Jan 162024
 

(photograph by Richard Avedon from The New Yorker’s website)

Above is Richard Avedon’s portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. with his father, Martin Luther King, and his son, Martin Luther King III, 1963. The image is part of the 1964 book Nothing Personal, Avedon’s collaboration with writer James Baldwin.

Dec 292023
 

Hung Liu “Portrait of China Mary”, 2006, Oil on canvas

Currently at The James Museum in St. Pete, is From Far East to West: The Chinese American Frontier, an informative show that includes many beautiful paintings. There’s so much history in America that often doesn’t get taught in school. This is a great opportunity to learn about this immigration story through artwork as well as text.

From the museum about the exhibition-

While European American settlers gradually pushed the United States frontier westward throughout the 1800s, the West coast of the country was developing independently as well. Accelerated by the discovery of gold mid-century, the population boom included Chinese immigrants who crossed the Pacific Ocean to California.

Most 19th century Chinese immigrants came to their new country from the coastal Canton region (province of Guangdong today) in southeastern China. Starting over on a different continent away from familiar surroundings and culture would be challenging, but for many decades anti-Chinese hostility and exclusion laws made settling in the United States even more difficult. The achievements of Chinese immigrants paved a path for future generations and are a testament to strength and perseverance.

The foundation for the exhibition highlights narratives of Chinese America from the 1850s to the 1930s. The paintings-all created by Chinese Americans in the 21st century-reflect inspiration from this history. The painters are also fueled by their own, more recent immigration stories to the United States after China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and their rigorous art training in the government-sponsored movement of Socialist Realism. After China opened to the rest of the world in the late 1970s, many Chinese artists-like Mian Situ, Jie Wei Zhou, Benjamin Wu, Hung Liu, and Z.S. Liang, all featured here were inspired to immigrate to the United States in search of greater opportunity.

Here, these artists’ historical interpretations speak to culture, identity, community, and resilience. Related objects and ephemera from the period support these stories. From the Gold Rush to Angel Island, this exhibition reveals often overlooked but significant contributions and perspectives of Chinese immigrants that deepen our understanding of U.S. history.

Hung Liu “Dandelion with Small Bird”, 2017 Mixed media

About the above painting from the museum-

Dandelions and their fluffy seed pods can be found anywhere in the world and thrive wherever they land. Their migratory nature allows them to survive a journey across vast lands even across oceans and take root anywhere in the world. For Liu, the dandelion represents her own tenacity and ability to thrive in the face of adversity.

The dandelions, fragile in nature and tattered by the lightest breeze, mimic how images, and personal narratives, too, can be scattered by time and the winds of history —as well as by the rhythms of feast and famine …
Hung Liu

Mian Situ “Blasting a Route Through the Sierra Nevada, 1865, Central Pacific Railroad”, 2018, Oil on canvas

Mian Situ “The Gold Seekers , Chinese Camp, 1850”, 2015, Oil on canvas

Jie Wei Zhou “Dragon Parade”, 2012, Oil on Linen

This exhibition is on view until 1/28/24.

Jun 192023
 

Robert Pruitt, “A Song for Travelers”

Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition, A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration, is an opportunity to learn about an important period of American history, and see it interpreted through the eyes of twelve contemporary artists.

From the museum’s website-

Between 1915 and 1970, in the wake of racial terror during the post-Reconstruction period, millions of Black Americans fled from their homes to other areas within the South and to other parts of the country. This remarkable movement of people, known as the Great Migration, caused a radical shift in the demographic, economic, and sociopolitical makeup of the United States. A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration brings together twelve contemporary artists to consider the complex impact of this period on their lives, as well as on social and cultural life, with newly commissioned works ranging from large-scale installation, immersive film, and tapestry to photography, painting, and mixed media. Featured artists are Akea Brionne, Mark Bradford, Zoë Charlton, Larry W. Cook, Torkwase Dyson, Theaster Gates Jr., Allison Janae Hamilton, Leslie Hewitt, Steffani Jemison, Robert Pruitt, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and Carrie Mae Weems.

