Intriguing exhibits at the Anacostia Community Museum and the art-a-palooza known as Lumen8 make it clear that creative expression in Southeast Washington knows no bounds. The opening of the sixth annual East of the River Exhibition on Friday at Honfleur Gallery is no exception to this trend.
Bruce McNeil, a photographer who has been exhibiting in the annual show since 2006 and has lived in Anacostia for 15 years, remembers when Anacostia’s art scene was nothing worth traveling to.
“The art scene was sort of graffiti and individual studios,” he said. “When Honfleur came to town, I felt that they formed a renaissance in the way people were thinking about art and how they viewed art.”
McNeil’s work centers around the growth of the neighborhood through manipulating images of the Anacostia River, which he feels is the “least common denominator” for the community. “It’s like Central Park to New York,” he said of its open, communal environment.
For the show, McNeil is presenting his abstract work “A River Divide,” which depicts the city of Washington on one side of the canvas and Anacostia on the other. “These are the messages that I want the people in the community to feel and see, that we are a part of D.C .but we have to try harder. And it’s happening!”
Beth Ferraro , creative director of Honfleur Gallery and the Gallery at Vivid Solutions, has only been working with the show since 2009 but has been able to see the growth of the show through the span of the artists involved. Of the 17 artists involved in the show, “there’s about half of them we’ve never worked with before,” she said of the juried show. “That’s kind of exciting, to see a shift of some people that we’ve worked with and have a relationship with that are still applying for our shows, and then we’re reaching a broader audience and connecting with more people.”
Each artist involved with the show has to have lived or worked, or otherwise have roots, in Wards 7 or 8. Mediums of all forms are included, from photography to installations and even video. “It definitely is an interesting show to hang, because it’s a little bit of every kind of work,” Ferraro said.
Ferraro thinks the gallery’s open-door policy and ability to support artists in their professional growth has been one of its biggest assets. Pre-show, the gallery offers free critiques of artists’ work and, for a small fee, will photograph images for artists to use in their portfolios or online. “We do try to keep those opportunities available to everybody,” she said.
Photographer Danielle Scruggs, who is exhibiting for the second year in the show, agrees. “Of course, their focus is on people who live in Wards 7 and 8, but they’re really so supportive of artists in D.C. in general,” she said.
Scruggs, who usually sticks with photography, tried her hand at drawing this year. She put together a series of works focused on individuals who have dealt with police violence, inspired by the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin case.
Scruggs chose drawing as a departure because it was “less mechanical” than her photo work.
“I think there’s just something a little bit more immediate about seeing something that’s hand-drawn,” she said. Her drawings are traces of photographs done on vellum paper. Scruggs understands that her work might stir up some unfamiliar emotions, but that’s part of her focus, she said. “I just want people to ask questions. I’m okay with people feeling uncomfortable as long as they question why that might come up.”
Scruggs is hopeful that the show will help to debunk any myths or fears about venturing across the bridge. “[Anacostia] is part of D.C. I know people get kind of freaked out about going ‘east of the river,’ but it’s just a really beautiful neighborhood and there’s a lot of really great things going on there as far as art and culture and community.”
The East of the River opening reception will be held from 7 — 9 p.m. at Honfleur. The show will be on display until Sept. 8. Honfleur Gallery is at 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. For more information, visit honfleurgallery.com/gallery.