with two outstretched black hands both showing the middle finger.

Vanessa German - Two details of figures. On left, a figure in blue, with a middle finger extended and a grey pigeon resting on the shoulder. On right, a figure in red, with many found objects adorning, including antique tobacco cans, a toy gun and more.

Vanessa German - Detail of a the feet of a figure, standing on a bed of artificial flowers, wearing pointed sequined shoes.

Vanessa German - A figure in a black hoodie, laying on the ground with arms outstretched adorned in flowers. Where the head of the figure would be is a mirror.

Vanessa German - 3 figures, one adjust size with arms raised facing a wall, and two child size. All three stand on a bed of gold filled with flowers. Each is made from assembled fabrics and antique found items. None have heads.

Vanessa German - detail of feet of figure laying on the ground. The feet wear high-top sneakers covered in sequins and paint. Figure is laying on a a triangle of gold glitter against a black and white floor

Vanessa German - detail of figure in white, adorned with several found object antique pieces. Many are Victorian era porcelain figures of caucasian "upper class" women. There is also a necklace of soda can tops, an old clock, and a baby's shoe.

Vanessa German - wide view of large portion of exhibit. A central triangle of gold extends across the floor which is painted in back and white stripes. On the gold is a figure riding a bicycle. Several other figures surround this in a margins.

Vanessa German - full view of exhibit. The gallery is painted with black and white stripes filling the walls and floor. 10 life-size human figures are distributed throughout. The feeling is ominous but also whimsical and joyous.

"Ritual Reckoning" Images - Saturday, September 14, 2019

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