Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

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Apis Mellifera
  • Terry Adkins
    1953–2014
    born: Washington, DC, United States ; died: New York, New York, United States ; active: United States
  • Apis Mellifera, 1989–2005
  • Where object was made: United States
  • DVD, 9 minutes 30 seconds
  • Museum purchase: Peter T. Bohan Art Acquisition Fund
  • Not on display
  • 2008.0002
Label Text
Exhibitions

Exhibition Label:
"Narratives of the Soul", 08-Jul-2017
In Apis Mellifera, Adkins combines multiple references to the 19th-century religious revolutionary and abolitionist John Brown. Translated from Latin, the title is honey bees. “Hiving bees” was Brown’s code word for the 1859 attack at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, just before the American Civil War. The video was shot at Brown’s childhood home in Akron, Ohio. The fleece that appears throughout alludes to both the sheep that he raised there and Christian symbols such as the Good Shepherd. The ringing bells recall both the drone of bees and the ringing of church bells at the time of Brown’s execution. The words repeated in the video—soldier, shepherd, prophet, martyr—can all be used to describe Brown’s complex identity.


Exhibition Label:
“Conversation II: Place-Kansas,” Apr-2008, Emily Stamey
“I use figures in history whose contributions to society are either under-known, under-appreciated or just not given the stature that I believe they should have in society.
“My quest is to use abstract means, to educate the public about these figures through ways that …challenge them to think abstractly in relating to the stories of the lives of the people concerned.
“[I am interested in] both the active and contemplative sides of John Brown-the restless, religious zealot-warrior whose sole purpose in life was to rid America of slavery as well as the contemplative mystic who transformed the dire circumstances of his Biblical 40 days and nights imprisonment into a monastic experience that remains unrivaled in American history.”
Terry Adkins

First two statements from “Inspiring People: Living Louder,” an interview with Dana Roc http://www.danaroc.com/inspiring_020606terryadkins.html

“Apis Mellifera is one of a pair of videos that treat these two aspects of John Brown’s character. Brown, the 19th-century religious revolutionary and abolitionist, is famous in Kansas for his retaliation upon pro-slavery forces after the sack of Lawrence in 1856. In Apis Mellifera, Adkins brings together multiple references to Brown. Translated from Latin, the title is honey bees; “hiving bees” was Brown’s code word for the 1859 attack at Harper’s Ferry, West Virgina, during the Civil War. The video was shot at Brown’s childhood home in Akron, Ohio; the fleece that appears throughout alludes to both the sheep that he raised there and religious figures such as the Good Shepherd. The ringing bells recall both the drone of the bees and the ringing of church bells at the time of Brown’s execution. The words repeated in the video-soldier, shepherd, prophet, martyr-can all be used to describe Brown’s complex identity.

“For me, the dynamism of Apis Mellifera echoes the dynamic qualities in the work of Kansas native Aaron Douglas, a key artist in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s whose work inspired Adkins. The poetic resonance with Douglas and Brown makes a powerful statement, as does the distilled intensity of the images in Adkins’s video.”
Susan Earle, Spencer Museum Curator of European & American Art