140 Lakeside Ave, Suite A, #2
Seattle WA 98122
“Dreamy blues/mood indigo.”
~Duke Ellington, 1931
Breathe deeply as you enter the first gallery of “Mood Indigo, Textiles from Around the World,” then look carefully at the dried plants hanging on the walls. Now, enter a high enclosure of fabric dyed in many shades of blue and experience a constantly changing soundscape that evokes the sounds of color and the color of sound. The collaborative contemporary installation Mobile Section, 2015, by textile artist Rowland Ricketts and sound artist Norbert Herber provides a perfect introduction to this highly original exhibition. It gives us the material qualities of the immaterial, color, created only by the refraction of light.
The first exhibition of textiles at the Seattle Art Museum since 1980, “Mood Indigo” features almost 100 different textiles and garments, many of them never before exhibited. While Pamela McClusky, Seattle Art Museum’s wonderful curator of Art of Africa and Oceania took the lead in the theme of the exhibition, she collaborated with the curators of Native American Art, Chinese Art, and Japanese Art, as well as, importantly, Nicholas Dorman, Conservator, and Paul Martinez, Installer, who solved the incredible challenges of installing flat textiles in a dynamic way.
Together they excavated the collections with an eye for indigo blue, a radical project. Indigo does not actually exist in the world. It must be produced from a molecule in one of about 20 plants (of which there are 600 varieties). Rowland Ricketts explained the process in detail. When the plants reach waist high, they are harvested, dried, stomped on, mixed with water, left 100 days in compost, turned, sliced, watered and bagged. The resulting paste ferments in a vat with wood ash, lime and wheat bran (everyone around the world has a different formula, often a family secret). During the oxidation/ reduction process as it is stirred daily, the color appears, like magic. Vats themselves apparently have attributes and respond to the person stirring it. The color comes alive in different ways according your own mood!
Focusing on indigo textiles erases borders of geography and categories. Textiles here emerge from the margins established by European academic traditions that privileged painting and sculpture, and from the depths of storage at the Seattle Art Museum.
The indigo textiles in this exhibition encompass all classes of society and all parts of our life. They cover us when we sleep and work, they ornament us for special events, they define rituals and ceremonies, they wrap us when we die. Indigo blue clothing signifies status and royalty, but it also covers the backs of peasants, prisoners (in the 1940s), and “blue collar” workers. The textiles contain secrets and symbols. The indigo blue suggests many emotions, sad, reflexive, humble or joyful.
The exhibition ranges from ancient African fragments to a towering Basinjom (spirit) mask and gown, from an imperial Chinese robe to a Japanese fireman’s outfit. It includes a Guatemalan cape, a Peruvian feather quilt, a contemporary American textile created from denim jeans, a Tlingit basket, a Javanese head shawl, a Laotian shawl and a Korean Bojagis. Japanese kimonos fill an entire gallery like fluttering butterflies.
Colonial powers traded indigo in massive amounts, particularly from Bengal. Three huge Belgian tapestries made during the height of this trade anchor one gallery, each representing a different continent, Asia, America and Africa. The allegorical royal figures seated at the center of the tapestries are dressed in blue fabrics, and they are surrounded by a wealth of symbols. Meticulously restored, the tapestries have never before been displayed by the Museum (they were a 1962 gift from the Hearst Foundation). Fascinating as they are to view, I felt that they recapitulated the oppressions of colonialism as they towered over clusters of tapestries from each continent. The egalitarianism of the exhibition was disrupted by their scale and their academic imagery; the three royal figures were all women draped in fabric that exposed their breasts.
The Belgian tapestries magnify the global scope of the exhibition, but the real joy of “Mood Indigo” is the range of cultures that it encompasses and the many different directions that focusing on Indigo blue can take us. Curator Pamela McClusky even pointed out that in May we will have a blue moon (when there are two moons in one month).
“The deeper blue becomes the more urgently it summons man toward the infinite, the more it arouses in him a longing for purity, and, ultimately, for the supersensual.”