A Movement in Every Direction presents a departure from traditional accounts of the Great Migration, which are often understood through a lens of trauma, and reconceptualizes them through stories of self-possession, self-determination, and self-examination. While the South did lose generations of courageous, creative, and productive Black Americans due to racial and social inequities, the exhibition expands the narrative by introducing people who stayed in, or returned to, the region during this time. Additionally, the Brooklyn Museum’s presentation centers Brooklyn as another important site in the Great Migration, highlighting historical and contemporary census data about the borough’s migration patterns. Visitors are encouraged to share their own personal and familial stories of migration through an oral history “pod” available in the exhibition galleries.

About Robert Pruitt’s work, pictured above, from the museum’s wall information plaque-

“A Song for Travelers” celebrates the individual and Black collective experiences that have shaped the histories of rural East Texas and Houston’s Third, Fourth, and Fifth Wards. In this drawing-based on an early 1970’s photograph of a reunion of the artist’s family in Dobbin, Texas -sixteen people gather around a seated central figure about to embark on a journey. During the creation of this work, the masked traveler became a stand-in for Pruitt, who had recently left his hometown of Houston.

Pruitt often draws inspiration from his and others’ family photographs while examining historical events that have impacted Houston’s Black communities. Wearing costumes and adorned with items that reference various aspects of Black culture found in schools, social clubs, and religious spaces, the figures in the work reflect the numerous networks that remained and flourished in the South. Merging the Great Migration period with the present, Pruitt centers the Black neighborhoods across the southern region that served as safe havens and rich sites of cultural expression for migrants during the twentieth century. This link extends to today as many Black Americans leave the northern and western cities that once attracted their elders and return to the South.

Allison Janae Hamilton’s A House Called Florida, below, takes the viewer on a journey through part of northern Florida’s natural beauty.

From the museum’s information plaque about the video installation-

Allison Janae Hamilton produced the three-channel film installation A House Called Florida in her hometown region of northern Florida. The breathtaking landscapes of Apalachicola Bay and the swampy Blackwater Lakes of Florida’s Big Bend frame musicians, dancers, motorists, a Victorian house, and a slow resounding rhythm.

The artist references French Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar’s 1946 short story “Casa Tomada.” (“House Taken Over”) about ghosts that slowly take over a home and eventually push out its owners, room by room. Hamilton echoes the story’s theme of displacement with two regally dressed, spirit-like protagonists who move about the house engaging in mark-making and ritual performances. Hamilton’s film pays tribute to the Black Floridians who remained in the Red Hills and the Forgotten Coast regions, despite the racial violence and environmental precariousness they faced throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Carrie Mae Weems‘ personal and moving contribution is in two parts- a series of photographs and a unique digital video installation.

The museum’s description of the work-

Carrie Mae Weems explores a painful family story: the disappearance of her grandfather Frank Weems, a tenant farmer and union activist who was attacked by a white mob in Earle Arkansas, in 1936. Presumed dead, he narrowly escaped and made his way to Chicago on foot, never again reuniting with his family. Frank Weems may have followed the North Star to Chicago. Weems’s series of seven prints, The North Star, makes an apt metaphor for Frank’s life. In Leave! Leave Now! Weems conjures the figure of her grandfather with a Pepper’s Ghost, a late nineteenth-century form of illusion first used in theater. By weaving historical events with fragmented family stories, photographs, poetry, music, and interviews, the artist reveals the tragedy of her grandfather’s disappearance and the aftermath.

This exhibition will close on Sunday, June 25th, 2023.

Apr 122023
 

 

How does one truly reckon with history?  The imagery in Yael Bartana’s three channel film Malka Germania at Petzel Gallery draws you in and presents you with this question for the entire 43 minutes. Drifting along with the film’s protagonist, scenes of beauty and destruction unfold- but seeing the eagle rise from the water as Hitler and Albert Speer’s proposed Volkshalle continues to emerge, you feel as stunned as those on the beach.

