Saturday, April 2, 2011

The "Chocolat" Hottie and Hook for a MAD Man's Show.

There is an interesting, African-inspired, yin and yang-effect unfolding at the Museum of Art and Design (MAD -- Located at 2 Columbus Circle in Manhattan, at the Jerome and Simona Chazen Bulding, The Global Africa Project, is on show through May 2011, on the 3rd through 5th floors of the venue which occupies a southeastern wedge of the counter-clockwise flowing, traffic circle.

Billed as "An unprecedented exhibition exploring the broad spectrum of contemporary African art, design, and craft worldwide," the show debuted last fall and features works of more than 100 artists working in the four continents and the Caribbean, in lieu of South America.  The show aspires to survey the rich pool of new talent emerging from the African continent and its influence on artists around the world, but rather illustrates the ways in which recurrent themes, icons and techniques of the "motherland" are made once and again new, through the prism of our ever changing, evolving and shrinking Diaspora world view.

What "hooked" my attention and attendance was, of course, the topical "hook," or my interest in the film, Chocolat, (1998) which will be showing on April 22nd, as part of Cinema/Isaach de Bankole: an Unexpected Gentleman on show at the museum through April 29th.

But on this day it was the current show that had captured my attention. "Through ceramics, basketry, textiles, jewelry, furniture, and fashion, as well as selective examples of architecture, photography, painting, and sculpture, The Global Africa Project exhibition actively challenges conventional notions of a singular African aesthetic or identity, and reflects the integration of African art and design without making the usual distinctions between "professional" and "artisan,' " according to museum literature that seeks to articulate the vision of the show.

Lowery Stokes Sims, Curator, the Museum of Arts and Design, and Leslie King Hammond, Graduate Dean Emeritus, Founding Director, the Center for Race and Culture at the Maryland Institute College of Art are curators of the show that unfolds like layers from one floor to the next.

Drilling down from the fifth floor and down through the exhibit moving through the various alcoves and exhibits, the exhibit at MAD struck me, at first, as very masculine, yang-like if you will, with themes as male-friendly as "Rimology", a study in automotive tire rims and equally testosterone ladened, a set of formal and informal thrones. One such chair was welded together from vestiges of war including empty bomb shells, rusted over bullet and riffle casings. Reclaimed and repurposed "rubbish," pieces of ceramics and pottery, were the materials for another such chair.

Also very male, a costume typical of the creative wizardry of Mardi Gras also displayed the elaborate krewe outfits, embellished with feathers, and replete with pearlized beads and baubles.

More items mascuine, the totem of Romuald Hazome titled Tchin-Tchin BP!, 2010, was made of transfigured, metal, gas cans and signature portraiture from Kehinde Wiley in which renderings of current-day Black men, those more typically shown in police renderings, were re-cast as classical figures. All of the items portrayed the strength, power and mystique of the African Diaspora man.

The show is a wonderful, integrated Diaspora catch-all that told an interesting narrative of the overt and covert influences and global chord created of the continent's broad aesthetic. Algeria to South Africa, Northern Europe to Cuba, the Caribbean, North and South America, the show included artifacts that were creative, colorful and wonderfully executed, resounding with echos of a shared cultural past.

There was also a feminine energy, the yang, and elements on display with equally beautiful aspects that were "bold as love" in the words and spirit of Hendrix. With garments and hand crafts--with the exception of my beloved rag dolls-- braiding and woven artistry, the techniques that are so common place here in the U.S. showed their roots in many of the creations Made "in and out" of the U.S.A.

Notables, (at least for me) included "Superstition" by Chakaia Booker, a favorite Storm King Art Center artist. The Gee Quilting Guild story which reflected many of the values and aesthetics of the show, were from a separate installation.

Methods used were just as telling a part of the story and the scope of the show's narrative, including collage, and assemblage techniques portrayed in pieces on loan from the Heidelberg Project, in the U.S.

While Shelia Bridges' Harlem Toile de Jouy, emodied an elevated French Provincial aesthetic that whispered the profound ironies of Kara Walker's artistic and renderings which explore the violence and hidden atrocities of Southern Gentility.

With movements on multiple floors, originating from around the globe, the exhibit was a full one, demonstrating many known and a few lesser known pieces and styles. Embodying mostly contemporary, artistic works, the show demonstrated a sense of modernity that ironically was represented in many cases by appropriating, repurposing and replicating historic icons in fresh new ways, visions of a Black/African identity translated from one cultural context to the next with surprising, often whimsical, often subtly disturbing results.

There also seemed to be a conversation on sexuality examined started in a couple of the pieces. Images of women ranged from sensual, bordering and sometimes crossing the line to sexual, harkened back and supported many stereotypes.

Still more, though not a direct part of the exhibit, on the building's third story one of three "going to church" hats, were somber in black, and in contrast to Evetta Perry's other hat, entitled "Sunday Morning." The final hat, studded with rhinestones, and crafted from salmon pink and apple green straw, demonstrated an adorned spirit of "Sisterhood." Crafted from a woven texture, in bright shades, the hats also seemed to originate and to call from the same cutlural resources as those in The Global Africa Project.

In the show, dresses, kimonos and hybrid-styled frocks demonstrate the impeccable draping and stitching, the sheer artistry in crafting garments, wearable expressions of art. Masterfully designed in a range of palettes that vary wildly without undervaluing quality, many of the garments embodied an interpretation of African spirit similar to that displayed in the Broadway musical "Fela," offering "originality without artificiality," undeniable power and grace. After all, isn't that the spirit of the Diaspora: creating from spirit, turning nothing into something – magical.

© 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.

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