Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

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Japanese Friendship Dolls @ Detroit Institute of Arts

Miss Hiroshima and Miss Osaka Installation, 2023.  All images courtesy of Ashley Cook

On December 2, 2023, the Detroit Institute of Arts celebrated the opening of a new exhibition that features five unique dolls, handmade by Japanese craftsmen as part of an initiative to build friendly relationships between the children of the United States and Japan. As a response to the Anti-Japanese mentality that was spreading throughout the United States in the late 1920s, American educator, author and missionary Sidney Lewis Gulick formed the Committee of World Friendship Among Children. He collaborated with adults from the United States and Japan, including prominent Japanese businessman Shibusawa Eiichi, to organize an exchange of dolls to teach the children of each culture about each other.  The story of the Japanese Friendship Dolls serves as an example of a unified effort to heal the wounds that result from conflicts of cultural difference. It is a lesson on peacekeeping and a reminder of the role that youth hold in the ongoing conversation on diversity and acceptance around the world.

Miss Osaka’s Accessories, 1927.

On the first floor of the DIA in the hallway between the Egyptian and Romanesque exhibits are three large windows dedicated to the history of puppetry. Here, guests of the museum are invited to visit Miss Osaka, Miss Hiroshima and Miss Akita, all made in 1927. These traditional Ichimatsu dolls have a white skin-tone and large black eyes. Their fair complexion is achieved through the use of gofun, an art material made of powdered clamshells that was invented in the Heian Period of 12th century Japan. For Japanese-American children living in the United States in the early 20th century, the dolls available did not resemble their physical attributes or cultural heritage. With the Ichimatsu doll being one of the most popular dolls in Japan, they became the template for the 58 Friendship Dolls that were sent as gifts from the children of Japan to the children of the US at that time. Their names, wardrobe, and accessories taught white Americans about the culture of their Japanese neighbors and inspired Japanese Americans to embrace their own heritage with pride.

Miss Hiroshima’s Accessories, 1927

Over 12,000 American Friendship Dolls were also produced and sent across the Pacific to children in Japan as part of this cooperation. While the American dolls were smaller in size and manufactured in an industrialized way, the Japanese Friendship Dolls had unique details and qualities that spoke to the location where they were made. As opposed to functioning as toys for the children to play with, they were sent over as cultural diplomats to share information, promote curiosity and encourage appreciation for Japan. Miss Osaka brings with her a harp, a guitar and a music stand, Miss Hiroshima brings a blue and white tea set and Miss Akita brings a sewing kit. As travelers, each of them also has a clothing chest, a passport and a steamship ticket. Their Kimonos are hand-dyed, outlined with silver or gold and tied with a sash. The tabi socks and sandals complete their formal dress which is worn on special occasions in Japan, communicating to whoever they encounter that they are honored by their presence. The museum provided placards amongst these various elements to further inform its viewership about the relevance of each individual detail.

Miss Hiroshima’s Travel Documents, 1927.

As guests visually traverse the exhibit of delicate figures and their belongings, archival photographs and cross-cultural messages, they are also greeted by Akita Sugi-o, created in the 1930s, and Tomoki, who was created in 2018. As a way to communicate to the boys of Japanese heritage living in the United States, Akita Sugi-o was made in the late 1930s by the same artist who made the aforementioned Miss Akita. Like Akita Sugi-o and the other three dolls, Tomoki demonstrates the long-standing legacy of traditional Japanese doll making and its ongoing presence into the 21st century. He was created specifically for the DIA and arrived complete with accessories including carp flags, a sword and a bow and arrow.

Miss Akita Installation, 2023.

The Japanese Friendship Dolls of the early 20th century, including those included here, toured the United States like agents of peace. Through the literature provided as part of this exhibit, guests have the opportunity to learn about the multifaceted approach taken by The Committee of World Friendship Among Children, who, in addition to producing and shipping the dolls and their accessories overseas, also invited a variety of public arenas to join the “Doll Travel Agency” and receive a visit from a doll. Arrivals and departures were welcomed with celebration followed by reflections and demonstrations that kept their message of goodwill and harmony alive. The amazing artists listed as the makers of these dolls include Kokan Fujimura, Takizawa Koryusai II and Hirata Goyo II. Their exquisite work played an essential role in this effort to bring healing to the Japanese communities of the United States. As an exhibition that directly touches not only on the challenges that come with diversity but also presents potential solutions to those challenges, Japanese Friendship Dolls at the Detroit Institute of Arts serves a valuable purpose beyond leisurely engagement.