From the press release-

Malka Germania investigates the longing for collective redemption for German and Jewish histories as a response to an age of anxiety.

Malka Germania is Hebrew for “Queen Germany.” The name references a female designation for the Messiah: Malka Meshichah, or the “Anointed Queen.” In Bartana’s film, a new androgynous Messiah, Malka Germania, joins forces with the Israeli Army to liberate Berlin from its collective traumas, memories, and inherited pasts.

The 3-channel video portrays Malka as she walks through Berlin’s haunted landscape, revisiting historical events that seamlessly blend with contemporary scenes. The film weaves subconscious elements through surreal hallucinations, the biblical and mystical to leave questions of redemption, national myths and collective identities for the viewer to contemplate.

This exhibition closes 4/15/23.

 

Mar 292023
 

Hew Locke, “Listening to the Land” room view

“The Relic”, 2022

“The Relic” 2022 (another side)

“Raw Materials 3”, 2022

“Raw Materials 3”, 2022 (detail)

“Raw Materials 3”, 2022 (detail)

“Jumbie House 2”, 2022

“Jumbie House 2”, 2022

For Hew Locke’s exhibition, Listening to the Land, at P.P.O.W. he has created intricate sculptures and paintings that are fascinating in person.

From the press release-

Locke is known for exploring the languages of colonial and post-colonial power, and the symbols through which different cultures assume and assert identity. Furthering the themes explored in his celebrated commission The Procession at Tate Britain, and his concurrent installation Gilt on the façade of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, this exhibit engages with contemporary and historical inequities while reflecting on the landscape and history of the Caribbean. The exhibition draws its title from a poem by Guyanese political activist and poet Martin Carter which situates itself between two opposing forces of the landscape – sea and forest. Locke’s show features new sculptures and wall works with recurring motifs of stilt-houses, boats, memento mori, and share certificates referencing tensions between the land, the sea, and economic power. Reflecting on these links, Locke notes, “The land was created to generate money for colonial power, now the sea wants it back.”

Translating to ‘land of many waters,’ Guyana and its physical, economic, and political landscape serve as one of the primary sources for Locke’s work. Having spent his childhood in this newly independent nation, the artist witnessed first-hand an era of radical transformation. Now, the country teeters on the precipice of an oil boom and is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Juxtaposing personal meditations on the climate crisis with political commentary on the history of a globalized world, Locke contemplates the ways in which colonies were exploited to accumulate capital, and observes how Guyana’s economic future lies in the exploitation of its waters. Locke’s new boat sculptures The Relic and The Survivor embody this broad worldview as the two battered wrecks drift through time and history. Evoking the fragmented and diverse legacies of the global diaspora, the boats’ patchwork sails are interspersed with photo transfers of 19th Century cane cutters and banana boat loaders, while their decks are loaded with cargo that could allude to colonial plunder, trade goods or personal belongings.

Based on an abandoned plantation house, Locke’s newest sculpture Jumbie House 2 features layered images that unveil the spirits that haunt this colonial vestige. Presented alongside are a series of painted photographs of dilapidated vernacular architecture across Georgetown and rural Guyana. Constantly under threat of being washed away by storms or rising sea levels, these crumbling structures echo anxieties surrounding climate change and historical erasure. A new series of mixed media wall works, Raw Materials, is derived from antique share certificates and bonds. Locke richly decorates the appliques with acrylic, beads, and patchwork to draw attention to the complex ways in which the past shapes the present. The image of an 1898 Chinese Imperial Gold Loan behind painted Congolese figures connects the global economy at the height of Empire to current Sino-African trade networks. In another work, a painted representation of a Nigerian Ife mask, alongside an image of David Livingstone, is layered on a French-African Mortgage Bond from 1923, connecting exploration and exploitation of African land, to current conversations surrounding the repatriation of artifacts. Taken together, the works in Locke’s Listening to the Land echo William Faulkner’s adage “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

This exhibition closes 4/1/23.

The Procession, mentioned above, can now be seen at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, in Gateshead, England until June 11th, 2023.

Gilt, also mentioned above, is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art until May 30th, 2023.

