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Curator of “Boyfriend Material” exhibition on artistic support

A red risograph-esque print of a steampunk machine with a ghostly head against a chainlink fence backdrop.

Steph Siegman, “Visiting Hours,” 2022. Featured as part of “Boyfriend Material.”

Curating an exhibition at one’s alma mater is bound to be a surreal experience. LaNia Sproles ’17 (Printmaking), curator of the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design’s (MIAD) recent exhibition “Boyfriend Material,” explains their impressions of putting together the show and their philosophy on art and curation in Milwaukee.

“If I would have known that at the start of freshman year that I would have been curating a show at my alma mater, I probably wouldn’t have believed it,” says Sproles. Spanning tattoo and curation, figurative drawing and education, Sproles’ multifaceted artistic practice keeps them busy both locally and further afield. They were approached by MIAD to curate a queer-themed exhibition for summer 2023, which coincided with Pride Month and a city-wide effort through QKE to showcase queer art throughout Milwaukee.

Sproles used their perspective as a graduate of the college to inform some of their curatorial choices. “I made the exhibition keeping the students in mind and what they would appreciate, even though they’re not in school right now,” they explain. “It was still important to think about the students in terms of what I would have wanted to see as a MIAD student.” Focusing on queer artists in and around Milwaukee, Sproles hopes the exhibition “reminds people that Milwaukee is filled with a lot of different types of talent.”

“I’m very interested in storytelling,” says Sproles, whose previous experiences in addition to curation include being artist in residence at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee and teaching for Artists Working in Education. “[T]here’s something striking about people who can also create these compositions that make you feel like you’re looking at something complex.”

“I really wanted to make an exhibition where people felt moved in some way,” they continue. “It’s refreshing to see that these people who I really respect and admire are all living and working as artists, surviving whatever the hell is happening in the world on a daily basis, making intriguing, provocative, thoughtful work. I want people to understand the gravity of everyone’s thoughtfulness.”

Watercolor painting of a scene of human figures next to a river with red trees

Anwar Mahdi, “Persephone Escaping the Underworld,” 2023. Featured in “Boyfriend Material.”

Curation is only one part of Sproles’ extensive skill set. They are currently exhibiting work in a solo show at Goldfinch Gallery in Chicago and participating in a group show at the University of Washington. Of their solo show, “Objects of Affection,” Sproles said “A lot of it reflects my personal ideas of intimacy and features people that I very much care about—turning them into these precious safekept objects.”

Reflecting on their experience at MIAD, Sproles especially appreciates the instructors who guided their education. “My professors were really good about pushing me and making for sure I was on track,” they say. “That’s all I ever wanted from a professor and that’s the reason why I wanted to go to school. I wanted to be pushed in the right direction, and that felt really good to me.”

Coming up next for Sproles is a move to Chicago to find further and more varied opportunities as an artist. Hoping to maintain and encourage a flow of art and artists between the two cities, Sproles explains, “I also want people to know that Chicago is a very accessible city from Milwaukee!” Wrapping up their time in Milwaukee, Sproles’ curatorial accomplishments in “Boyfriend Material” closed on Saturday, July 15. “It’s nice to look back on how much I’ve grown as a person and as an artist,” adds Sproles.

Keep up with LaNia on their Instagram and view MIAD’s current exhibitions!

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