When Paraguayan artist Claudia Casarino prints designs onto traditional cotton clothing, she employs as pigment not ink but her country’s red dirt. Using soil as an artistic medium is one reason her work fits so well into “Con Los Pies en la Tierra (Rooted in the Earth),” a group show at the home gallery of RoFa Projects curator Gabriela Rosso. Yet more telling is that the dirt’s color symbolizes the blood of Indigenous people killed and exploited during or after the Spanish conquest.
Blood and earth, as well as fire, are among the primal substances that serve as metaphorical and sometimes actual ingredients in the work of the eight contributors, most of them rooted in Latin America. The art, often stark but occasionally playful, addresses what Rosso calls “terricide”: brutalization of the Earth, women and Indigenous people, and cultures.
In “The Truth,” a video of Regina José Galindo’s 2013 performance, the Guatemalan artist reads more than an hour’s worth of testimony from women who survived that country’s genocide of natives. Periodically, a man interrupts Galindo to administer a local anesthetic to her mouth. Yet she persists in reading the accounts, while the numbness affects her ability to speak — and suggests the helpless horror of victims and observers alike.
Among the other work concerned with Indigenous residents are two series from Peru. Ana De Orbegoso revamps paintings of the Virgin Mary from the Spanish Colonial era by interjecting images of contemporary Peruvian women. Natalia Revilla makes drawings inspired by words in Matsiguenga, one of Peru’s 48 native languages, that can’t be translated directly into Spanish. She also draws women from photographs, some from periods of political conflict, and represents the figures’ vulnerability by burning jagged voids into the paper.
The fate of the Earth gets very different treatments from Avelino Sala, Muriel Hasbun and Santiago Veléz. Barcelona’s Sala replicates oil-company logos in moss, mostly green but sometimes dyed unnatural colors. El-Salvador-born Hasbun, the show’s only D.C.-based artist, uses solarization to render ghostly photos of ancestral trees, accentuating their fragility.
Gazing south from his native Colombia, Veléz ponders Antarctica, a continent often omitted from maps. He represents it as an outline of its land mass, drawn freehand from memory atop a photograph of ice-blue land and sea, or shaped into a stovetop-like fixture that warms to more than 800 degrees and glows crimson when the lights are low. (The piece required the installation of a special electrical line.) What activates the device is human presence — the same thing heating Antarctica and the rest of the world. The idea is whimsical, but the reality is searing.
Behind Rosso’s home is a child-scaled but ample playhouse the curator has turned into a gallery. It holds, appropriately, kid-size glass sculptures that evoke fairy-tale innocence and real-world defilement. Made by Argentina-born Italian artist Silvia Levenson, the pastel-hued objects in “Tea Room: The Better to See You” include Cinderella slippers pierced with nails and a pink teapot and cups made prickly with green thorns.
These works are similar to ones RoFa has shown before, except that they’re about abuse of children rather than women. Some were inspired by the abduction of babies by Argentina’s military junta during the 1976-1983 “Dirty War,” but their theme is as universal — and as ominous — as any Brothers Grimm fable.
Con Los Pies en la Tierra (Rooted in the Earth) Through Sept. 18 and Tea Room: The Better to See You Through Aug. 30 at RoFa Gallery, 10008 Henswell Lane, Potomac. Open by appointment.
1460 Wallmountables, Pat Goslee, and Pigments and Oil Shop
Sitting or kneeling on the floor at District of Columbia Arts Center might not seem the ideal situation for a math lesson, but that’s what Chris Combs offers with his contribution to “1460 Wallmountables 2021.” This is the latest edition of the open-call show the venue has run annually since 1989, dividing the gallery into rentable 2-foot-by-2-foot squares. The tech artist has furnished his chunk of space, just inches above the floor, with tiny wall units that illustrate binary numbers with sequences of blinking lights: An eight-bit number completes its cycle in about two minutes, while a 16-bit one lasts more than nine hours.
Other highlights include abstract sculptural paintings by Joanne Kent and Wayson R. Jones. Kent sets off dark, richly heathered surfaces with notches, while Jones divides his thickly layered pictures between those in bright single hues and others that strikingly muddle black and white. The textural complexity of these works complements that of Dorothy Hickson’s found-object assemblages, which include such things as a Patti Smith album cover but take much of their character from rusted metal. Whether twinkling or corroding, the most memorable pieces in this year’s “Mountables” have compelling surfaces.
DCAC also maintains a Nano Gallery for small-format works such as the mostly four-or five-inch-square paintings in Pat Goslee’s “Ace.” The style of the pictures, which are abstract yet suggest organic forms, is typical of Goslee (who is married to Washington Post journalist Michael O’Sullivan). But “Ace’s” boxy format produces an unexpected and intriguing sense of depth. The imagery continues on the sides of the paintings, some of which are almost as deep as they are wide. If these pictures depict bodies of a sort, it seems possible to peer deep into their hearts.
A few of Goslee’s larger paintings are on display at Pigments and Oil Shop, a pop-up gallery on 14th Street NW whose group show includes the work of many notable local artists. Proprietors Adrian and Alex Giannattasio, 20-something siblings who’ve lived most of their lives in the neighborhood, frequently swap pieces, so what’s on the walls changes day-to-day. Among the regularly featured items are Gayatri Malhotra’s street photographs, Michael Crossett’s D.C.-cityscape collages, Sarah J. Hull’s minimalist fabric-art constructions, Anna U Davis’s 3-D drawing-paintings and Gary Honig’s tightly composed, loosely painted abstractions. The selection is as lively and varied as the crowds bustling by the storefront.
1460 Wallmountables Through Aug. 22 and Pat Goslee Through Aug. 29 at District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW.
Group show Through Aug. 30 at Pigments and Oil Shop, 1809 14th St. NW.