 

Feb 022023
 

 

“History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be.”- Dr. John Henrik Clarke

Dr. John Henrik Clarke was an American writer, historian, professor, and pioneer in the creation of Pan-African and Africana studies. He taught at both Hunter College in NYC, where he established the Department of Black and Puerto Rican studies, and Cornell University where he was the Carter G. Woodson Distinguished Visiting Professor of African History at Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center.

The mural pictured above, Dr. John Henrik Clarke and the Mundari Tribe by Reginald O’Neal, was created for the 2022 edition of SHINE Mural Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida.

 

 

 

Dec 202022
 

“Call Me Mrs. Mary E. Pleasant: The Midas Touch” by L’Merchie Frazier

Pictured above is a portrait of entrepreneur, civil rights activist and benefactor, Mary Ellen Pleasant who made a name and a fortune for herself in Gold Rush era San Francisco. Her timeline from 1814 to 1904 begins in racial slavery as an indentured servant girl with no formal education. She ascended to a self-made millionaire, amassing a fortune in her lifetime of over $30 million, ($900 million today).

Organized by historian, artist, and curator Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, “Black Pioneers: Legacy in the American West” at The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, consists of 50 pictorial quilts created by members of Women of Color Quilters Network, a group founded by Mazloomi in 1985.

Mazloomi’s statement at the exhibition entrance-

American history is incomplete without the stories of African American men and women, from our enslaved ancestors to our societal challenges. The role of African Americans in the movement toward westward expansion has been largely overlooked. This exhibition of original pictorial quilts brings into focus the rich and diverse stories and achievements of Blacks in American western history. The timeline begins with Esteban’s 1528 arrival in the West and continues through the Civil Rights Movement.

At the end of Reconstruction in the South, discrimination and segregation caused African Americans to seek opportunities where there was less prejudice. In the 1800s, they moved by the thousands to the American West. Some went West as slaves, while free African American men joined the United States Army or became ranch hands, fur traders, cowboys, or miners.

Why quilts? Quilts and quilt making are important to American, and Black culture in particular. The art form was historically one of the few mediums accessible to marginalized groups to tell their own story, to provide warmth for their families, and to empower them with a voice through cloth. Using quilts to tell these stories accentuates the intersections of African Americans in the Western frontier while at once informing about the art form and its role in Black history. It is this often unknown and underappreciated shared reality that must be voiced if we are ever to truly value the unique contributions diverse groups make to the fabric of our nation.

Two more selections from the exhibition are below, although it was very hard to choose which quilts to highlight- there are so many great ones to choose from.

“A Good Soldier: Thomas C. Fleming, America’s Longest Serving Black Journalist” by Rosy Petri

At the time of his retirement in 1997, California journalist Thomas C. Fleming was the nation’s oldest Black journalist with the longest consecutive period of publication.

Information from the Museum’s wall plaque on Stagecoach Mary

Mary Fields- also known as Stagecoach Mary, Black Mary and White Crow-became a Wild West legend because she was the second woman and the first African American woman star route mail carrier in the United States.

Born into slavery and freed after the Civil War, she worked as a servant and laundress for families on riverboats before moving to Montana in 1885. A decade later she became a star route carrier, delivering mail using a stagecoach. She drove the 15-mile route from Cascade to Saint Peter’s Mission, Montana, from 1895 to 1903. Nicknamed Stagecoach Mary, she was known for her reliability and speed.

The six-foot-tall Fields was a quick-shooting and hard drinking mail carrier who wore men’s clothing and flaunted a revolver and a rifle. Locals praised her kindness and generosity, and schools in the town of Cascade were closed each year to celebrate her birthday.  Cascade’s mayor granted her an exemption to enter saloons after Montana passed a law forbidding women from entering these establishments.

The impressive quilts on view educate viewers with stories of individuals and events in African American history that may not have previously been familiar, and present new perspectives on those that are. It’s a wonderful way to utilize a visual medium to captivate, inform, and often inspire.

This exhibition closes on 1/8/2023.