Renée Stout: ‘Tales of the Conjure Woman’ opens at KIA July 23

Photograph of Renée Stout by Mary Noble Ours
Photograph of Renée Stout by Mary Noble Ours

The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) opens a new exhibition on July 23: Renée Stout: Tales of the Conjure Woman. The artist will visit the KIA for a reception and exhibition preview Thursday, July 21, 5:30-7:30. The event is open to the public and included with $5 admission.


Tales of the Conjure Woman offers a peek into a world ruled by superstition and ancestral wisdom,” said Karla Niehus, Associate Curator of Exhibitions. “Stout’s work explores African cultural and spiritual traditions with humor and affection, through her alter-ego Fatima Mayfield — a New Orleans herbalist and fortuneteller. Visitors will step into the illusion of another time and place to enjoy ‘artifacts’ of conjuring and hoodoo practices.


Stout explores an underground system of African-derived folk beliefs, transmitted from slavery to the present, which have morphed and adapted to cultural conditions including plantation life, Christianity and the modern urban existence. Through found objects, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, glassblowing, installation and compelling storytelling, Stout creates a lair where Fatima helps people get where they want to be, using charms, amulets, powders, oils, goofer dust*, candles and roots. One client may be looking for love while another seeks good luck with the lottery, but there is always trouble to be managed.


renee stout ginseng extract 2005 acrylic oil stick and mixed media on wood 24x24 inches
Renée Stout ‘Ginseng Extract’, 2005 acrylic, oil stick, and mixed media on wood, 24×24 inches

Stout has said, “The thing that continues to influence my interest in the history of root-working and conjure is that it hasn’t been as fully researched and documented in the way other belief systems in the world have been … It’s my way of honoring the ancestors.”


“Renée Stout has been exploring this conjuring cosmology through her art since the 1980s,” said Niehus. “Through her art, we are provided a lens through which we can view some of the rich traditions and cultural practices of African America.”


*Goofer dust is a compound used by Southern root doctors and conjures to work Enemy Tricks. A proprietary mix of graveyard dirt, sulphur powder, rattlesnake skin and powdered herbs, goofer dust is alleged to jinx an enemy in family, money, job and health matters.


strange oracle 2005 wood paint found african head and mixed media 28 x 9 x 11 inches
Renée Stout ‘Strange Oracle,’ 2005 wood, paint, found African head, and mixed media, 28 x 9 x 11 inches

About the artist

Renée Stout grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and received her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 1980. Originally trained as a painter, she moved to Washington, D.C. in 1985 where she began to explore the spiritual roots of her African-American heritage through her work. Her exhibition history includes solo shows at Hemphill Fine Arts in Washington, D.C.; The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, LA; David Beitzel Gallery in New York, NY and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.


Stout has been included in group exhibitions at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; The Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore; the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; and Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.; among several others. She has been the recipient of awards from The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Bader Fund, The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation and the High Museum’s Driskell Prize. Most recently, Renée Stout received the 2012 Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize.