THE WORKS OF Michael Auld, currently on display at Galeria Inti (1470 Irving St. NW), are rooted in the Rastafarian faith: modernistic triptychs, biblical allusions, mystic lore, visionary revelations. With contributions from Horace Salmon and Ojah, Jamaican transplants to Washington, this is the first show of Rastafarian art in the city.
The largest piece, "Unity in the House of Jah" (also the title of the show) is a triptych framed by the strong, graceful curves of bicycle parts. Like stained-glass windows, they contain panes of etched black plexiglass; they have a narrative quality, a concept of unity and bonding together, the heart of Rastafarian philosophy.
The Rastafarian movement began in Jamaica in the '30s, based on Marcus Garvey's prophecies about a king being crowned in Africa who would become "an important person to people of African descent," Auld explains. "His title would be King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lamb of the Tribe of Judah," and for Rastafarians, this "tied in with the crowning of Haile Selassie in Ethiopia."
Auld describes the basis of the movement as "believing in one's self, a positive self-identity concept [for] people of African descent; in the Jamaican colonial setting, there hadn't been a positive feeling before."
Auld came to Washington in 1962 to study at Howard University; he now teaches sculpture at the Duke Ellington School for the Arts after five years of teaching at Howard, where Salmon was one of his students. Ojah moved to Atlanta from Jamaica in 1976 and came to Washington two years ago; he is in the process of opening his own studio, combining his old profession of photography with his new avocation, painting.
Auld has three triptychs on display: Besides the "House of Jah" (Jah is a shortening of Jehovah), there's a trio of colorful mask prints reflecting the Rastafarian trinity. Trinity is an ongoing and important aspect of faith and art for Rastafarians: Their name itself, a combination of Jah and Ras Tafari (Selassie's original name), means trinity. Three colors dominate -- red, gold and green, the colors of the Ethiopian flag. "Rastafarians consider these to be their colors, holy colors," Auld says.
That color consideration is particularly evident in Ojah's acrylic paintings. Ojah also has some noncompelling watercolors on the wall, but it's his neoprimitive paintings that are friendly and busy, suggestive and spiritual without abandoning their earthy stratagems. They are mostly about people at work or communal play, caught between earth and sky; sometimes, there is a feeling of clutter but it resolves itself as unity, brotherhood, a realization of the practical Rastafarian saying, "If you're for me, peace and love; if you're not, blood and fire." The muted browns, greens and golds cast a warm fire, not a threatening one.
Salmon combines the abstract with the practical: He is displaying some handcrafted leather works as well as a large and impressive African vase and a wall-hanging incorporating face reliefs and Rastafarian sayings. For the vase, Salmon used an ancient Nigerian technique of open-firing sawdust in a drum, a process that took 36 hours.
Still, it's Auld's work that is only the most varied and the most impressive, from the ritually stretched goatskin with Coptic cross and embellishments that hangs at the entrance of the gallery to some fascinating welded sculptures that use more bicycle parts and look like icons. "The bicycle is a symbol of the common man," Auld says, "because in countries outside of America it is the mode of transportation in most common use; people cannot afford anything beyond that. There's also a philosophical rationale, because it very nicely combines machinery and human energy. And human beings have a tendency to put human qualities in the machines that they make, even if it's subliminal; what you have is a human being designing the human form . . . I can see a human form within a sprocket . . ."
Galeria Inti is an exhibition space for emerging neighborhood artists in the Adams Morgan area. For information on gallery hours, call 483-5825 or 462-3216.