Akita Sugi-o and Tomoki Installation, 1927.

Japanese Friendship Dolls at the Detroit Institute of Arts opened in the Founders Junior Council Puppet Case on December 2, 2023, and will be on view until June 5, 2024.

Tomoki’s Carp Flags Accessory, 2018.

Elevation: Kaneko & Contemporary Ceramics @ Elaine Jacobs Gallery

Wayne State University Art Exhibition – Elevation: Kaneko & Contemporary Ceramics at Elaine Jacobs Gallery

Installation: Elevation: Kaneko & Contemporary Ceramics, 2023, All images: Ashley Cook

The history of sculptural ceramics dates back to as early as the Paleolithic period with its small ritualistic animal and human figures modeled out of clay. Serving to represent and understand their environment, the people of that era exercised the practice of assigning meaning to an object that would otherwise be considered non-functional. With ceramic having such an instrumental role in the evolution of craft and technology throughout time, the conversation around it as a fine art medium is not necessarily new, but less usual. Elevation at Elaine Jacobs Gallery seeks to draw attention to fine artists working in ceramic, with a particular focus on Japanese artist Jun Kaneko, whose practice has been influential since the 1980s.

Untitled, 1984, Jun Kaneko, ceramic.

The exhibition statement provides accessibility to the curatorial objective of the thirty-three works on display. Following a brief background into the life of Kaneko, readers learn of the mentorships that shaped his early work and fostered his development into an artist with a unique conceptual approach to the use of ceramic. Curators Jessica Edgar, the Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator of Ceramics at Wayne State University, worked in collaboration with Kat Goffnett, the Assistant Curator of Collections at Cranbrook Art Museum, to assemble 11 artists, including Jun Kaneko, whose work carries on this lineage of exploration into contemporary times. In addition to the consistency of their applied medium, each of the selected artists have been observed to use metaphor to connect with their cultural heritage and examine the effects of diaspora on their relationship to material tradition. A purposefully wide array of backgrounds are successfully represented here to underline the expansive presence of clay as a strictly sculptural medium.

Vejigante: Viiejo, 2023, Joey Quiñones, ceramic, terracotta, wood, terra sigillata, gilding.

A majority of the artists selected to participate in this exhibition are part of their own cultural diaspora, traveling from places like Mexico City or Southern India to live and work as artists in the US. The organic and imperfect hand-built forms reference sculptures of ancient civilizations while the more precise patterning reminds us of modern ceramic techniques. Visitors have the opportunity to enjoy eclecticism of glaze use, subject and presentation as they navigate from rock-shaped floor and wall works by Jun Kaneko to Joey Quiñones’ Afro-Latinex inspired mask pieces. Patrice Renee Washington’s stoneware is accompanied by Renta Cassiano Alvarez’ mantel of ceramic, obsidian, gold, tile and wood, a digital print by Khalil Robert Irving, a ceramic-human hair hybrid sculpture by Adebunmi Gbadebo and a mixed media sculpture by Magdolene Dykstra. Up the stairs, the visitors approach a projected film by Ashwini Bhat presented in tandem with three of Bhat’s sculptures alongside three of Michiko Murakami’s experimental collage-like ceramic amalgamations, a wall work by Shaarbani Das Gupta and two iterations of a vase-like ceramic form by Ebitenyefa Baralaye. Jun Kaneko’s work is scattered evenly throughout both the first and second floor of the gallery, almost as a mirroring technique that allows for analysis of his influence in those who he has inspired.

Alive 1, Alive 2, Alive 3, 2023, Ashwini Bhat, glazed ceramic sculpture.

Elevation: Kaneko & Contemporary Ceramics at Elaine Jacobs Gallery opened on September 15, 2023 and is on view until December 9, 2023.