While you are at the Asian Art Museum, visit the exhibition of photography and painting based on the Buddhist art in the thousands of caves of Dunhuang, a World Heritage site in Western China. Now in a desolate desert landscape, it formerly lay at the crossroads of several civilizations on the “Silk Road.” The exhibition intersperses historical photographs from the 1940s by James and Lucy Lo, and replicas that they commissioned in the 1950s of some of the ancient paintings. It provides an insight into an important phase of Buddhist art that lasted from the fourth century to the fourteenth century. Some of these painters may have travelled from Ajanta in India, where you see similar caves with early carvings of giant Buddhas and stories of the life of Buddha painted on walls and ceilings.
For a spring treat, you have until the end of April to stop by the ArtXchange Gallery near Pioneer Square to see the Alan Lau exhibition “Beauty in the Decay.” His subtle Sumi-e ink, pastel and watercolor paintings envelop us like a walk in the woods. Lau studied Sumi-e ink brush painting, but intentionally aspires to a contemporary style that incorporates ink with layers of surface drawing in charcoal and chalk: “The spirit of the tradition looms behind me not as a rote model but as a continuing renewable source of encouragement to push ahead.”
Each of his large paintings uses a different type of stroke, contrasting layers, and even shifts of tone, but all of them are embedded in nature, and the cycles of life. Also, enjoy the intimate watercolors, often of a fruit or vegetable in a precise condition of ripeness or incipient decay. Lau worked as produce manager at Uwajimaya for many years, an aesthetic adventure that gives him an intimate feeling for this topic.
Lau writes eloquently about his work:
“There is a modern poet who writes about weeds. For myself, there is something common, stubborn and oddly attractive about weeds and their random persistence. The simple beauty of nature, though it looks still to our eyes, is constantly teeming with activity. Sometimes it’s this quality I want to capture in my work--that of a seemingly quiet, inert surface alive with the continual process of change, decay and growth within its deepest layers. “
Coincidentally, I saw his exhibition immediately after visiting a Florida wildlife sanctuary. The photo I took with reflections of the sky, penetration under the water and the surface of decaying grass, with a diving bird, echoes Lau’s vision for his art.
The ArtXchange exhibition provides a rare opportunity to conveniently see Alan Lau’s paintings in a Pioneer Square venue. For many years, he showed at Francine Seders Gallery up in Greenwood, until it closed a few years ago. As a pillar of the art community in Seattle, we also know him as a poet, art critic, curator and journalist. He will be reading his poetry at the gallery on April 21.
While you are downtown, take the time to also visit the art galleries sponsored by Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture in City Hall and the Municipal Tower. They offer several surprises. First, and most easily found on the third floor of 700 Fifth Avenue, is the Ethnic Cultural Heritage Gallery, created by Preston Hampton. “What’s Left Behind,” by Satpreet Kahlon until April 15 addresses sexual violence and its aftermath of trauma. The closer we look at these works, the more we feel the intensity of Kahlon’s focus. For “Sharam (Shame),” the largest work, she tore and burned dozens of pieces of paper, then glued them to a 150 x 60 inch plastic sheet. In the center, she created the word, “Shame” as negative letters, written in Punjabi, clearly testifying to the after-effects of sexual violence. But the piece also speaks to survival as part of a community. Another work weaves layers of threads into plastic suggesting both fragility and cloaking. She particularly addresses women of color “by recognizing the burden they face to protect their communities while simultaneously advocating for themselves as victims.” Kahlon’s brave and intense exhibition encourages thoughtful engagement with a topic that is only rarely addressed in a public venue.
