Re-Reading Disaster: Artist’s Books by Maureen Cummins

Filed in Exhibitions, Past Exhibitions, Past Solo Exhibitions by on December 1, 2019

Re-Reading Disaster: Artist’s Books by Maureen Cummins

April 9 – May 23, 2021

solo gallery

Reception: TBA

Artist Q&A: TBD

For the past two decades, Maureen Cummins has been making artist’s books, prints, and installations that investigate the nature and experience of disasters. In 1999, haunted by the 1982 death-by-suicide of her mother, Cummins turned to art as a way to provide context for, and understanding of, the disaster within her own family. The response from viewers was so powerful that what she considered to be a brief artistic tangent turned into her life’s work. 

In 2019, when Cummins was granted a solo show at WAAM, it was to exhibit a body of work based on interviews that she conducted with Syrian and Iraqi war refugees. At the time, the global displacement of civilian populations was the predominant disaster in the news. When the exhibit was postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19, Cummins bore witness as news headlines echoed themes from her interviews: sudden deaths of loved ones, separation from friends and family, food insecurity, work insecurity, violence in the streets, sleepless nights, anxiety.

In Cummins’s exhibit, this April WAAM’s gallery will resemble a reading room, with tables and chairs set up to allow readers concentrated time spent with the fifteen text-based works on display. The centerpiece of Cummins’s refugee-based work is an installation titled Lachrymatories for Layla, a series of found glass bottles etched (in English and Arabic) with poems written by the Iraqi poet Layla al-Husaini—odes to her husband and four sons lost during the Iraqi war. (“I wish I could keep my tears / From All the Years / Maybe they be a River / Or a sea”) On the long shelf behind this piece is Cummins’s main post-pandemic project, The American (Anxiety) Dream, a series of medical-style clipboards with texts describing the disturbing dreams of contemporary Americans, our own hidden darkness coming to light.


Maureen Cummins is a graduate of Cooper Union. She has been a working artist for over three decades, has cranked presses from California to the Eastern Arctic and produced over thirty limited edition artist books. She has created projects based on slave narratives, the Salem Witch trials, turn of the century gay love letters, and patient records from McLean Hospital, the oldest mental hospital in America. She is represented in over one hundred permanent public collections and has received over a dozen grants and funded residencies, including the Pollock-Krasner award.

2020 Solo Shows were selected by juror Kristen Dodge, owner and director of September Gallery in Hudson, NY

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