Shirley Woodson: Shield of the Nile Reflections
With the Shield of the Nile series begun in 1984, Shirley Woodson (b. 1936) has been presenting Black bathers in rivers, a reference to the diasporic myth that the Nile River holds transformative and nurturing benefits for people of African descent. In the 11 dream-like paintings selected for this exhibition, the artist emphasizes the Nile as a metaphor for Africa by combining figuration and expressionism to symbolize the metamorphic, historical, spiritual, and cultural significance of this ancient body of water. Painting in vibrant hues, humans appear alongside fragments or detailed renderings of shields, horses, fish, shells, stars, chariot wheels, pyramids, birds—the distinctive visual vocabulary for this theme.
Woodson’s designation as the 2021 Kresge Eminent Artist acknowledges her dedication to her career as a fine artist; her influence on the Detroit art scene as an educator of artists, teachers, and collectors; and her advocacy for artists throughout her long-term role as President of the Michigan Chapter of the National Conference of Artists, which she co-founded in 1974. She is the 13th metro Detroit artist to receive this award.
Born in Pulaski, Tennessee, Woodson studied art at Wayne State University where she received her BFA in 1958 and her MA in 1965. She furthered her graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1960 and pursued independent study in Rome, Paris, and Stockholm in 1962. She received a MacDowell Colony Fellowship in 1966–67. In 1998, she received the Alain Locke Award from the Friends of African and African American Art, a member auxiliary of Detroit Institute of Arts. Her art has been included in numerous local and national solo and group exhibitions. Among the museums that include her art in their collections are the Detroit Institute of Arts and Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan; Mott-Warsh Collection of Contemporary Art in Flint, Michigan; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, New York; Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists, Boston, Massachusetts; Hampton University Museum of Art, Hampton, Virginia; and the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.