Not far away in “Seattle Presents,” a small space at Columbia St. and Fifth Avenue, the city launched a series of six exhibitions titled “Dialogues in Art: Exhibitions on Racial Injustice” with Barry Johnson’s “Signs of the Times.” Fortunately, I heard the artist speak about his work. Casually relaxed in layered pale grey shirts, he changes the narrative about African Americas from crime and poverty. Based on his statistical studies, he counters stereotypes. First, with stacks of mortarboards, he charted the dramatic increase in PH.D.s awarded to African Americans since the 1970s. Second, logos of major inventions by African Americans demonstrated their fundamental contributions to our world including the microphone, and three-color streetlight. Third, he defied prejudices about same sex couples with words like “nurture” “love” and “community ” written on red tape over a silhouetted couple. Although this exhibition has closed, the next in the series, “Jasmine Brown, Remembrance” features poignant icons of murdered young black men in the style of small medieval altars (you can compare them with Kehinde Wiley’s icons with a different purpose at his glamorous exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum). Jasmine Brown will be an artist-in-residence in the gallery on Thursdays from ten to three until May 13.
But, we are not finished yet, with our tour of city-sponsored exhibitions. A third space, near the Ethnic Cultural Heritage Gallery in the municipal tower, currently features group exhibitions. From April 7 – June 29, 2016 “Cultural Perspectives” displays an amazing 66 works by 45 artists recently purchased by Seattle Public Utilities (that’s our one percent for art program still going strong after all these years, the upside of our construction mania). The current group show “Seattle Simplified, Part 2” featured multimedia, photography, and prints by such well –known artists as Jacob Lawrence, Juan Alonzo, and Mary Ann Peters.
Finally, in the main lobby of City Hall itself (and on a lower level in the Ann Folke Gallery), the “Real Change Agents Portrait Project,” presents individually painted portraits of our Real Change vendors. These men and women, whom we normally meet by talking to them briefly as we buy our papers in the street, now gaze out at us directly. Each painting includes a detailed narrative of the vendor’s impressive survival amid diversity.
While you are entering the City Hall lobby, take a minute to view the permanent installation by Vancouver artist, Eric Robertson Evolving Wing and the Gravity of Presence that evokes canoe journeys and the aerospace industry in a stunning semi abstract installation.
So save on postage and pay your utility or tax bill in person in April, then enrich your day with a visit to these many exhibitions, as well as the Alan Lau exhibition at ArtXchange, not far away.
In case you didn’t know, we have cutting edge contemporary dance emerging from the Madrona Bath House on Lake Washington! In that unassuming space, Donald Byrd, internationally renowned choreographer and director of Spectrum Dance Theater since 2002, creates performances that combine experimental, but classically grounded, choreography with deep emotional content.
Byrd believes that art is not just entertainment, but that, at its best, it “enlivens” and “transforms” people. His choreography builds on multiple sources, classical, modern, vernacular, pop, and spiritual.
As we watch his extraordinary company of dancers perform, we witness the extraordinary possibilities of the human body to express feeling through movement. In fact, according to one dancer I spoke with, Byrd’s movements sometime take the dancers themselves beyond what they thought they could do. Likewise, Byrd speaks of responding to the physical diversity of the dancers and what they bring to a piece. The website explains that these dancers “occupy the space where the classical, contemporary, intuitive, cerebral, visceral, right brain, left brain, control and abandonment converge.” Wow. That is stunning. Their movements shape suggested narratives in ever-changing relationships to space and gravity, tension and relaxation, compression and expansion.
Byrd’s aesthetically compelling choreography works in tandem with carefully chosen music that is global, contemporary, and classical. The music is part of the experience, not simply an accompaniment.
Byrd creates structures that allow you to “enter into” the music, as he puts it. He can listen to music for months and then choreograph a work quickly and intuitively. As a pioneering African American dancer (he danced with the Alvin Ailey company for two years, another norm-shattering African American choreographer) he began to think about race in relationship to his choreography early on. One example is the 1996 Harlem Nutcracker (I would like to see that performed here!). This year his season “#RACEish,” “an exploration of America’s 240 years of (failed) race relations” foregrounds race (other seasons have been “Love” and “War”).
“#RACEish” began with a panel on “Invisible: The Dilemma of the Black Artist in America.” Prominent cultural leaders Barbara Thomas and Valerie Curtis-Newton addressed the contradictions of creativity as a generative force that is not racial, at the same time that leaders in the creative community who happen to be African American in Seattle have to deal with white perspectives that they can only perform in the context of their race; they are still invisible as part of the mainstream still dominantly white culture, unless the white culture is “looking” for black representatives.