Spumoni, 2023, ceramic and Cloud Grid, 2023, graphite, sumi ink, Michiko Murakami.

Elaine Jacobs Gallery is located at 480 W Hancock St, Detroit, MI 48201.  Gallery Hours are Tuesday and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 12 p.m.-7 p.m

www.waynestategalleries.org/elaine-l-jacob-gallery

“One to Remember”, Davariz Broaden @ Louis Buhl & Co.

Davariz Broaden, One to Remember, 2023. Installation image.  Photo: PD Rearick. Courtesy of Artist and Louis Buhl & Co.

The rich tradition of figurative painting can be traced back to prehistoric times as a way to portray and represent the artist’s surrounding culture. Infinite stylistic choices have animated the flatness of stone, paper, fabric or canvas to render scenes of adjacent worlds, encouraging viewers to enter, observe and learn from the subjects presented. It has become clear throughout the history of art that the brush holds power in its ability to tell a story, depict current times, or propose a future world, and it is the painters who are conscious of this power that approach their practice with careful attention to detail. The five paintings on display at Louis Buhl & Co. mark a significant point in the career of the artist Davariz Broaden. As a self-taught Detroit-based painter, his professional trajectory has grown quickly since he started exploring the medium in 2021. In just a few years, Broaden’s work has been exhibited locally and nationally as he has become increasingly recognized for his contemporary depictions of Black culture as well as the nostalgia of the Black experience. “One to Remember” is Broaden’s second solo exhibition with Louis Buhl & Co., functioning not only as his official debut into the world of artist representation but also into the world of large scale painting.

Davariz Broaden, Young All Stars, 2023 Acrylic, oil, and sugar on canvas. 70 x 70 in Photo: Tim Johnson. Courtesy of Artist and Louis Buhl & Co.

The collection of works in the wide and shallow Buhl gallery space envelops its guests with what seem like memories of a birthday celebration or a family reunion. Their scale alone allows for relatability as the nearly six feet tall canvases illustrate life-size figures, but in addition to this mirroring of proportions, we witness this party and its nuances as a tradition familiar to so many. The sky jumps from canvas to canvas like a panoramic photograph to enhance the impression of actually being there, while the muted color palette, gentle approach to paint application and unique drawing style combine to promote sensations of movement and life.

Davariz Broaden, Youngest of 4, 2023 Acrylic and oil on canvas 60 x 48 in Photo: Tim Johnson. Courtesy of Artist and Louis Buhl & Co

Prior to 2021, Davariz Broaden worked in other avenues of creative production. While studying Fashion Technology at Kent State University, he expressed a desire to emphasize and foster discussion surrounding the relationship between the past, present and future. Many aspects of Broaden’s current work seem to be continuing on that path. An assessment of his paintings from the beginning until now demonstrates an informed approach to composition and subject, recalling prominent African American artists from the modern era until now. Similar to artists like Kerry James Marshall, Amy Sherrald and Michalene Thomas, Broaden’s strong use of color, his contrasts between light and dark tones and his depictions of love and leisure in Black communities move the Black subject into a future where their main story is no longer of oppression but of autonomy and joy.

Davariz Broaden, Birthdays & Block Parties, 2023 Acrylic, oil, and sugar on canvas 60 x 48 in Photo: Tim Johnson. Courtesy of Artist and Louis Buhl & Co.

The titles of the paintings in “One To Remember” aid in keeping the mood of the show as light as a day at a park. The compositions are based on photographs of family and friends which has become an ongoing trend of Broaden and can be found in work by him that has been previously shown by Luis Buhl & Co., The Detroit Artists Market, M Contemporary in Ferndale, and a solo presentation at Future Art Fair with Medium Tings in New York City. Currently at Louis Buhl & Co., the Young All Stars are four boys wearing matching shirts posing quickly mid-motion. Birthdays & Block Parties shows a boy playing jump rope. Brothers pose with the Youngest of Four in a field with a forest of pine trees in the background. A little girl stays with her mom at the Grown Folks Table where the white styrofoam container emphasizes the mildly flattened perspective that is repeated from painting to painting within the artist’s practice. Broaden’s evolving awareness and comfort with painting has encouraged him to introduce oil to his originally all acrylic-based studio and the combination of the two seems to have even further influenced his already careful approach to textures, colors, fabrics and how they would respond to each other.

