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A Few Bright Spots to Cheer the Dark Days of Winter

For the holiday and winter season here is Betty Shabazz X (Malcolm X’s wife): “We can say ‘Peace on Earth’ We can sing about it, preach about it, or pray about it, but if we have not internalized the mythology to make it happen inside us, then it will not be.”

Betty Shabazz X is included in a dual portrait with Coretta Scott King as one work in the riveting exhibition by Hiawatha D. at the Northwest African American Museum. Iconic Black Women: Ain’t I A Woman? (until March 15) features famous Black women in sports, politics and culture. The exhibition begins with Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth and ends with Simone Bile, Olympic Gold Medalist. Paired with each portrait is a powerful quotation by each woman. Uniting all of the women is the idea that they succeeded against incredible odds and if you want to enough you can too.

For example, Simone Bile writes “I would say to always follow your dream. And dream big because my whole career, including any of the things that I’ve accomplished, I never thought in a million years that I would be here. So, it just proves that once you believe in yourself, and you put your mind to something, you can do it.”

Hiawatha D., Maya, Acrylic on 48 x 48 foot museum canvas, Collection of the Artist, photograph courtesy Susan Platt

The poets, performers politicians, and sports stars are all familiar names: Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, Oprah, Toni Morrison, Coretta Scott King, Betty Shabazz X, Angela Davis, Serena Williams, Lupita, Maxine Waters, Shirley Chisolm, Michelle Obama and her daughters. Across one wall are the young victims from the Birmingham Church bombings, and across another long wall, the Ain’t I A Woman series of six works on Black women in general as survivors and providers, and truth tellers. Almost all of the paintings focus on posture, gesture and clothes to identify these famous women; only a few of them include feet, hands and facial features. At first that is disconcerting, but Hiawatha D’s simplified spatial relationships and abstract blocks of color set off the figures so effectively that we see the personality and power of each woman. We know them immediately. The absence of those details strengthens their presence and makes them more universal. The addition of potent quotations enriches our experience.

A second exhibition at the Northwest African American Museum by Christopher Shaw called Algorithm: Archetype is harder to explain, but easy to appreciate.

Here is a quote from the artist “ the root of the concept for Algorithm: Archetype is an understanding that the way which we participate and propagate culture is based on systems of energy exchange... Archetypes exist in narrative and myth. Often these forms define the parameters of the space where knowledge exists. We have it within our power to shape, reject or recreate or own archetypes. In so doing, we can claim sovereignty over our own lives and cultures. We can rewrite the sequences that code our futures.” You probably need to read that again.

As you can see Christopher is an advanced thinker! He is a mathematician, engineer and clay artist. But when you see his work, you don’t feel overwhelmed by those abstract ideas, but by the beauty of his works. The installation of the minimalist clay and mixed media works is subtle, with several groupings of repeated shapes. Their unexpected relationships lead to meditation.

Ebony G. Patterson, ...they were filled with hope, desire, and beauty... (...when they grow up...). 2016 (detail), Mixed media on hand-cut paper with beads, appliqués, embellishments, brooches, plastic glitter, fabric, handmade shoes, papier mâché, balloons and fabric wallpaper, photograph courtesy Susan Platt

The Arts at King Street Station is once again offering an extravaganza in their beautiful big space. Brighter be heard, to be seen, to be free, organized through the City Hall collective Ethnic Heritage Art Gallery (until January 11), includes over fifty artists in all media. The show is an opportunity to experience a wide range of artists of color and discover new people. I was familiar with about five of them!! But I was repeatedly excited by the work of a painter or sculptor or ceramist I had never seen before.

Shamim M. Momin, Senior Curator at the Henry Art Gallery filled the entire museum with In Plain Sight, (until April 26). Fourteen rising stars expose often invisible topics, communities, and stories.

I loved Ebony Patterson’s fifty ornamented coffins and stunning large-scale collages created in mourning and celebration of black youth who have been killed. Exciting in an entirely different way is Oscar Tuazon’s Water School, examining water issues from the perspective of the past, present and future with an emphasis on indigenous rights. Tom Burr’s installations, quietly written in corners, list the names of locations for gay men to meet up that he cut out of Spartacus, an International Gay Guide.

Finally, Nigerian-American artist Jite Agbro’s exhibition Deserving, (until February 26) at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art features a stunning mixed media print installation. She draws on patterns and indigo colors from Nigerian traditions that are hundreds of years old, and like so much else on the planet under threat in our current world. On January 19 at 3pm Agbro is giving a lecture about her work.

~Susan N. Platt

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