Tales of Many
Soul Expressions at the South Broadway Cultural Center
By Amy Dalness
Evan Harrison has a knack for mixing business and hobby. In elementary school, he made drawings of horses and Pokémon to sell to fellow classmates. In junior high, he used Sharpies to create temporary tattoos during lunch hour. (Now he gets requests for real tattoo designs.) All through school, he made a few bucks by doing what he loves—making art.
Harrison, a senior at Manzano High School, hadn't tried sculpture until about six months ago. He entered the New Mexico State Fair and won first and second place in the "Fine Craft" devision of the African American Art Awards with his multimedia statuettes made with dried gourds, clay and paint. At that show, Fred Wilson, president of the New Mexico African American Artist Guild, approached Harrison about joining his organization. Harrison agreed, becoming the youngest member of the nearly 30-year-old guild, and has since displayed his work in multiple shows, including Soul Expressions, currently on display at the South Broadway Cultural Center.
Wilson helped create the New Mexico African American Artist Guild in the mid-'70s to give African-American artists more opportunity to make art their career, he says. Wilson has been a master potter and artist by profession for more than 40 years, working out of his home studio and gallery, and teaching an occasional class or workshop. In 2007, Wilson received the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, becoming the first African-American to receive the honor. His sculptural pottery is also on display in Soul Expressions, alongside the works of other artists from the guild.
Harrison says he started making figurative sculptures of women from different African tribes because of his own cultural background. He's attracted to the elaborate body painting found in those tribes, he says, and wanted a way to bring attention to the people of East Africa who are being pushed out of their land. His statuettes are stark depictions of those women—painted charcoal-black and adorned with necklaces, feathers and face paint with fine details on the face and hands. They could be anyone ... or no one.
“Expressions” is an apt word to describe the display as a whole. While there is no underlying theme to the diverse artworks, each piece is drenched with the desire to tell a story. The multimedia displays by Shirley Fears-Wynn, whose work also won awards at this year's State Fair, cries out with a fierce sense of memory. Two pieces hanging side-by-side, Only Because She is Black and Black Rat, are similar in style, both featuring a 3-D heart popping out of an American flag with words carefully written on top. In Black Rat, the title of the piece is repeated in glittery letters bleeding from the heart. The narrative above, "I called her a White Rat but for some reason it didn't seem the same!" points to an incident and the hurt it caused, inspiring Fears-Wynn to recreate it here. Her other displays play the same emotional game, but not all give such a direct link into the mind of the artist.
Marianne Gendron, whose painting of Diana Fletcher is featured on this week's cover (see “The Search for Diana Fletcher” in this week’s feature), attaches paragraph-long explanations with her historical depictions. She wants to make sure everyone knows her portraits are based on facts, she says, and not just some fantastic rewrite of the past, especially when they feature Black Indians or other African-Americans not often mentioned in U.S. history textbooks.
The tales Yvon Marc Joseph reveal in his paintings are much more abstract. Joseph has been a member of the New Mexico African American Artist Guild for five years but moved to Albuquerque from his native Haiti only five months ago. Before arriving here, his sister acted as a liaison, getting his works into gallery shows around the Duke City. Joseph's chromatic paintings are abstractly figurative—a glimpse into a world dominated by spirituality, harmony and quotidian life. In a poor use of the open, well-lit gallery space at the South Broadway Cultural Center, Joseph strongest work, Still Life Animated, is nearly hidden behind a beam in the corner. The painting is exquisite in its lines and prominence of contrasting color and, though it's one of Joseph's smaller pieces, holds a wealth of peculiarity that make it new with every gaze. Like a multi-color Rorschach inkblot test, the viewer finds his own message within Still Life Animated’s deliberate disarray.
Soul Expressions is on display at the South Broadway Cultural Center (1025 Broadway SE, 848-1320) through Feb. 22. For more info on the New Mexico African American Artist Guild, visit www.nmaaag.org.
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