Davariz Broaden, Grown Folks Table, 2023, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 60 x 48 in. Photo:Tim Johnson. Courtesy of Artist and Louis Buhl & Co.

A child of Gen Z (born in 1999) Davariz Broaden holds a youthful perspective of everyday subject matter in this contemporary world. This point of view is valued by the curatorial team at Louis Buhl & Co.  The Senior Director Alessandra Ferrara collaborated with Director Caroline Hinnant as well as JJ and Anthony Curis to introduce Broaden to professional strategies to forge and build a successful career as an artist, starting with inviting him to produce a unique series of works on paper and featuring him as an artist in their Salon Highlight initiative. Broaden is now represented by the gallery, who works with him as consultants as well as advocates and exhibitors of his work.

Davariz Broaden, Summer, 2023, Acrylic and oil on canvas, 70 x 70 in. Photo:PD Rearick. Courtesy of Artist and Louis Buhl & Co.

“One to Remember” by Davariz Broaden opened on July 8, 2023 at Louis Buhl & Co. and is on view until September 6, 2023.

Learn more about Louis Buhl & Co here: https://www.louisbuhl.com/

James Barnor @ DIA

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective at The Detroit Institute of Arts

Ever Young Studio, Jamestown, Accra. 1953 (printed 2010-20) Gelatin silver print. Autograph, London.  All photos images: Ashley Cook

On May 28, The Detroit Institute of Arts celebrated the opening of Accra/London, a comprehensive retrospective of photographs by African photojournalist James Barnor. This exhibition illustrates his dynamic career as a photographer whose work documented the everyday life of Africans in Ghana and the diaspora as well as major turning points in the socio-political landscapes of Accra and London between 1950-1980. Born in 1929, Barnor was a first-hand witness to life under British rule on the Gold Coast. The influence of this experience on his view of the world undeniably guided his choice of subject and composition, and his perspective as a person of African descent led to particularly careful considerations of lighting, framing, and the use of tone and color. As the largest exhibition of his work to date, with over 170 photographs spanning three decades, visitors can now learn not only about James Barnor as an artist, but about the history and evolution of photojournalism as well as the impact that the medium of photography has had on social and political change on race relations between Africa and Great Britain.

Selina Opong, Policewoman No. 10, Ever Young Studio, Jamestown, Accra. 1954 (printed 2010-20) Gelatin silver print. Autograph, London.

The short film presented at the exhibition’s entrance introduces us to the artist as a 91-year-old man keenly recalling details of his life and career. He recounts his youthful experience learning how to use a camera to photograph his friends, family, politicians, and professional athletes. He reflects on his role in documenting the history of Ghana from colonial to post-colonial life, his involvement with DRUM Magazine, and the expansion of his practice from Accra to London. Barnor’s light-hearted disposition in the film helps us understand how he could easily access people of various backgrounds, a trait that has proven to be critical to his professional success over time. Joy is the most consistent emotion detected in his photographs, despite their being taken in a world troubled with political unrest and racial discrimination.

DRUM Magazine, Nigerian Edition, December 1967.

The story told through this retrospective begins with Barnor’s entrance into the professional world of photography. He started to work with the Daily Graphic newspaper in 1950 and established the Ever Young Graphic Studio in 1953 as an open-air studio on the streets of Accra. Eventually, Ever Young moved to a permanent location, and Barnor used his autonomy as the business owner to explore and develop his approach to taking portraits. He depicted African life on the coast of the Atlantic and its backdrop of colonial oversight. Indigenous fishing boats share a frame with James Fort, Barnor’s friends drive a car with an iconic lighthouse in the background; elsewhere, men and women are photographed in the studio dressed in their professional uniforms. His portraits of men, women, youth and children portray the successes of local people who he recounted in interviews as having been motivated by the excitement for liberation that was on their minds and in their hearts at that time.

Muhammad Ali preparing for his fight against Brian London, 1966 (printed 2010-20) Gelatin silver print. Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière , Paris.

