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Art Speaks Clearly!

Bainbridge Island Museum

Art urging us to think about our disrupted world is everywhere this spring.

“Breathe” the current group show (until May 30) at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (free, open daily!) addresses civil rights issues in every work by twenty-one artists.

Humaira Abid created a hand carved wooden chain for the title “Breathe.” It suggests both entrapment and escape here, but how many other references are contained in that one word!

In Linda Wolf’s black and white photographs, Caravan Asylum we see people surviving the huge challenges and risks of travel to the US in hopes of a better life (a belief that has surged since Biden came into office). Nearby “Field Notes,” mixed media fiber collages by Carletta Carrington Wilson, quote from formerly enslaved persons in the subtitles, such as “I was plowin’ long and a thinkin’.” Embedded in the textiles is an “x,” honoring the fact that ninety percent of slaves were illiterate.

Throughout the exhibition selections from the extraordinary book art collection of Cynthia Sears address potent issues: Native American displacement (Fred Hagstrom); writing and art by prisoners (Beth Thielen); anti-Semitism (Diane Jacobs); white supremacism in a Klan car rally in 1965 that led to the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzza (Tyler Starr); gay marriage (Cheri Gaulke and Sue Maberry). Each artist brilliantly concentrates a huge topic in an experimental book format.

Roger Shimomura and Michelle Kumata address Japanese Internment. Kumata’s Song for Generations, 2019 hangs in the multistoried window of the museum. At the top are two farmers, one holds strawberries, the other a house in flames, below are two adults with painful barbed wire in their mouths, and children in the lower left born in internment (as was Kumata’s mother). Shimomura’s poignant portrait of an American Alien and the anxiety of waiting in Nightwatch continues his life-long exploration of the theme of internment. Given the upsurge in hate crimes against Asians, these works remind us the long history of Asian abuse in the US.

Also on display is Paul Rucker’s “Forever” homage to Civil Rights martyrs in the form of “forever” stamps for the post office with biographies of people such as Medgar Evers and Edwin Pratt. In large scale are the four young girls killed in the church bombing in Birmingham Alabama in 1963.

More artists books appear in a separate show “Water” and upstairs are Kimberly Trowbridge’s landscapes based on her residency at the Bloedel Reserve. In short, you can see an astonishing breadth of issues and styles at the Bainbridge Museum of Art, many from the museum’s collection.

Bainbridge Island Museum

550 Winslow Way E, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

206-842-4451, 10am–5pm daily

At the Henry

The Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington also challenges us with difficult topics. In the lobby “Hostile Terrain, HT94),” from the Undocumented Migration Project, outlines a border in Arizona with hundreds of tags hanging on it—volunteers documented each person who died crossing the inhospitable desert with the condition of the body and location. That act means that participants feel these deaths directly as do we. Nearby, a project by La Resistencia gives us access through QR codes to appalling stories of the detainees in the Northwest Detention Center.

“Illustrating Injustice: The Power of Print” curated by Nina Bozicnik and Ann Poulson provocatively pairs Danny Lyons’ prison photographs (Conversations with the Dead (1971) with prints by Honoré Daumier lambasting the legal system of 19th century France. The show also includes moving prison newsletters from the Washington Prison History Project. Commissioned by the Henry “We Own Our Words” is a contemporary zine project with deeply expressive essays and poems by women in the Washington Corrections Center for Women (you can pick it up at the front desk).

By the same dynamic curators “Plural Possibilities and the Female Body” explores the female body beyond the reductive binaries of gender and fixed ideas of beauty. The breathtaking selection of artists ranges from Ana Mendieta and Kiki Smith to Zanele Muholi and Mickelene Thomas. Presiding over the gallery is a lush painting by Dominican Republic artist Firelei Báez The Right to Opacity that fuses Saartjie Baartman (the so-called “Hottentot Venus”) with ciguapas, a mythical fearless woman of the forest.

For those who like the bizarre, don’t miss “Bambitchell: Bugs and Beasts Before the Law.” A video highlights animal trials in medieval and early modern Europe based on a 1906 book Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals. I watched the trial of a cock who laid an egg and was tried for sodomy. Perhaps the larger context could be that because of climate change we are putting animals to death all the time without any trial.

And finally, “Viewpoint” a single gallery exhibition juxtaposes Jean Francois Millet’s images of women working (at home) in the 19th century to a video of a woman’s head being covered with cake frosting by Jeanne Dunning! Go see it to understand it.

So, something for everyone! The Henry exhibitions end on May 17. It is FREE until the end of June although limited hours Saturday and Sunday 10am–5pm with a reservation.

Henry Art Gallery

15th Ave NE & UW, NE 41st St, Seattle, WA 98195

206-543-5340, Sat & Sun, 10am–5pm

~Susan N. Platt, Ph.D.


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