Howard University Gallery of Art: 'Mixing Metaphors'

(Carrie Mae Weems/jack Shainman Gallery)
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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Howard University and the Bank of America have assembled almost 100 works of African American art in an exhibition with the hefty title of "Mixing Metaphors: The Aesthetic, the Social and the Political in African American Art."

The show is a happy melding of three enterprises. Howard University, with an active art gallery since 1930, has been an important laboratory and showcase for art representing all parts of the African diaspora. The Bank of America has been a vigorous supporter of established and emerging artists, as well as arts education programs. The depth of its corporate collection, numbering in the thousands, has created 40 exhibitions. And to curate this show, the two institutions tapped Deborah Willis, art historian and expert on images of black folk.

These selections at Howard, representing 36 artists, are on view through Dec. 17.

Capturing the spirit of special moments in African American life is prize-winning photographer Carrie Mae Weems. "May Flowers" depicts three girls at a dress-up occasion, perhaps a church celebration in spring, perhaps a Mother's Day picnic. Whatever the day's activity, these three, stretched out on the grass, are not happy with their starched dresses. And though they seem to want to talk and gossip, someone has asked them for one last smile. No one complies.

With a focused eye Weems explores race and gender, whether it's modern or historic. Often her work is a deconstruction of stereotypes. This one has the artistic shadows of a Monet moment or the lyricism of the film "Daughters of the Dust." Weems didn't need any smiles to capture an afternoon not of choices, but of commands.

-- Jacqueline Trescott, cultural reporter

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