In 1960, choreographer Alvin Ailey and the American Dance Theater presented his now signature "Revelations." Ailey acknowledged that his desire was to use dance and music to explain to white …
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In 1960, choreographer Alvin Ailey and the American Dance Theater presented his now signature "Revelations." Ailey acknowledged that his desire was to use dance and music to explain to white Americans the plight of blacks in America and their devotion to religion. Ailey develops his first scene "I've Been 'Buked" with dark lighting, dancers in a V-formation, arms outspread like on a cross. They move in unison, break away to face personal challenges and then back to the unity of the conflict for all blacks. In their pursuit for the promise of religion, they ask "Fix Me, Jesus, Fix Me," wade in the water to be baptized, bow to God's promise in "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel," admit their susceptibility to God's justice in "Sinner Man," and find redemption and hope in the colorful final number "Rock-a My Soul," so that if not in this life but in the next, they will be able to "Put on My Long White Robe."
The three artists featured at Sumter Gallery of Art use pictures to explore conditions, particularly in the South, and often attitudes of blacks - past, present and future.
In "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning," the title taken from a book of short stories titled "Burning Bright," Andrew Blanchard visualizes the dichotomy of changing landscapes, especially as they relate to human behavior. "Grey is one of my favorite colors, for nothing is really black or white these days," confesses Blanchard. Although these are no people in his exhibit, they are represented by the changing nature of the surroundings and evolving landscapes that "create an almost "hybridization" of culture - urban overlapping rural - resulting in encroachment and forced change. Blanchard admits that he has not "drawn" anything since 2004 but uses digitalization and silk screening to bring reality, form and focus to the issues of forced duality of life style. "Station of the Cross II" clearly emphasizes the dual nature: Saturday night revelry and Sunday dedication to church going. The Ice House, complete with graffiti and blinking neon "Beer" sign, is also the home of "The House of Prayer," the sign over the entrance emphasizing "Pray." "Genesis, Goodyear, Revelation" establishes the "strange bedfellow" syndrome with varying degrees of life almost in conflict with one another for attention: the half-finished construction of the church next to the commercial Goodyear store complete with its used tires, and the tennis shoes wrapped around the wire - a symbol of drug trade or abandonment of a goal?
Two semi-sculptures or "totems" address the complexity of the carnal versus the religious. "Sex Pit Help Me Jesus" comes with a vamp's legs, liquor bottle and a disconnected, decrepit altar formation. In another work, Blanchard contrasts "Sunday Morning: Repent, Prepare to Meet Thy God" - all emphasized by nail marks - an upside down sign reading "Have Gun Will Shoot," again combining those images with another wooden altar shape.
There are certain commonalities to Blanchard's style. He combines vast spaces of almost impressionist matter (often sky), large blocks of color and areas of intense realism, establishing the influence of artists like Robert Rauschenberg. The composition "It Ain't Fit to Eat" combines five whitewashed churches in the background with the body of an abandoned deer in the foreground, surrounded with a deliberately executed halo like circle of grass. His two largest pictures "Country Line/Urban Limit" and "Southlands" continue the technique, again reflecting on human existence and focus. "Country Line " presents the sometimes reality of Southern lifestyle: mobile homes with recliners and sofas left outside against the almost subtle inclusion of signs of work - a tractor and truck discarded tires, the result of change. In "Southlands," Blanchard focuses on concreteness of the vines growing on the pole at the top of steps, the background a profusion of muted objects and colors.
"Scuttle Life" repeats the "totems" adding the deserted alley with its upturned stool, deer head by the exit and dropped liquor bottle, accentuating the dual focus of behavior, not as a condemnation but as an attitude to ponder.
The current movie block buster "Black Panther" (not to be confused with the movement), starring Chadwick Boseman as Marvel Comics' first black hero, serves as a graphic example of Afrofuturism, a genre begun as early as the 1990s. Loosely defined, the genre uses a well-defined hero in situations reflecting reality, magic and fantasy. It enables people to see the futuristic society as a simile for what might be and projects the hero as a metaphor. He is not like a hero; he is a hero, acting not for power but for his ability to control his destiny and to provide potential for good. The film is an appropriate introduction to artistic influences of Afrofuturism on both Cedric Umoja and Dogon Krigga.
