This exhibit draws on field notes and watercolors James Prosek made in the former Dutch colony of Suriname in late March and April 2010, as a member of a biological research and collecting expedition sponsored by Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History. Part of the body of work consists of paintings that Prosek made in the field, between duties of collecting and skinning birds, oftentimes at night by headlamp. A separate body of work was made in his Connecticut studio, based on sketches, journals and photographs. In these works, the subjects are intentionally distorted (referencing anamorphic perspective) to show that whenever humans gaze at or try to define or represent nature it is inevitably a distortion. Actual specimens collected on the expedition will also be on display, on loan from the Peabody.
Prosek is concerned in both his painting and writing with themes of how and why we name and order the natural world. The collecting site in central Suriname, a previously unexplored and unnamed mountain area in one of the largest untouched tropical forests of the world, was the ideal test site for the artist’s inquiry.
In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of Whitney Humanities Center programming, the exhibition has been planned as a complement to this year’s undergraduate Shulman Seminar on the evolution of beauty taught by biologist Richard Prum and philosopher Jonathan Gilmore.