Many of the most intriguing museum and gallery shows over the next few weeks depart from the usual pathways, whether to redefine portraiture by depicting forgotten Americans or to introduce the arts of such less-visited climes as Uzbekistan and the Swahili coast. Two others set the controls for a different visions of future — one with an ecological message and the other a realm of sheer sensation.
Like Artechouse’s previous shows, this is an immersive sound-and-light experience. But “Naked Eyes” is the gallery’s first production with no video and no interactivity. Instead, designers Noemi Schipfer and Takami Nakamoto use only LEDs, electronic music and machines, including a lineup of 16 projectors that do a sort of synchronized dance. Of the four site-specific pieces, the most hypnotic is a grid of exceptionally thin optical fibers that pulse in complex patterns to whooshing accompaniment. It’s minimalist yet has near-operatic drama. Through June 30 at Artechouse, 1238 Maryland Ave. SW. dc.artechouse.com.
Pixels swirl, hover and diffuse in this show of four generative video works by Morse, who taught himself to write computer code and now teaches at the University of Maryland. Like his earlier pieces, these mesmerizing slow-motion animations illustrate the processes by which they’re made, using software designed for video games. But there’s more nature imagery in Morse’s recent videos, whose decaying forms reflect themes of imminent ecological peril and possible societal collapse. Through June 30 at Fab Lab DC, 1418 North Capitol St. NW. fablabdc.org/workshopseventsprojects.
That the word “ikat” comes from Malay is linguistic evidence that this show is another example of cross-cultural pollination. The resist-dyeing technique may have arisen in Southeastern Asia, but it flourished far to the north. Most of the distinctive coats and tapestries here are from the 19th century, their multicolored style a ready-made metaphor for the country’s quilt of ethnicities. Ikat didn’t become well known in the West until the 1990s, after the Soviet Union fragmented. Today, its abstract patterns are as welcome in high-fashion boutiques as at museums of both decorative and fine arts. Through July 29 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW. 202-357-3200. asia.si.edu.
The symbolic sails at both ends of this show refer to the origin of the word “Swahili,” which derives from the Arabic word for “coast.” The rich array of artistic, historical and domestic artifacts demonstrates the synergy of African, Indian and Middle Eastern cultures. A section of elegantly inscribed Korans spotlights the calligraphic style that can be seen on many nonreligious items. But that’s just one of the influences on these intricately decorated objects, which include masks, chairs and a large Kenyan drum. Through Sept. 3 at the National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave. SW. 202-633-4600. africa.si.edu.
Rather then venerate the political, military and high-society notables that are usually enshrined in official portrait galleries, these two shows seek to depict the people left out of history books. “UnSeen” juxtaposes the photographs of Ken Gonzales-Day, whose subjects include lynchings, and the paintings of Titus Kaphar, who uses masterly classical technique to show — or evocatively hide — such hidden figures as African American slaves, soldiers and mistresses. “Black Out” displays 19th-century cut-paper silhouettes from the museum’s collection alongside work by four contemporary artists. One is Kara Walker, who represents the cruelties of plantation life in panoramic cutouts. Through Jan. 6 and March 10, 2019, respectively, at the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW. 202-633-1000. npg.si.edu.