Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion about how institutions that were originally built to cater to and to inform the elite (museums and universities) can change in order to become more inclusive. A lot of this change is already being advocated for or is underway, but there’s also a lot of power in the simple and visual: the act of showing people just who and what is important. Presently, at Princeton University, a series of paintings by the artist Mario Moore has caught attention for their subjects: campus workers for the university who were selected and painstakingly depicted by the artist in positions of prominence and authority.
Moore’s paintings, which were previously on display in an exhibition at the school last fall, are currently in the process of being acquired by the university permanently. Moore himself was recently one of Princeton’s painting fellows, and has had his work displayed at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum and the George N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art. The paintings Moore created of Princeton workers have a majesty comparable to a style most famously attributed to Kehinde Wiley, who often paints his subjects in lush and elevated settings. However, Moore has made a point to place his characters in the environments they’re most accustomed to. “I wanted to get input from them (my subjects) about how they wanted to be represented,” Moore told CNN this week. “It was a communal effort. In order for me to make a painting genuine, I needed to connect with them.”
Furthermore, Moore’s paintings of dining hall workers, custodians and grounds crew workers average out at 8 feet tall, truly giving his subjects the same pictorial respect that’s owed to the university’s presidents and professors—the usual subjects of the paintings that grace institutional halls and walls. The works will soon be on display within Princeton’s administrative buildings and stored in the permanent collection of the Princeton Art Museum.