Two performances in late February foreground African American creativity: “Rambunctious 2.0,” with all African American composers, including the little known T.J. Anderson. Anderson’s music combines the vernacular and the spiritual with avant-garde musical sounds that reminded me of Stravinsky. Byrd’s choreography sparks from that score a poignant and intense piece called “Spirit Songs.”
The second program, “Dance, Dance, Dance,” explores the little acknowledged “Africanist “aesthetic in mainstream music and modernism. According to Byrd, unrecognized African rhythms and movements (“angularity, coolness, pelvis thrusting and jutting, and rhythm”) imbue George Balanchine’s choreography. In early May, a “Rap on Race” will build around a 1970s conversation between anthropologist Margaret Mead and James Baldwin, in an unconventional format developed by actress Anne Deveare Smith and Byrd. Finally in late June “the Minstrel Show Revisited,” a difficult confrontational work, deals directly with racist stereotypes in the minstrelsy tradition, a tradition that actually continues to the present in many ways. That program forces the audience to engage with racism directly.
Spectrum Dance Theater was founded in 1982 with a commitment to diversity in both its dancers and its audiences. Today, we still see more dancers of color in Spectrum performances than in any other company in Seattle. Byrd’s own willingness throughout his career to address racism as one theme of his choreography culminates in the current season. At the same time, his work always speaks to humanity and to the human experience. His approach to foregrounding race in these works is to demonstrate that African American roots and creators are a major nutritive force in contemporary life. But his purpose is not to segregate that force, but to integrate our understanding of contemporary creativity. Dance has a great capacity to embrace both the specific and the universal because its abstract form and movement is generated by the human body.
Spectrum today actively promotes dance in the community, not only with its own school that teaches hundreds of students from toddlers to grandmothers, but also with many outreach programs to public schools. Byrd fervently believes that the arts, far from the marginal position into which they are being gradually isolated, are central to the community, that they provide solutions to the challenges of our contemporary world.
We can all support these blazing artistic talents in our midst and ensure that Spectrum Dance Theater continues to be the most exciting venue in Seattle for dance that engages social issues and community involvement, by coming to their provocative performances and allowing ourselves to be transformed.
A special treat also awaits those who come to the Spectrum Gala “Movement” on April 16. The theme of the evening will be celebrating the Civil Rights Era. The advanced students from Spectrum’s Academy will present a special program based on their own choreography that explores their personal experiences of racism.
Kehinde Wiley “A New Republic,” Seattle Art Museum February 11- May 8, 2016. Stunning exhibition of portraits of Africans and African Americans in art historical formats. It partners with Complex Exchanges: conversations with community members, March 23 Power/Privilege Charles Mudede and Rahwa Habte with a performance featuring Dani Tirrell 7-9PM Seattle Art Museum.
“Maroons / Photographs By Fabrice Monteiro,” Marianne Ibrahim Gallery until March 12, 2016, Wed to Fri: 11-6pm, Sat: noon-5pm, 608 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA 98104. Monteiro is a cutting edge African photographer. “Maroons” is the term for communities of free Africans who escaped slavery. The photographs are dramatic stagings of contemporary Senegalese men wearing recreations of iron implements used as slave restraints to discourage escape, based on historic descriptions and imagery.
Lecture: “Meet the Reporter: Lynda V. Mapes for a discussion of Elwha dam removal”. March 8, 6-7:30pm. at The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Ave S, Seattle.
Award-winning and nationally known poet Judith Roche lives in the heart of Leschi. I almost missed her unassuming house on a steep forested hill that descends down to the lake, but once inside, I immediately felt her poetic sensibility in the subtle aesthetic details of her home. She opened our conversation with the declaration that she loves living in a house with a view of the woods that is ten minutes from downtown. That partnership of nature and culture fills her poetry, but never peacefully. Her acute perceptions pierce into our hearts.