Enlarged wall images, detailed placards, vintage cameras and copies of magazines are on view throughout the space to further support the storytelling efforts of the curators. Accra/London initially debuted at the Serpentine Gallery, London in 2021. Organized by Chief Curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas in collaboration with Awa Konaté, the Assistant Curator of the Culture Art Society, Clémentine de la Féronnière, Sophie Culière of the James Barnor Archives and Isabella Senuita. The exhibition was presented at MASI in Lugano, Switzerland in 2022 before coming to Detroit. The Detroit Institute of Arts recently acquired 22 of Barnor’s photographs (now included in the Detroit-based installation of Accra/London) in an effort to diversify the museum’s world-renowned collection and to enhance its holdings of works by living African artists.  Nii Quarcoopome, the DIA’s Curator of African Art, and Nancy Barr, the James Pearson Duffy Curator of Photography, worked together to bring this exhibition to a Midwest audience as part of the Detroit Institute of Art’s ongoing effort to promote its representation of people of color.

Ring Road, Accra, 1974 (printed 2010-20) Chromogenic print. Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière, Paris.

Despite the collection on view being only a small sampling of Barnor’s entire archive of more than 32,000 images spanning six decades, it acts as a marker of the global growth in representation between 1950-1980 of people of color. In Accra, the photographer witnessed Ghanian boxer Ginger Nyarku publicly defeat his British opponent which challenged contemporary ideas of European superiority. He witnessed nurses, accountants, teachers and lawyers on the Gold Coast working together to weaken Britain’s control from within their government positions. He witnessed the transition of power from Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain to Kwame Nkruma of Ghana. He witnessed a growing presence of African models on the covers of magazines in London and Barnor participated in all of this by presenting opportunities for them to be seen. His sitters were these mothers with their children, these models, these athletes, these politicians. They were carefully photographed with lighting that complimented their skin tone, and angles that framed their traditional hairstyles. They were positioned in ways that displayed the traditional patterns on their clothing. They were all shown to be confident and proud.

A woman holding a baby after the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Sackey, Balham, London, about 1966 (printed 2010-20) Gelatin Silver print. Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière, Paris.

 Although Barnor found racism embedded throughout the United Kingdom and its colonies from the time he arrived in London until he left, the discriminatory laws and customs were not strong enough to prevent a growing appreciation for Black culture. People of both African and European descent crossed strict boundaries and protested discrimination by actively celebrating the intermingling of cultures and the exchange of knowledge it allowed. Because of this, white subjects became increasingly prevalent in Barnor’s work. Joyful dissent was recorded in everyday-life moments of interracial couples and multi-racial friend groups while a growing number of Black figures began to appear in roles they previously were not allowed to have and in places that they were previously not permitted to be.

Installation, James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective at The Detroit Institute of Arts. Image courtesy of DAR

James Barnor: Accra/London – A Retrospective is on view at The Detroit Institute of Arts until Closing October 15, 2023

Jennifer Harge and Devin Drake @ Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Jennifer Harge comes together with Devin Drake to present a clearing, a 13-minute film that was created as part of the five-chapter series called FLY|DROWN. This collection of films is a multiform project involving performance, film and installation. The artists’ consideration for context sets the stage as the chapters of the series are screened within installations that resemble a post-Great Migration home in Detroit. Harge is an artist, a teacher of dance and a 2017 Kresge Arts in Detroit recipient who is recognized for her focus on Black feminist thought, spirit work and folklore. The long-time collaboration between Jennifer Harge and Devin Drake has culminated in this project that plays a part in the larger conversation concerning ongoing erasure of tribal histories and our contemporary relationships with nature and time.  The film a clearing is a fable. Its exhibition text acts as a forenote that engages us like a story-teller introducing their tale. This text provides stepping stones to navigate the abstract waters of the film, linking it to previous works by Harge, and highlighting her ongoing investigations into the capabilities of our imaginations and what it means to construct and occupy dreamscapes. We learn about the film’s main character, elder, and her challenges with shame. We also learn about nyeusi and her role as elder’s disembodied spiritual guide. This story of supernatural communication has the potential to evoke discussions surrounding mental health, spiritual health and the daydream as a necessary component in the process of healing.

