28 May
21 August 2022

Ruth Asawa: Citizen of the Universe

“Art will make people better, more highly skilled in thinking and improving whatever business one goes into, or whatever occupation. It makes a person broader.” – Ruth Asawa

Citizen of the Universe takes a unique look at the visionary artist, educator and activist Ruth Asawa (b. 1926, Norwalk, CA – d. 2013, San Francisco, CA). The exhibition features her signature hanging sculptures in looped and tied wire, and celebrates her holistic integration of art, education and community engagement through displaying prints, drawings, letters and photographs.

The exhibition is organised in partnership with Stavanger Art Museum, Norway where it will be on display from 1 October 2022 – 22 January 2023.

Asawa called for an inclusive and revolutionary vision for art’s role in society. As a teenager she lived in an internment camp due to the forced relocation and incarceration for some 120,000 Japanese-Americans by the US government on the eve of World War II. Despite the extreme conditions she learned artistic skills from professional artists and left in the firm belief that art can be life changing and a positive force for social good.

Asawa studied at Black Mountain College from 1946-49, nurturing her philosophy of the “integration of creative labour within daily life”. Here she formed a lifelong friendship with visionary architect R. Buckminster Fuller, who once described her as one of the greatest artists he knew. As a result of her experiences at the college, Asawa recognised that people can choose to transcend race, class and nationalistic divisions.

For Asawa, living a full life meant being socially engaged, having a family, creating art with them, and fully participating in the life of her local community. Quietly charismatic, Asawa chose to identify as a “citizen of the universe”, developing a sense of higher purpose grounded in improving life through art. Foregrounding these ideas, this exhibition is an affirmation of her timely relevance as a champion of the vital role creativity plays in society.

The exhibition is curated by Emma Ridgway, Head of Programme, Chief Curator at Modern Art Oxford, and Vibece Salthe, Senior Curator at Stavanger Art Museum.

Explore the exhibition online

Click to wander among Asawa's iconic hanging wire sculptures, and get up close to her brightly coloured prints, meticulous drawings, and experiments in paper folding. Hover over the coloured tags to find out more about the exhibition, and Asawa's extraordinary life as an artist, activist and educator.

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Supported and made possible by

This exhibition is made possible through support from the Terra Foundation for American Art and as a result of the UK Government Indemnity Scheme. Modern Art Oxford would like to thank HM Government for providing Government Indemnity and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England for arranging the indemnity. With additional thanks for the support of the Henry Moore Foundation, the Japan Foundation, David Zwirner, a Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Research Grant from Art Fund, Waqas Wajahat and Exhibition Partner Bonhams.