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In the galleries: Artist’s works criss-cross the paths of U.S. colonialism

An installation view of Amber Robles-Gordon’s “Successions: Traversing U.S. Colonialism.” (Greg Staley/Katzen Arts Center, American University)

Residents of D.C. are used to seeing the place as an almost-state, much like Maryland or Wyoming, yet not quite. Amber Robles-Gordon, a longtime Washingtonian who was born in Puerto Rico, has a different take. Her American University Museum show, “Successions: Traversing U.S. Colonialism,” groups D.C. with her birthplace and four other inhabited territories: Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. She represents these disenfranchised territories on two-sided quilted banners, one face for “political” and the other for “spiritual.”

Robles-Gordon has often shown fabric pieces in which a variety of found materials dangle in free-form compositions. The “Successions” banners are more tightly arranged, although still in improvisational patchwork. The political face of the D.C. quilt depicts the city’s diamond shape, minus the chunk that was retroceded to Virginia, and two sets of stars, echoing both the U.S. and D.C. flags. The flip side features motifs that evoke the Indigenous people who were displaced when the area became the capital of a country whose possessions would stretch from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Similar contrasts between official and ancestral are expressed on the alternate sides of the other quilts.

The show also features “Place of Breath and Birth,” collages on canvas that incorporate photos, including one of Robles-Gordon. These pieces are horizontal, and thus feel more like landscapes, albeit ones that are kaleidoscopic rather than realistic. They’re titled in Spanish and English, reflecting the artist’s Afro-Latina heritage. The artfully arranged scraps are analogous to what her statement calls “the missing slivers of my cultural identity,” and remind the viewer that Robles-Gordon’s exploration of U.S. territories began as a quest to learn more about herself.

Like Robles-Gordon, Anil Revri begins with the decorative arts, only to transcend them. The Indian-born D.C. artist’s “Into the Light,” also at the university’s museum, consists of hard-edge symmetrical abstractions that invoke multiple Eastern spiritual traditions. His lustrous mixed-media pictures are executed mostly in black, white and metallic tones, sometimes with red touches. They’re partly inspired by yantras, Hindu sacred patterns whose earlier known examples are more than 20,000 years old. Revri also takes cues from Western sources.

Most of the works in this show are in the “Geometric Abstraction” series and were made in 2019-2020. Their sturdy frameworks suggest architecture, but they’re executed on handmade paper whose ragged edges and rough textures hint at fabric; it’s as if the pictures are both temples and the prayer rugs within them. A few earlier pieces, notably 2011’s “Ram Darwaza II,” include softer, cloudlike forms. But all the artist’s renderings can be read as symbolic maps of an orderly universe.

Amber Robles-Gordon: Successions: Traversing U.S. Colonialism and Anil Revri: Into the Light Through Dec. 12 at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

The Altars Festival

In many cultures, people maintain home altars where they make offerings to their ancestors. Such practices are the basis for “The Altars Festival,” a collaboration between Stable, where it’s on display, and the Sustainable Culture Lab. It features nine pieces by nine local artists, two of them working as a team.

Most of the pieces don’t take the form of literal altars. One that does is by the husband-and-wife team of Erik Bruner-Yang and Seda Nak, who are known as restaurateurs. In the larger of their two assemblages, food offerings sit amid candles and Cambodian-style Buddha statues in memory of the victims of the Khmer Rouge, who slaughtered as many as 2 million Cambodians. More serene is Neha Misra’s Indian-style immigrant’s altar, centered on a suitcase and bedecked in orange garlands.

Julia Chon and Mojdeh Rezaeipour commemorate partly vanished traditions of Korea and Iran, respectively. Chon’s painting of a family posing for a multigenerational group portrait is flanked by large cutout depictions of two female shamans, dancing in traditional garb. Resaeipour’s mixed-media installation features candles, both actual and in video imagery, to conjure an ancient fire maintained in a temple dedicated to Zoroastrianism, a faith largely (but not entirely) eclipsed by Islam.

Two entries that evoke African American history and culture are not very altar-like, although one has references to religion. Lionel Frazier-White III’s “Wish You Knew the Sound” clusters objects related to Black music-making, including a washboard — used as a percussion instrument in folk music — and pages from a hymnal. Yacine Tilala Fall’s powerful piece mounts two versions of the same photos of a nude woman in performance, communing with the earth, over a mound of real dirt. For this artist, the ground itself is an altar.

The Altars Festival Through Dec. 10 at Stable, 336 Randolph Pl. NE.

Olivia Tripp Morrow

The backbone of Olivia Tripp Morrow’s exhibit at the Arlington Arts Center is an actual one — her own. Made in response to spinal surgery she had in early 2020, “Body, Joy, Cage, Scar” includes drawing, painting, video, ceramics and fabric works, all thematically linked.

While recuperating from the operation, Morrow began embroidering, producing semiabstract stitchings of body parts and shapes that are grouped together on one wall. Later, she made “A Dream Only My Body Remembers,” a realistic painting of her surgery, and “Rib(cage),” a lovely drawing that’s sketchy yet detailed. She also crafted vertebrae-like porcelain pieces that are featured both in the (simulated) flesh and in a performance video. She arrayed one set of structural supports atop a blue hospital pad, and filmed herself in the ultimately futile process of stacking another group of smaller, bonier-looking parts until the pile keels over.

Every curve, knob and seam is autobiographical, but not only that. “Body, Joy, Cage, Scar” explores such universal themes as healing, persistence and acceptance. If all goes well, the deficient or damaged body can be repaired. But its performance will nonetheless someday end in collapse.

Olivia Tripp Morrow: Body, Joy, Cage, Scar Through Dec. 18 at Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of one of the artists in the Altars Festival. Her name is Mojdeh Rezaeipour, not Mojdeh Resaeipour. This article has been corrected.

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