Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And clay to clay.
The elegant vessels along one wall of Cross MacKenzie Gallery are notable not just for their form, but also for their purpose. They’re cinerary jars, crafted by British ceramist Julian Stair to hold human remains. Stair is the most widely renowned of the three artists in “Termini,” and his functional yet haunting urns could be said to open the show’s “conversation on death.”
Inspired in part by the loss of a child, Stair makes ceramic containers for ashes and also for bodies. Some of his recent large shows have had full-size horizontal sarcophagi and towering vertical jars, invoking both mortality and ancient burial traditions. The London artist’s basic material is earth, which resonates with the language of the Bible and the Anglican/Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer.
Each of the jars has a spiraling shape that culminates in a coiling lid. Calling attention to his technique, Stair left ribbons of trimmed clay as decorative forms. Otherwise, the jars vary in shape, color and glaze. Two retain the color and texture of red clay, and most have a matte finish. There’s one in black, the Western color of mourning, and two in white. The latter hue is often worn for funeral rites in the far East, so these pieces spotlight Stair’s affinity with Asian pottery.
Stair’s five jars are paired with five pieces by Rob Barnard, an American who studied ceramics in Japan. Although not designed for ashes, these objects are austerely white and simple. They’re about as ethereal as stoneware can be.
“Termini’s” third component is a set of large pencil drawings by Rebecca Cross, the gallery’s proprietor. Like the show’s pottery, the pictures are clean and precise. They are not, however, gentle. As a way of pondering her parents’ demises, Cross has drawn ancient weapons — spiked, curved, jagged and blunt. They remind us that all deaths, however quiet, are essentially violent.
Termini — A Conversation on Death On view through Oct. 4 at Cross MacKenzie Gallery, 1675 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-7970. crossmackenzie.com.
“Body Language” curator Alma Selimovic knows where the artists in the Otis Street Arts Project show are coming from. Because she came from there herself.
Now a U.S. citizen, Selimovic is a political refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina, home to five of the seven LGBTIQ artists whose work she assembled for this survey. (There are also one each from Croatia and Serbia.) Their art is largely about self-image, but in the culturally conservative nations of the former Yugoslavia, a nonconformist self-image is inherently political. Some of this art, Selimovic notes, couldn’t be shown publicly in the places where it was made.
Most of the seven artists work with photography and video, sometimes documenting performances. The one painter, Kristofer Andric, is represented by reproductions of his work, because the cost of shipping the originals was prohibitive. His pictures of transgender people with mutable flesh are echoed by Damir Prljaca’s picture of a trans person and by stills from Alex Spyke’s video of an androgynous figure whose bare back is altered by orange and yellow paint.
Among the most direct statements are those of feminist activist Azra Causevic. In her video, a tightly framed face recites a poem that refers to a physical attack on an LGBTIQ pride event. Another video, by Anita Prsa, shows women at a table, drinking coffee and talking about drinking coffee. It’s a vision of domestic refuge in a world with few havens.
Body Language On view through Oct. 7 at Otis Street Arts Project, 3706 Otis St., Mount Rainier. 202-550-4634. otisstreetartsproject.blogspot.com .
The bodies in photographer Mirtho Linguet’s “Black Dolls” are the color of charcoal, and nearly merge with their midnight-dark surroundings. Most of the models seen in the Vivid Solutions Gallery show wear black lingerie, but their principal costume is paint that makes their skin resemble ebony porcelain. If the veneer suggests fragility, the women’s gazes are forthright. The locations are meant not for dolls, but for workers: an auto shop, an industrial kitchen and — the only well-lighted place — an airport baggage-claim area.
Linguet’s images were inspired by a 1937 poem by Leon Gontran Damas, a leader of the Paris-founded “Negritude” movement and — like the photographer — a native of French Guinea. (Damas, who died in 1978, spent his final years at Howard University.) “Give us back our black dolls,” Damas wrote, seeking to reclaim women of African descent from dehumanizing stereotypes. Linguet’s work, he writes, challenges not just white racism, but also “this problem which causes people to mistreat themselves because of their complexion.”
In addition to “Black Dolls,” the show includes six photos from the artist’s in-progress “Flora” series, in which luxuriant vegetation sometimes frames a nude woman. These pictures, too, are in shades of black and darkest gray, with just glimmers of illumination. The effect is as mysterious as in the other photos, but earthier. Stepping away from the workplace and into nature, Linguet’s subjects seem more rooted.
Black Dolls: Mirtho Linguet On view through Oct. 7 at Vivid Solutions Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE. 202-365-8392. vividsolutionsdc.com.
In Cynthia Back’s style of printmaking, the picture becomes more abundant as its source dwindles. “Naturally,” the Pennsylvania artist’s exhibition at Washington Printmakers Gallery, is a showcase for reduction woodcuts. Multiple layers of ink are applied from the same block of wood, which is recarved after each use to eliminate parts of the image. Large areas of light colors are overprinted with smaller details in darker ones.
This selection emphasizes landscapes, which begin as fields of grassy greens and watery blues and finished with black and dark-brown nuances. Inspired in part by a 2016 artist’s residency in Norway, Back depicts dense northern forests and icy streams. The heavily layered pigment provides a mineral-like quality that befits the rocky land, while the lighter areas conjure sunlight on water or diffused through forest canopy. The prints fill in over multiple impressions, but the open areas are as crucial as the densest spots.
Naturally: Woodcuts by Cynthia Back On view through Sept. 24 at Washington Printmakers Gallery, 1641 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-669-1497. washingtonprintmakers.com. The artist will meet gallery visitors Sept. 24 from noon to 5 p.m.
This post has been updated.