Reclaiming Those Negative Images

Posted February 12, 2010 at 2:16pm

Oftentimes, there’s more talent under our noses than we realize. That’s certainly true when it comes to “Mixed Media Reflections,” a new gallery at the Corner Store, a multiuse arts space at 900 South Carolina Ave. SE.

Alec Simpson and Tray Patterson, both Washington artists, are acting co-curators for the gallery. Simpson, who often deals in abstract art, is one of 12 Washington-area African-American artists whose works are on display.

The idea for the show started rather simply, over a meal between Patterson and Simpson.

“We just got together over lunch one day and decided to put on a show last fall,” Simpson said.

In light of Simpson’s own success last year with a one-man show at the Corner Store — Simpson sold all his small works in “Flashback/Fast Forward” — it followed that the planners focused on small works. “In view of what people were saying about the economy, we just thought that maybe we’d stick with that concept,” Simpson said.

All works at the gallery are on sale for $240 to $1,000.

“We didn’t have any idea how many artists there would be in it, how many pieces there were going to be, how big they were going to be, but we did know that we didn’t want them to be priced out of the market,” Simpson said. With the theme of Black History Month, the mixed media motif pulls everything together.

Stepping into the front room of the Corner Store, where the works are on display, is a treat. The front space is warm and beautiful, with colored walls and exposed brick. The artists’ works are accentuated by the lack of a modern white-walled space.

As for the works, some pieces use found objects, others use silk, some are on ceramic and still others are on paper. One artist, Alonzo Davis, even uses bamboo poles and fabrics.

The show is a mixture of materials and artistic styles, but the works manage to tie to the theme of Black History Month in a compelling way. All the artists in some way touch on the African diaspora, from clear visual images of brutality to parodies of mockery of black personhood to abstract works that offer the chance to create new meaning.

Works by Aziza Gibson Hunter, “Prayers to Haiti,” were a late addition to the show. Gibson Hunter composed a series that incorporates elements of African cloth and other found objects, including Haitian money, to offer homage to the small island nation devastated by an earthquake a month ago. Gibson Hunter intends to donate all proceeds to Doctors Without Borders.

One wall in particular seems to deal most directly with ancestral issues and imagery, which are most readily visualized through Anne Bouie’s “Ancestry 5,” “Ancestry 6” and “Ancestry 8.” Bouie incorporates Aunt Jemima and Uncle Tom figures but creates new meaning with the images.

And that, to Simpson, underscores a driving theme of the entire show. “It’s a matter of transformation, transforming it into something different and new,” he said. “It’s about seeing new things in what wasn’t necessarily good.”

Patterson added: “It’s also reclaiming it. Reclaiming a negative stereotype that was out there to turn it.”

The breadth of artistic techniques that individual artists have perfected is another striking aspect of the show. For example, artist Juliette Madison uses mixed media clay pieces by transferring images onto clay using ink that she created.

Madison’s “Lord Why” displays the technique with a veritable gut punch. The work shows the archival photograph of a lynched woman who, along with her son, was accused of theft. The significance of the story is made clear with the phrase “Lord why is my seed in the wind?” emblazoned on top of the image.

“African-American artists don’t feel backed into a corner,” Simpson said. “They create and let the chips fall where they may. There’s an authenticity to what you see.”

The exhibit, which opened Feb. 5, will run until the 28th. The Corner Store doubles as an art space and home to Kris Swanson, a sculptor who for the past eight years has welcomed any variety of art events into her home, including author readings, CD release parties and theatrical performances.

Because the space functions as a home, the Corner Store isn’t open for regular hours. However, Swanson makes appointments at webmaster@cornerstorearts.org or 202-544-5807.