A WOMAN with huge yellow fins stands beside an underwater window while bubbling fish and petunias swirl around her. Living in the future, in an underwater world, she reveals a dreamlike, environmental warning.
This surrealistic pastel and paper cut-out, Gail Shaw-Clemon's "Never Take for Granted the Air You Breathe," is one of 33 different visions by African-American women on display at the Smithsonian's Anacostia Museum.
The show, "Gathered Visions," focuses on these women's views of the world. Many express personal or universal themes about the environment, childbirth, family and death. Some are abstract, with ideas on color, shape and texture. And others are historical interpretations of slavery and freedom.
The 15 women sculpted, painted, carved and sketched these visions into thick acrylic splotches, clay figures, wood sculptures and quilted triptychs.
"Field Trilogy," by Viola Burley Leak, is a soft sculpture of quilted fabrics and metallic thread depicting the hardships of slavery and death. Two cloth dolls, decorated with patterned dresses and colored turbans, bend as if picking cotton from the field. Another slave, bending over a lily-like patch of cotton, rises up from between them like a spirit.
"Subject matter is often woven into a complexity of forms, which the viewers are allowed to unweave into their own stories," Leak writes above her sculpture.
Lilian Thomas Burwell, inspired by nature, constructed "From Passages In and Out of the World." Painted pieces of canvas are strung from the ceiling like birds while other pieces are laid like slabs of stone beneath them.
On another wall, Winnie Owens-Hart tells of the birth of her daughter by showing the stages of pregnancy. Three ceramic torsos, with a woman's hands clutching her growing belly, are stacked in a row. The inscription, taken from the Angolan Freedom Fighters' chant says, "A luta continua . . . ," which means "the struggle continues."
Whether painted as a mother and a slave or disguised as a piece of toast or a bird, in other works the image of the black woman is the focal point for many of the artists. She is their vision, gathered from the past to the future, and the inspiration for these creations.
GATHERED VISIONS: Selected Works by African American Women Artists -- Through April 28 at the Anacostia Museum, 1901 Fort Place SE. 202/357-2700. Open 10 to 5 daily.