Originally describing African American science fiction from Samuel R. Delany’s novels to Funkadelic’s jams, “Afrofuturism” has grown to encompass far more. Nonetheless, Niama Safia Sandy balances the term with another in the subtitle of “Black Magic: AfroPasts/AfroFutures,” which she curated for Honfleur Gallery. An update of a show in Brooklyn last year, this nine-artist version includes three Washingtonians amid a mostly New York cast.
The most explicitly archival work is Adama Delphine Fawundu’s “In the Face of History,” a wall of documents about the oppression of African Americans, women and other marginalized groups. Atop each piece she has overprinted a silhouette of her own head, perusing the past as shown in news clippings about lynchings, a photo of suffragettes and the cover of “Tintin au Congo.”
Pierre Bennu combines tradition and technology in ceremonial masks, modeled on West African ones but also incorporating natural objects and bits of today’s electronic gear. The masks’ purpose is contemporary as well: to protect wearers from such menaces as celebrity culture.
History is nearly buried in Danny Simmons Jr.’s bold mixed-media painting-collages. One is entirely abstract, but the other includes scraps of fabric and the notoriously racist name and logo from a long-defunct chicken eatery.
Fawundu isn’t the only artist to depict the viewpoint of herself or her peers. Jamea Richmond-Edwards’s mixed-media drawing of a female nude is titled “Consequently Vulnerable,” but the figure’s gaze appears far from defenseless. In Ivan Forde’s powerfully stark silk-screens, black men have multiple, overlapping faces. The beings may be multi-headed gods, or just guys who understand the value of keeping an eye (or more) out for trouble.
One of the most intriguing pieces is Tariku Shiferaw’s large abstract painting, which plays with the surfaces above and below a sheet of clear acrylic. The picture may not have anything much to do with past or present, but it vividly embodies conflicting strata and shifting perceptions.
Black Magic: AfroPasts/AfroFutures On view through Oct. 7 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. honfleurgallery.com.
Making a sculpture, according to Michelangelo, requires only chipping away the marble that isn’t part of the image. The same principle applies to Joseph Shetler’s art, although he works with something less formidable than marble: graph paper. The drawings in the local artist’s show at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, “Practico-Inert,” conjure shapes and patterns by tracing in blue pencil some of the lines on preprinted grids.
Shetler overdraws the existing framework in slightly different shades of blue, and with somewhat different weights of line. In a series of 8½ -by-11 drawings, the artist brings out circles and semicircles as well as squares and a trapezium. The larger pieces, which include two in which squares of gridded paper have been cut out and pasted together, restrict themselves to right-angled forms. The possibilities are limited by the graph, yet seem very nearly infinite.
Shetler’s statement on his minimalist work invokes existentialism, but also his Mennonite upbringing. Simplicity is both his inspiration and his goal. “Practico-Inert” may appear to be just a collection of orderly blue pencil strokes, but the artist sees it as “a rejection of the things that I believe complicate our lives.”
Joseph Shetler: Practico-Inert On view through Sept. 22 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville. 301-608-9101. pyramidatlanticartcenter.org.
Most of the pictures in Sarna Marcus’s “Blurring the Boundary” feature a profusion of globes, whether plump and meaty or small and gemlike. The local artist calls these “seed atoms,” suggesting they might be chemical as much as biological. Yet the Foundry Gallery show definitely has a reproductive vibe. The few pictures that don’t include ovumlike forms instead depict a child inside a cloak so protective that it has hands to grip the youngster.
Marcus paints in oil and watercolor and draws with chalk, pastel and colored pencil. Whatever the medium, she uses shadows and modeling to create a palpable sense of depth and roundness, as well as fecundity. Marcus often depicts a dramatic moment of transition or inception. In “Seed Atom Splitting,” a membrane breaches into quadrants, exposing pods that appear ready to spill out. These pictures are a showcase for the artist’s skill at simulating three-dimensional objects. But they also are, as the frequent flecking of red-brown drips attests, a form of action painting.
Blurring the Boundary: Drawings & Paintings of Sarna Marcus On view through Oct. 1 at Foundry Gallery, 2118 Eighth St. NW. 202-232-0203. foundrygallery.org.
Chris Corson & Freda Lee-McCann
Offering an inadvertent contrast to Sarna Marcus’s eggy paintings, Chris Corson crafts ceramic nudes, all of them clearly male and all but one headless. There’s even a figure that peels open his skin and muscle, splitting his chest like one of Marcus’s fleshy sacs.
Corson says he focuses on the torso because it “shows the essence of who we are.” Yet the local artist also is intrigued by the surfaces, varied in texture and hue because he employs three firing methods. Most of the skins glimmer with sooty, metallic blacks. One is white, the better to serve as the billboard for a few choice words from Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus.”
The selection includes six large photographs of Corson’s work by Stuart Diekmeyer. Each is different, yet all show the same sculpture, which Corson fired repeatedly to yield different patinas. Without altering the form, the sculptor and his collaborator write a tale of metamorphosis.
Austerely rendered in brushed black ink, classical Chinese literati paintings most often depict serene nature. Freda Lee-McCann’s “See the Difference,” also at Studio, presents one fairly traditional example of the genre — but only as a reference point. The other pictures add color, texture, calligraphy or gestures associated with modern artists, such as Jackson Pollock’s spatters. Granite peaks become abstract forms, their rocky severity eroded by bright hues and collaged bits. If the similarities between the images are always apparent, the differences are illuminating.
Chris Corson: Speak to Me and Freda Lee-McCann: See the Difference On view through Sept. 23 at Studio Gallery, 2108 R St. NW. 202-232-8734. www.studiogallerydc.com.