Even as a child growing up in Detroit, Michigan, in the midst of a radical family of union organizers, Judith Roche spontaneously loved poetry: she read Longfellow, Wordsworth, Edna St. Vincent Millay. Later she got a BA in English literature and an MA at the New College of California, studying with Robert Duncan and Diane de Prima, and began her career as a high school English teacher.
But her activist family roots emerged as she taught poetry to children in correctional facilities and to adults in federal and state prisons. She deeply believes in “teaching incarcerated youth to write poetry as a way of finding out the best of who they are.”
Rather than enumerate her many accomplishments and awards, I want to suggest here why her poetry breaks through traditional aesthetic restraints to speak so directly to us.
As a writer focused mainly on visual art, I first responded to the vivid imagery such as “Sunday morning sun flaring through/my kitchen window, / sun-struck tulips/ on my breakfast table/ have spread themselves wide open/showing everything they’ve got inside/ which they’ve kept/hidden for days.” Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings come to mind in the sexual innuendos of the lines.
She told me that poems find their own rhythms, they are a type of music; she feels where it ought to break, emphasize, stick out. Reading poetry out loud reveals those qualities more quickly, but you can also experience the music of her poetry reading silently and alone.
Roche’s fourth book, All Fire All Water (Black Heron Press, 2015) has four sections, with titles that concisely correspond to her life lived fully, but not easily, and her current preoccupations: “Rivers Have Memories” unrelentingly gives us the sounds and scars of nature; “A Bird Caught in the Throat” speaks of the realities of our contemporary political life, (“Another word for terror is a bird caught in the throat”); “The Husbands Sweet” invokes the pains and pleasures of marriage (“the bitter bundled in the honey’s swarm”); “We are Stardust” meditates on life and death: (“how do we know where we are when the stars we navigate by no longer exist”).
For each poem, Roche selects painfully precise words evoking deep emotions that move inexorably toward a final line that can leave us breathless, uncomfortable, or shocked. Sometimes she invokes Walt Whitman’s style, or the rhythms of a folk song, or a nursery rhyme, or Dante or Homer (as in her excruciating “The Face of War”: “With polyphonic voices, we sing/the horror of these mutilated cities/where immortal cruelty roams”).
The content-laden lines have complex poetic forms. For example, “Bee Villanelle” pays homage to the disappearing bee. “Villanelle” refers to a nineteen-line poem with specific patterns. But we never sense constraints in the flow of the ideas and feelings, so carefully expressing the tragedy of the bee. “They were with us so long./Heavy with gold dusted bodies they go. / We’ll miss their sibilant song.” The villanelle repeats the first and third line throughout in a fixed pattern, but as we read it the first time, we feel that we want to hear it again and again, just as the bees have always been there every summer. The form perfectly fits the subject of the poem, and the words perfectly fit the tragedy.
The last part of the book “We are Stardust” speaks of aging and death, both specifically as in the case of a poem dedicated to two women who have died, “Pat and Mary” (“In this dream, the dead girls are alive.”) and literally in the poem about the ghats of Varanasi, the city on the Ganges in India where Hindus cremate their dead (“It’s all fire and water here.”) The poem “Metaphors of Dust” perfectly captures Roche’s unusual imagination: “As it turns out, we actually are stardust,” an irresistible declaration that both explodes a metaphor and creates one.
In Seattle we can experience Roche’s poetry integrated into the fabric of our city. For example, as part of a 2002 citywide public art program focusing on the survival of salmon, she persuaded the Army Corps of Engineers to introduce her poems into the audio system at the fish-viewing windows inside the fish ladder at the Ballard Locks. With the push of a button, we can hear her read a poem that corresponds to what we are seeing in the window according to the five different phases in the salmon cycle.
Judith Roche’s poetry sharpens our experience of the world and speaks to the crucial concerns of our time. We are so fortunate to have her in our midst.
I believe in the cave paintings at Lascaux,
the beauty of the clavicle,
the journey of the salmon.
