Samer Ghani, local artist, videographer, photographer, DearMKE Award winner, and “cultural documentarian,” captures stories as they emerge from Milwaukee events: from milestone moments like the Bucks’ victory parade to intimate rock concerts in neighborhood music venues. Ghani draws energy and inspiration for his artistic practice from Milwaukee’s unique spirit, landscape, and people.
Ghani’s love of art sparked more than 20 years ago, when he was a student in a Milwaukee Public Schools 4K art class at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Now, Ghani comes full circle by photographing the Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion to commemorate its 20th anniversary. The photograph appears on this year’s Member mug, offered to Members who support the Museum with an early renewal.
In a recent interview, Ghani discussed how his connection with the Museum has evolved over the decades.
You have had a longstanding relationship with the Milwaukee Art Museum. What are some of the works of art that most stand out to you?
I’ve been to the art museum many times throughout my elementary, middle school, and high school career. And there are the obvious takeaways, like Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup painting, which we studied rigorously, and the Janitor—but the space itself really speaks to me.
What does Windhover Hall inside the Quadracci Pavilion represent for you?
I grew up very poor, and whenever I would visit the space in middle school or high school, I was blown away. Firstly, it was often the only visit to the lakefront I’d have in a year, or even years. But to be in a space like that . . . it felt like being inside a piece of art. It’s rarefied, awe-inspiring. As a kid, it felt like I didn’t belong there.
I’m very grateful that these days, as a documenter, photographer, videographer, and artist, I’m frequently in artistic spaces. I take pride in that because, as a child growing up, I never dreamed of being in the spaces I get to occupy now, let alone of becoming a co-collaborator with the art museum on a project like this.
What do you think the Museum can do better to become a place of belonging for every person in the community?
I think in the last five years, the art museum has done its best. It’s the best version of the art museum, in terms of the team, the ethos, and energy that I’ve seen. If the institution had a voice, I’ve heard it since 2015. Over the last six years, I’ve seen the museum engaging on social media, hosting events, like the Lakeside events this summer—and representing all different types of people from all different walks of life on social media: that goes a long way to foster belonging. It makes people feel seen.
What would you like to see next from the Museum?
I would love to see a local art gallery. Even if it was just a wall within a gallery—that would be cool.
October is the 20th anniversary of the Quadracci Pavilion. What does this building and its architecture mean to you?
On the nose, it reminds me of a seagull. I think it changes much like our city changes: every day. Milwaukee is in a constant state of change . . . I like to believe for the better. And I think the art museum changing throughout the day absolutely represents its community. When it spreads its “wings,” it’s very reminiscent of the insanely courageous and heroic stories in Milwaukee that you hear going back from the civil rights era and onward. And when the wings are down, it seems very stoic and somber. Much like the moments that we reflect back on that we could have done better as a community in Milwaukee. I think the art museum absolutely represents this place, far better than any other building does. It captures every side of the city, and represents every soul.
Is there anything else you’d like to reflect on and say to the Museum community?
As an artist of color and as a first generation American, this opportunity to be collaborating and working with the art museum means so much to me. It makes me feel like a leader in my family. I’m proud of myself for being able to have this full-circle moment, more than 20 years after taking classes at the Museum. It brings me so much joy; I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity.
The Museum thanks Samer Ghani for his life-long connection to the Museum and the passion he infused into this collaboration. We also thank our Members for supporting the Museum’s mission to inspire the community, across all ages. Curious about how you can join the community of Museum supporters and begin your own Member mug collection? Stay tuned for your first renewal notice this year, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 414-224-3284 to learn more.
Elisabeth Gasparka was Development Officer for Membership. She crafted Member communications, planned and oversaw Member events, and managed relationships with external partners, including through the Neighborhood Discount Program.