Much like Ailey's "Revelations," Umoja seeks to explain the correlation of "That Old Black Gospel" as it reflects the past, present and future. He does not wish to "hit the viewer over the head with issues but to reinforce the progress of black Americans and the contribution of their religious attitude . . . It is an attempt to use Afrofuturism to show the progress of black life from what was, what it is and what it can be." Influenced early in life by sci-fi, his exhibit reflects "the particular truths expressed and experienced by black diaspora around the world (those separated from natural heritage) and give birth to ritual and present moments in the lives of people who have endured immeasurable moments of trauma." His recurring use of warrior-style face paint adds the aura of past tribal greatness and the need to redefine black opportunity.
"With arms opened wide" Umoja confronts the viewer with the concept of suffering and strength. Arms outstretched there is only a body, no face - a sense of common tribulation and possibility. "Indigo Gene - US (Version 2)" celebrates African futurism. Fists surround the head; they are clenched not against a person or thing but toward the potential of accomplishment. A crown and smile-shaped form accentuate the positive nature. "The Offering (Tears II)" addresses the suffering Umoja sees as a major statement about blacks and history. Multiple tiers of faces lead from the bottom figure, dressed in military or governing like uniform with gold epaulettes, his face partially covered by a helmet. The history of his black brothers seems clarified by each other's face. They appear regal, emphasized by gold, a contrast of worthiness versus treatment. At the top, a female - Mother Africa - looks down and out over the others. All are crying.
The video "Come Forth," created by his partner, addresses the force of the Matriarch, his dedication "To Live, To Thrive and To Exist in Boldness" and his artistic process. Pieces like "She like hair that defies gravity," the two wall murals and three-dimensional assembled "face," and the table of assorted "artifacts - "Al-Quar'an, the Bible, feathers, flowers, photograph, paint can and liquor bottle (representing black and white) - reinforce the theme of black lifestyle and the powerful possibility of success in the future. Umoja's face mask, "Melanin Villian/ Lost Innocence" serves as a caution.
Krigga also uses Afrofuturism in his collage series "Afroglyph," the word "glyph" reinforcing the hierarchy of character and symbol. His collages combine myriad images, not like a melting pot but as individual patterns woven into a unified quilt. Self taught, his work attempts to "liberate people mentally by reminding them who they are outside of what society tells them they are." Humor is an important component, not the bigoted concept of Archie Bunker or the reversed discrimination of George Jefferson but more like Steve Harvey, "Family Feud" host, and his ability to take even the most inane comment or struggling contestant and use humor to diffuse embarrassment. Krigga combines wildly creative images, stressing the complexity and possibility of the event.
Krigga's work uses multitudes of potential symbols. The assemblages are colorful, intricate and evocative. Many of his pieces use recurring visions of dark star-lit backgrounds, creating a supernatural atmosphere. "Love and Vital Action" combines a star-studded universe and central orb with a volcano-like explosion, lava oozing down a path to the front and face, eyes sockets piercing forward. "I Got Africa In My Family" captures two females in native costumes, their seemingly simple task of fixing hair suggesting its relevance to a more important meaning as evidenced by the bright yellow beam that rises upward.
In "First Medicine" his exquisitely combined forms add drama to the liquid falling from her mouth with an almost embossed layer of depth. The collage "Autometagram" presents the strong warrior figure, both gold bars and pink ooze infiltrating the composition backed with African fabric - mixed opportunities and dilemma. "Blessings Come Down" again establishes the aura of power and contradiction: skull and head, feathers, arm band, dancers.
"She's One with the Universe" combines Krigga's work with a fellow collaborator Arich. It is a complex arrangement of shapes and two figures as they progress through time and space. One figure moves independently, dressed in native print. Above her as she ascends arms reach out holding orbs of what - maybe potential enlightenment. At the top, she looks to the space across from her, a beam of vision projecting across the space. Eventually wearing shorts and an African-inspired print top, the female on the other side is guided by strong black hands until she faces the other woman, her focus intersecting in strength and communication.
"Gracias Abuelita" seems a signature work for his ability to use collage, subtle humor and recognition of Afrofuturism's focus on black potential. The warrior springs from the universe with a headdress of feathers, flowers and horns, themselves a mixture of symbols. Below are earthly forests and mountains. His hands are both human, cleanly clipped, and fantasy like, intertwined with pointed orange and blue fingernails. The object he holds is like a flashlight and a seer's ball, projecting a blue column of movement. In addition, the many eyes change and move as they survey the world, and the gold teeth are both kingly and savage.
The three exhibits are an invitation to reflect and project the power of dreams and possibility. All three exhibits will remain at Sumter County Gallery of Art, 200 Hasell St., through April 20.
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