Originally Published September 5, 2018 in BmoreArt.com
“Helina Metaferia lies on her back in the middle of the floor of the National Gallery of Art. Robert Motherwell’s monumental abstraction “Reconciliation Elegy” (1978) hangs ominously above her. Many patrons, most older white couples, quickly pass by. Others sit or stand at a distance to watch for signs of life. Few stay long enough to ensure that she is, in fact, alive and well. In the rare moments when Metaferia does move, the shifts are deliberate; she turns heavily from a position on her back to her stomach, then resumes her paralysis on the museum floor.
How ironic I thought, to be a black mass on the floor of a largely white institution–the proverbial fly on the wall, where the mass is reduced to a speck no one deems worthy enough to consider. In Metaferia’s latest solo exhibition, Refiguring the Canon at Hamiltonian Gallery in Washington, D.C., documentation from this performance, “The Mother,” and others accompany elaborate collage installations that incorporate imagery and text from contemporary Western artworks, art archives, and classical antiquities.” CONTINUE READING
Originally published August 2, 2018 in Sugarcane Magazine
“The artist, a consummate innovator, investigates the ways simple forms can embody and illicit and empathetic response from viewers. Coates considers his creations to be “social abstractions”, deeply personal works that are informed by the artists lived experiences, memories or familial encounters, but comment on broader political or cultural issues.” CONTINUE READING
Originally published July 26, 2018 in Bmoreart.com
“The contemporary art world is experiencing a renaissance in Black portraiture. A new generation of master realist painters like Kehinde Wiley, T. Eliott Mansa, Jas Knight and Ronald Jackson build upon a foundation laid by earlier figurative artists like Charles White, Augusta Savage, John Biggers, and Elizabeth Catlett. Their figurations not only visualized black identities with agency and humanity, but exuberantly revised histories of portraiture that uniformly presented non-white representations as submissive props. In those historical portraits, Black subjects were often painted in acts of service and relegated to the background of elaborate renderings of white nobility. Jackson’s portraits counter these histories by rendering Black subjects in imaginative and layered narratives that he calls “collage portraits” or oil paintings that incorporate stylistic approaches of collage.
Profiles of Color III: Fabric, Face, & Form, Ronald Jackson’s latest collection currently exhibited at Galerie Myrtis, references Arkansas rural culture and violent racist history, the fantastical elements of Magical Realism and the emotional and psychological tropes of Romanticism to offer a stunning appraisal of Black aesthetics. Floral and geometric prints and vibrant fabrics are harmoniously incorporated in large expressive oil paintings.
Masked and fashion forward subjects confront your gaze, peer into the heart of the matter with unabashed directness, as if they were proclaiming, “You will see me and know that I am beautiful, powerful, and worthy of representation.” The collection is breathtaking, incredibly inspiring, and exquisitely executed.
Ronald and I conducted a FaceTime interview to discuss his process, the characters he depicts, and the importance of Black figuration.” CONTINUE READING
Originally published June 11, 2018 in Bmoreart.com
“Throughout his career, Jack Whitten was a consummate innovator who explored and refined new techniques to visualize what he called “symbolic abstractions.” Rather than subscribe to traditional narrative painting formulas, or the idea that a painting must illustrate a particular idea, Whitten focused on the materiality of the paint and the process of making the artwork to construct meaning. Using a unique style of cutting small acrylic fragments from larger acrylic slabs into “tesserae” or tiles, Whitten created dense abstractions that function like mosaics and expand the contextualization of Black portraiture beyond representational figuration. Although he graduated from Cooper Union in 1964 and taught painting there from 1974-95, he did not gain significant fame until near the end of his life. Whitten recently passed away, at the age of 78 in January 2018.
Whitten’s contributions broaden the purpose and modalities of Abstract Expressionism, a field most notably recognized for its white male icons like Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. He and other classical Black abstractionists like Howardena Pindell, Ed Love, AfriCobra, Norman Lewis, Sam Gilliam, Mildred Thompson, and Alma Thomas queried the intersections of abstraction and Black identity. Despite the prolific accomplishments of those artists, very few of them are still alive to reap the benefits of the art world’s new-found appreciation for Black abstraction. Contemporary abstract artists like Julie Mehretu, Adam Pendleton, and Mark Bradford stand on the foundation laid by their contributions.” CONTINUE READING
Originally published May 31, 2018 in Bmoreart.com
“God specting womens to lay down and gurd up. Womens have to take boots on ‘deir chest and dress shoes, sneakers and cleats too. Women like carpet—all kinds of shoes gotta walk on womens.” – from Bootprints
Latonia Valencia’s dramatic play, Bootprints, is an unsettling but familiar narrative about death, family secrets, and the revelations of those who survive. Bootprints unpacks Black memory and the frustrations of younger generations who grapple with the histories, traditions, and secrets they have inherited. The perpetuity of Black mourning, Black grandmothers, labor, lace and wide-brimmed hats. Silk and sore backs from working as housemaids, Gmama’s hands, Sunday mornings, all these memories come into focus when Gmama dies. Her granddaughter Myeshia is left mourning her loss and remembering the impact of her grandmother on her life.
