It's been 25 years since the opening of the art gallery at Howard University's College of Fine Arts. This spring's faculty exhibit there is in some ways a reprise of that quarter of a century. Part political, part pastoral, part serene and part horrific, it seamlessly connects the present to the past.
Among the oldest works on view is a woodcut called "The Struggle" from 1938. It was made by retired professor James L. Wells, a much beloved pedagogue who began to teach at Howard in 1929.
Among the newest paintings on display is one called "G-Sharp Major" by associate dean Jeff Donaldson, whose influence at Howard during the 1970s was comparably profound. Though he says he gave up painting for a while, Donaldson of late has returned to his easel. "G-Sharp Major" is a picture blossoming with gratitude: It presents the inspirational saxophonists Donaldson admires (John Coltrane must be one of them) with a visual bouquet.
Those who have explored other Howard faculty exhibits will find this one rich with memories. Lila Oliver Asher (who has taught there since 1948), Skunder Boghossian (since 1972), Starmanda Bullock Featherstone (since 1969), Raymond G. Dobard (since 1975), photographer Jarvis Grant (since 1979), Chi Chong Lee-Lau (since 1974), Ed Love (since 1968), Kwaku Ofori-Ansah (since 1980), ceramicist Winnie Owens-Hart (since 1976), E.H. Sorrells-Adewale (since 1976) and retired professor Lois Mailou Jones, who was active on the faculty from 1930 to 1977 and still is painting at full speed, are among the familiar artists represented. There are some newcomers as well -- Melchus Davis, a lecturer in painting, Bill Harris, a lecturer in drawing, and printmaker Falaka Armide Yimer. All three fit right in.
The exhibit fills three galleries. The pictures in the second room are as calming and refreshing as a picnic in the country. Here are Lee-Lau's pine tree, Dobard's "Mountains and Snow," Asher's misty watercolor landscape of the hills above Loch Ness and Jones' 1985 watercolor of Haitians selling green bananas. Sorrells-Adewale's "Ask Boabab," with its cowrie shells and scarabs, is a small assemblage hymning oracles and prophecies. Two bold treescapes by Davis -- "Grey Moss" and "Green Sapling in Landscape" -- are similarly pacific.
But there are objects in the last room that fill the heart with rage. Love's installation kicks you in the stomach. A dozen bloody corpses are lined up on the floor. Though they are only shop-window dummies wrapped in sheets of plastic, you can hardly bear to look at them. Their cold and shiny shrouds are as ugly as the milky film on some cold, unseeing eye; their postures scream with pain. Nine man-shaped, life-size targets printed by the NRA, each one pierced by bullet holes, watch blindly from the walls. Their thin paper rustles. They stir like nine black ghosts each time you walk by.
The people glimpsed through a plastic-covered window in Grant's colored photographs also look like ghosts. Asher's Crucifixion, a new linoleum cut of Christ's view of his nailed hand, is another image filled with hurt. So are Davis' "Cane Cutters" (1985) and Harris' "South Africa: Cowboys and jndians Once Again." The faculty exhibition moves from peace to pain, and does so with assurance. Most group shows are uneven, and this one's no exception. But it lingers in the memory. It closes April 25.