I believe in all the gods –
I just don’t like some of them.
I believe the war is always against the imagination,
is recurring, repetitive, and relentless.
I believe in fairies, elves, angels and bodhisattvas.
Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy,
I believe Raven invented the Earth
and so did Coyote. In archeology
lies the clue. The threshold is numinous
and the way in is the way out.
I believe in the alphabets, all of them
and the stories seeping from between their letters.
I believe in dance as prayer, that the heart
beat invented rhythm and chant
– or is it the other way around?
I believe in the wisdom of the body.
I believe that art saves lives
and love makes it worth living them.
And that could be the other way around, too.
Owuor Arunga “The Sultan of Swag,” a world famous trumpet player, organized an astonishing Black Friday concert at the Langston Hughes Cultural Center. As he explained to us, almost all the now successful performers who shared their talents with us that night got their start as youth who first performed on the very stage where the concert took place. It was a moving evening, as we watched old friends greet each other, mentors give short presentations, and singers, rappers and musicians give extraordinary performances.
Owuor Arunga spoke of his own mentors in the Central District and at Garfield High School, and he, in turn, is mentoring many others. Some of the incredible performers with a wide range of ages, included singers Marissa Garret, Dadabass, Adra Boo, Otieno Terry, Black Stax (four musicians, with a political and avant-garde edge), rapper Yirim Sec, and the distinguished Josephine Howell. Owuor believes that music can “heal the world.” Several of the musicians are part of the One Vibe Africa’s Music and Art Program, based in Kisumu, Kenya.
Each performance was punctuated by astonishing solo trumpet playing by Owuor along with his friends on trumpet, guitar, drums and keyboard. The importance of the Central District as an epicenter of Black culture in Seattle for decades disappears more rapidly every day as gentrification ravages the neighborhood. Wyking Garrett spoke of current efforts to save African American culture and businesses. One critical location is the block at 23rd and Union. The UmojaFest Peace Center is located on the Southeast corner at 24th and Spring Street. At the Black Dot Cultural Innovation Space on the other side of the block, participants are working on solutions to keep affordable rentals and businesses in the Central District.
In front of Black Dot on 23rd Ave., stands the 1995 Fountain of Triumph by famous sculptor James W. Washington, Jr., owned by the family that is selling the block. We must stay vigilant to make sure it survives any new development. Washington’s vision of it as a community gathering place with a message of struggle and determination, signified by the swimming salmon plunging toward the pool at the bottom, could not be more appropriate today.
Actually, the City of Seattle as part of the 23rd Avenue “improvement project” has already commissioned a sculpture by prominent Washington DC based African American sculptor Martha Jackson-Jarvis for the corner of 23rd and Union. Her work is described as follows: “The artwork will include historically relevant narratives of the neighborhood and stories of the people who have lived or created significant impact in the neighborhood, as well as address the changing and widening demographics of this area of the city.” I don’t see any conflict with having both public sculptures!
James W. Washington, Jr. came to the Central District in 1944 and lived in the same house until his death in 2000. That house today is a Foundation and Cultural Center thanks to his scrupulous planning. Hopefully, his example can be followed for preserving the cultural significance of the Central District. The Mayor has recently declared the “Historic Central Area Arts and Cultural District.” Hopefully this will connect to the local activists at Black Dot as well as to funding to make it happen.
Troy Gua’s “Orange Dust” at the Bonfire Gallery, a new art and design space in the Panama Hotel, addresses the survival of culture from a different perspective. Bonfire director Bill Gaylord believes that “community engagement is the wellspring of civic vitality.” (By the way, the Panama Hotel itself is also up for sale) Troy, a delightfully smart, but straightforward, person, explained to me that he believes the “idea of America is falling away.” This is even before the recent Islamophobia hysteria. He has always been fascinated with King Tut and Egypt (coincidentally resonating with the recent announcement that the tomb of Nefertiti may have been discovered).