The play opens on Myeshia in conversation with her alternate personality Gingel as they determine what outfit to bury Gmama in. Gmama had a vast collection of colorful suits and each marked a significant event in the women’s lives; miscarriages, molestation, wealth, abandonment, love, failed marriages, poverty. As Myeshia/Gingel and Gmama’s apparition sort through the suits, they share their memories aloud as epic choreopoems. Like Ntzoke Shange’s timeless homage, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Bootprints uses color, fashion and domestic interiors as cues for the emotional and psychological states of its protagonists. The play honors and humanizes narratives about southern Black women. CONTINUE READING
Originally published on May 4, 2018 in Bmoreart.com
“Waller Gallery, a new Black-owned art space in Charles Village offers refreshing programming and curation that showcases local and international contemporary artworks. The galleries premiere exhibition, Drapetomania, presents photographs and film by Baltimore-based artist Nia Hampton.
“Art communities often ignore indigenous people, brown people,” Joy Davis, founder and curator notes,“But there are pockets of “blackness” everywhere. That’s why Nia’s show is important. It’s about starting conversations with people.” Continue Reading
Originally Published in BmoreArt on April 6, 2018
"Skeleton bones rape and drag a woman along the fragile glass back of another woman whose body elongates into a pistol. Ornately beaded bullets bare the initials of Black men who have been murdered by police. Ghostly lithograph images of children smile as they dangle upside down, muscles and bones exposed to the gaze of onlookers. The urgency relayed in Joyce J. Scott’s sprawling collection of works is palpable in Still Happening in 2018, a solo exhibit at Goya Contemporary.
The work of MacArthur Genius Joyce J. Scott, whose 40+ year career has engaged benign crafting traditions to bring attention to the persistence of brutality against women, children, and men of color, is distinctly disturbing, offering stark depictions of violence which are haunting yet somehow beautiful." CONTINUE READING
Originally published in Sugarcane Magazine on March 9, 2018.
"In the afterlives of partus sequitur ventrem what does, what can, mothering mean for Black women, for Black people? What kind of mother/ing is it if one must always be prepared with knowledge of the possibility of the violence and quotidian death of one's child? Is it mothering if one knows that one's – child might be killed at any time in the hold, in the wake by the state no matter who wields the gun? Christina Sharpe – In the Wake: On Blackness and Being
Sites of mourning are marked by familiar objects; deflated balloons and toys strapped to light posts. Flowers and liquor bottles. Candles and candy. These indicators dot city landscapes and remind the community that a tragedy has occurred; life has been lost. Countless misfortunes are remembered with similar memorials, and much more go unsung. It is easy to overlook the memorials that proliferate the city.
What does it mean to grow accustomed to trauma? In In the Wake: On Blackness and Being, theorist Christina Sharpe describes the perpetuity of traumas African American communities experience with nautical and colonial terminology– the wake, the ship, and the hold. The conditions Sharpe articulates reveal devastating implications. Each new iteration of violence against Black bodies builds on preceding violence that ultimately trigger and reaggravate trauma on a cellular, physical and psychological level. Discoveries about the residual impact and long-term effects of racist violence on the body and psyche of African Americans are emerging. Still, I cannot help but wonder if Black identities are doomed to endure a perpetual state of mourning.
T. Elliott Mansa's latest work, a series of untitled assemblages, is informed by the perpetuity and materialization of mourning. Previous works engaged figurative portraiture to explore familial and socioeconomic themes that incorporated Yoruba West African cosmologies and folklore. Mansa has exhibited at Prizm Art Fair, Art Africa Miami Art Fair, the David Castillo Gallery, and the African-American Museum of the Arts in Deland, Florida, among others. I visited Mansa's studio in Tribeca, NY to build with him about the new collection and his transition from 2D portraiture into 3D assemblage." CONTINUE READING
Originally published in Sugarcane Magazine on February 22, 2018.
"Giving Up the Ghost: Artifacts/A Study of Power and Solidarity Against White Violence in Modernity, a new group exhibition curated by Niama Safia Sandy at Rush Arts Philadelphia, offers broad critiques and diverse perspectives about the function of power and violence. Works by artists Lavett Ballard, Tasha Dougé, Sara Jimenez, Asif Mian, Tajh Rust, Rocío Olivares, and Lionel Frazier White engage the subtle and explicit ways that white violence and power have been weaponized historically and remain inextricably tethered to capitalism." CONTINUE READING
Originally Published in the CUE Arts Exhibition Catalog for Peter Williams: With So Little To Be Sure Of
"Huge amounts of medical and scientific scholarship have been devoted to the question (assuming it is a question) of what kind of species Black people are and what characteristics they possess.”
- Toni Morrison “The Origin of Others”
Painter and mixed media artist, Peter Williams unpacks troubling histories of white supremacy and systemic oppression to create revelatory collective narratives about the persistence of violence against Black bodies. The devastating trend of unwarranted killings of Black boys and men at the hands of police officers, most of whom escaped federal conviction, catalyzed a departure from Williams’s lighter, more spiritual and reverent figurative abstract-portraiture towards more traumatic motifs. His latest body of work, With So Little To Be Sure Of, interrogates the systems and industries that perpetuate and uphold operational practices, legislation, and ideologies that normalize the dehumanization, subjugation, disenfranchisement and belittlement of African Americans. In With So Little To Be Sure Of, Williams’s focus on Black identity centers on the most devastating and distressing depictions of subjugation: naked, pants around ankles, cannibalized, bullet-riddled, beaten, choked, molested, brutalized, castrated, lynched, decapitated. At the core of the work, beyond the artist’s cathartic and obsessive need to reinterpret such vicious violations, is a call to action, a call to bear witness and awaken from what he believes is “an overwhelming cultural apathy.”" CONTINUE READING
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