All images are stills from a clearing., 2023, photo: Ashley Cook

The darkened room in the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit encompasses four gold cushioned chairs on the right side, placed as if they are gazing up at the film projected on the left wall. This decorative seating possesses an animistic quality, imbued with an adoration for the moving images and the story they are about to tell. The chairs invite you to relax and comfortably enter the dreamscape of elder. Opening with a shuffling of an 8mm film, scenes of the skyline, an old telephone, an ice cream truck and inner-city nature transition to elder’s unnaturally accelerated and mechanical body movements. She arrives as an embodiment of restlessness and anxiety, showing vulnerability through a presentation of fear and pain. She then re-arrives as a dreamer.  In a chair that mirrors those mentioned above, elder lands, sleeping. Viewers of the film take the journey with elder. Our simultaneous experience becomes activated and sustained through a delicate weaving of abstraction and familiarity. Mystical humming sounds overlay birdsong and waves on a beach, and transparencies dance around each other, entering and exiting the frame at varying intervals as we sit in the same chair as she does. Our hearing, sight and touch are activated to not only tell us the story but to mentally and physically transport us into it ourselves.

a clearing., 2023, photo: Ashley Cook

The sudden arrival to this dream-space, where time is limitless and pacing is personal, emphasizes the stark contrast between her waking life and her dream. The chaos that is illustrated through dark lighting and rapid motion shifts to natural lighting and a slowed-down pace. The visualization of a place to comfortably exist is a common practice for artists. It is a way to take into account our current situation and produce alternative solutions in order to impact the future. While her observation of the world from an abandoned boat in the middle of a field hints at surrealist compositional techniques, her white mask and architectural headdress alludes to afro-futurism. Both creative movements actively work to bring things together in unexpected ways to challenge the norms and expand the boundaries of what is possible. Relative to the fast pace world that we live in today, another aspect of the film that feels quite unreal is the ease at which time passes. In her dream, elder is allowed to be unhurried in her gentle exploration. Jennifer Harge’s appreciation for relational ecosystems is visually communicated through elder’s curiosity and admiration for this world around her. With permission to be in reverie, elder plays with a tiny ladybug, embraces a large rock on the beach, wades in the water, and writes in the sand. She pulls pedals and leaves from a tulip and submits it to the tide. Her interaction with these things is serenely empathic, her choices seem symbolic and mystical and the barrier between her and everything else seems thin.

a clearing., 2023, photo: Ashley Cook

The distinct emphasis on pacing is established in the exhibition text accessible at the entrance of the dimmed room, and is reiterated through the natural repetitions found in the film. Wave after wave hits the shore, birds repeat their call, wind faintly shakes the brim of her hat, seasons change. As a continuation of the FLY|DROWN series, we are encouraged to think about pacing as a practice that allows us to take the time we need, listen to our bodies, our minds and the land. A verbal and written narration concludes the short film with an introduction to a fictional tribe called the “air people”. This final commentary establishes their connection to the true legendary people of Igbo Landing1 who, like the people of the Great Migration, made extreme sacrifices on their journey to achieve self-sovereignty. 

a clearing., 2023, photo: Ashley Cook

The FLY|DROWN series was created over the span of six years with the first chapter being premiered at Detroit Artists Market in 2019. Subsequent chapters premiered as part of larger exhibitions and festivals at institutions including the Wexner Center for Arts, Sidewalk Detroit and the University of Iowa.

The film a clearing, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit is supported by the John S and James L. Knight Foundation. The film opened on April 14, 2023, and is on view until September 3, 2023   https://mocadetroit.org/a-clearing/

1 Igbo Landing at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island in Georgia, USA, is a historic site that marks the location of the largest mass suicide of enslaved people. In 1803, captives from Igbo (now Nigeria) rebelled against their captives, taking control of the ship and drowning them before marching into the water themselves, choosing death over slavery.  Samuel Momodu, “Igbo Landing Mass Suicide (1803),” January 9, 2023,

https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/events-african-american-history/igbo-landing-mass-suicide-1803/.

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