But what will be discovered in an archeological dig in America, at some unspecified time in the future? Troy suggests some “fictional, metaphorical artifacts unearthed from America’s impending tomb.”
Take the pyramid: he made it with a Dorito and photographed it so that it looks monumental. “Orange Dust” means Dorito color and texture echoed in dozens of cast plaster orange pyramids ($40, a great Christmas present!), but the pyramid also refers to the US (take a look at your dollar bill).
Cleopatra with Marge Simpson’s hair in glossy gold, a plate of gold coated bullets, a giant knife and fork crossed in the position of the symbols held by ancient Egyptian kings, “emoji cartouches,” from the iPhone 6, “American pie” of gold plated bullets, sugar plastic caskets, Mt Rushmore heads as stoppers for canopics holding oil, blood, sugar, and bullets. You get the idea. Gua plays games and actually makes us laugh, even as he gets his more serious point across: what survives into the future reflects our values, and in the case of the US right now, they are pretty disturbing.
Martha Rosler, renowned social critic artist, and a personal hero of mine, received $100,000 from the New Foundation in Seattle! Rosler’s “Housing Is a Human Right” could not be a better fit for Seattle right now, and it will have various permutations all over the city for the next year. Already on view at the Seattle Art Museum is “Martha Rosler: Below the Surface” two series: House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967-72) and House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, New Series (2004-2008). The titles speak for themselves!
Brent McDonald, a popular teacher at Coyote Central for the past 11 years, was tragically killed in the Belltown area a week before Christmas. Claudia Stelle, Executive Director of Coyote Central, said that Brent was a wonderful mentor, encouraging the students to express themselves. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Brent’s family with expenses. He leaves behind a partner and her 15-year-old daughter he helped to raise.
As I walked through the 11th Annual Ofrenda exhibition at El Centro de la Raza, the halls were decorated with paper flowers and banners in the wonderful bright colors of Mexican folk art, as well as photos of young black people who have died, and the traditional “Día de los Muertos” skulls.
For many years, El Centro has hosted by far the most moving and beautiful ofrenda exhibition in Seattle, combining the idea of celebration that is so central to the Day of the Dead with timely political themes. The theme this year was “Black Lives Matter.”
The YWCA, “Dear America, Black Lives Matter” opened the show on the second floor with a moving display based on cardboard headstones and a theme of “Say their names”: at the top a line of six people identified with “Last Words”; near the bottom the ofrenda honored the nine people killed in Columbia, South Carolina. Thirty other photographs honored other people both familiar and unfamiliar. What I found both moving and cause for despair was the sheer number of people, and knowing these represented only a few of the total number. Yet, the collective spirit created a festive atmosphere. Over a thousand people (although few white people) came to the opening night, which included a free dinner for everyone.
SHARE/WHEEL, our excellent homeless empowerment project, honored the dead with hundreds of stones, each with a name that commemorates a homeless person who has died without shelter. It is a shocking number of people and it is only going to escalate, since we are busy tearing down low income housing and replacing it with “affordable” and “mixed use” buildings that will be inhospitable and unavailable to most homeless people. The Mayor just declared a “State of Emergency” for homeless people, calling it comparable to a “natural” disaster. Like “natural” disasters, homelessness is the result of decisions made by those in power, in this case to underfund low-income housing and social programs that support them.
Another notable theme was transgender people of color, who are killed disproportionately. Both the YWCA and Peace for the Streets by Kids from the Streets included moving photographs of transgenders. The Black students in the School of Social Work at UW honored Black women specifically.
Hope for Youth After School Program produced one of the most spectacular displays; it included paintings, poetry, and many paper flowers. Other ofrenda, each one striking, included 206 Zulu, Mothers Against Police Violence, the Garfield Black Student Union, the Black Prisoners Caucus, Refugee Women, From Hiroshima to Hope, and as well as Freedom for Nestora (Salgado) (she is a US citizen who organized an indigenous community to resist violence and has been kept in prison since April 2013). The ofrenda honored Nestor as a leader and the 43 students from Ayotzinapa who disappeared and apparently were killed by the police. Ayotzinapa is the name of a teachers’ training college that was sympathetic to indigenous resistance.
