Overlay at Schlesinger Library


Overlay, an exhibition created by the multimedia artist Xaviera Simmons for the Radcliffe Institute, uses text-based video, photographs, and soundscapes to feature characters rooted in stories and historical narratives found in the archives of the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America.

The artist engaged with a set of Schlesinger collections that resonate with long-standing explorations—cookbooks, first-person travel narratives, images of women at work, architects, and health works, among others. She distilled this multitude of voices and places them in a new contextual space, overlaying diverse languages and presenting a diverse cross section of figures to enliven and inhabit the landscape of the gallery. The installation provides these women new voices and audience, which is especially significant for people who might not have been afforded the same possibilities due to gender, lineage, and privilege.

Overlay brings together and further develops numerous strands of Simmons’s artistic practice: her engagement with the archive, film, performance, sculpture, photography, the senses, and her situating of select aspects of the past into present and future tenses. She critically examines the potential of archives, both as repositories of historical memory and as spaces suggestive of alternative possibilities for the artifacts they hold. Simmons refers to the archive as her “studio,” a space of artistic genesis and exploration.

Overlay is part of a collaboration between the Radcliffe Institute and the Cambridge Arts Council, whose summer series on the Cambridge Common will feature a performance created by Simmons based on the exhibition.


Overlay runs through Saturday, July 1, in the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery of Byerly Hall at 8 Garden Street, Radcliffe Yard, Monday through Saturday, from noon to 5 p.m. Free and open to the public.