Washington Anti-trafficking Response Network (WARN), and Lutheran Community Services Refugee and Immigrant Children’s Program, addressed refuge for trafficked children and those who flee violence across borders.
Patricia Ann Wilson made moving portraits of victims of police violence.
Major Latino artists rarely have exhibitions at major museums. But the Centro de la Raza annual ofrenda exhibit invites a range of community groups from different backgrounds who are much closer to the Latino concept of honoring the dead as well as celebrating their lives. Ofrenda are not altars or sites of ritual and prayer. Historically, they were usually in a private home and a woman’s practice. The well-known Latina artist Amalia Mesa-Baines was one of the catalysts for the revival of ofrenda through her monumental 1984 work honoring Dolores del Rio.
The most healing ofrenda at El Centro came from the Beacon Hill International School: under a “People of Peace” banner in three languages, it quoted Martin Luther King: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything
Octavia’s Brood features the works that exemplify the themes woven through the science fiction and Afro-futurist writings of Octavia Butler. Featured artists Augusta Asberry, Marita Dingus, Laura Haldane, Aramis Hamer, Henry Luke, and Maya Milton present works in a variety of media, including painting, photography, and holography, that continue Butler’s engagement with social justice, living beyond Earth, activism, and the future of humanity.
Gallery Hours are 9:00 AM to 3:30 PM, Monday through Friday, with evening hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5-7 PM. Admission is free. The gallery is located at the north side of Seattle Central’s Atrium Cafeteria, main campus building at the corner of Broadway and Pine.
Living right here in Leschi is an exceptional person named Walter Bodle. Bodle speaks quietly, but do not be misled. He is an accomplished photographer, a founder of an award winning organization, Youth in Focus, and a person with a long-time commitment to providing opportunities for at-risk youth as well as to activism for peace in general. For many years he taught social studies and economics in a high school in Compton, California, famous as the place where the rap group NWA began (just chronicled in the 2015 movie “Straight Outta Compton”). Bodle has written about the high school at that time, its mix of danger, drugs and opportunity for those who found their way to it. As he explained to me, upward mobility in Compton was a move to Watts. His years at Compton spanned from the Watts riots to the Rodney King shooting.
When Bodle moved to Seattle in 1991, he came with his insights and skills from years of teaching at Compton. Around 1998, he started a summer program in photography “to distract a few kids” as he put it. Working with donated space and supplies, he eventually recruited 20 students for that first year. With teaching by himself and Alejandro Tomas, from Seattle Central Community College, the program began. Since that beginning, the program has moved three times, expanded to 200 students per year, with three paid administrators and many teachers. It won the Presidential Award from the National Council of Arts and Humanities in 2000.
The program is not about job training, but about building self-esteem. As stated on their website: “Our mission is to empower urban youth, through photography, to experience their world in new ways and to make positive choices for their lives… Through photography our students find their voice, identity, creativity, and gain new confidence in their worth and abilities.” Each student participates in an End of Quarter exhibition that includes their work, a self-portrait and a statement about themselves. The next one is November 18 at 5pm in their now permanent home at 2100 24th Ave South.
But back to Walter Bodle himself. Right now, we have a rare opportunity to see his photography in a retrospective exhibition. His eye is sharp, his compositions subtle and his sense of color compelling. Although he calls his work “travel photography,” that is too generic. His images seem to simply record what he sees almost accidentally. But there is usually more to it than that: he implies stories, often with a sense of humor and a reference to popular culture. For example, “Not My Dog” is a quote from the Peter Sellers movie Pink Panther. If you look hard enough you can see the dog, but with that title, the photograph is no longer a desolate scene, or a romantic reminder of an old road trip, but a reference to a funny incident from a very funny movie.
“Walter Bodle A Retrospective” Museum Quality Framing (428 Westlake N. at Republican, S Lake Union) until mid November. Proceeds from sales will benefit “Youth in Focus.”
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