Story Word Sound Sway @ Stamps Gallery

Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), Ann Arbor Undercommons, 2020, Installation detail. Lead Archivist Jamall Bufford with assistance from Athletic Mic League. Photo: Nick Beardslee

The MFA’s and BFA’s produced each year by the nation’s academic art programs far exceed the ability of the art establishment–fine art galleries, museums, collectors and the like–to absorb them. What happens to all those aspiring and hopeful young creatives upon graduation?  How do contemporary artists pay rent and continue to work in a world that doesn’t reliably support them financially?  The exhibit Story Word Sound Sway, at the Stamps Gallery from now until February 28, provides a provocative answer of sorts.

Their creative paths as artists are as varied as the individuals–all graduates of the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design–now showing their work in the gallery. Contributions range from highly personal performance-based videos to political activism to graphics to object/image making. Many of the artworks in the gallery represent ongoing projects intended to engage multiple audiences at varying levels of sophistication and in diverse settings, all the while answering in real time the question of how contemporary artists continue to exist and even thrive.

The show, co-curated by Jennifer Junkermeier-Khan and Moteniola Ogundipe, allocates an outsize role to performance-related materials. I counted nearly a dozen time-based artworks, which collectively run to more than 90 minutes, throughout the show. This abundance of content made it challenging–okay, impossible–to experience all of them during the limited time of 25 minutes it was recommended that viewers be in the gallery during the pandemic. (To be fair, some–though not all–of the videos can be viewed online )

One of the most viscerally compelling entries in Story Word Sound Sway is Survivors Among Us, by Elshafei Dafalla (MFA ’08), an ongoing sound installation. It’s a disturbingly evocative description of physical and psychological torture that succeeds by moving the audience one step back from the experience. The first-person, anonymized interviews are both matter-of fact and chilling; the subjects baldly recount their experience without histrionics. They are unnamed, the locales also unknown.  What remains is the sense that capricious yet systematic, politically motivated cruelty can occur anywhere, to anyone.   It seems almost obscene to describe the formal qualities of the piece given the horrific nature of the subject.  Appropriately, Survivors Among Us can be experienced only in the gallery and is not available for online listening.

Elizabeth Youngblood (BFA ’73), Cone + Chartreuse, 2020, graphite on paper, 20” x 22” photo: K.A. Letts

In the case of Elizabeth Youngblood (BFA ‘73), the process of art-making takes on the character of ritual, a theme that runs just under the surface in the work of several artists in Story Word Sound Sway. Youngblood employs humble materials–aluminum paint from the hardware store, simple pen and paper, in her incremental journey toward transcendence.  Through her use of chance processes and repetition, the artist weaves a statement that is both private and universal.

Yvette Rock, Community Conversations, Kahtara and Dwan, 2016-2020, mixed media fiber, 18” x 12” x 2.5” Photo: Nick Beardslee.

Yvette (MFA ’99) Rock’s re-patched fiber pieces are visual metaphors for the spiritual process of healing–her carefully constructed fabric bands in Community Conversations illustrate the laborious one-on-one process of piecing back together the torn social fabric of Detroit.  In addition, Rock contributes a video of an accompanying performance set in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit demonstrating her ongoing commitment to the restoration of her community.

Two videos, What the Tide Brought In by Carisa Bledsoe (BFA Interarts ’14) and Sift Shift Swoosh Bods by Levester Williams (BFA ‘13) continue the inward-directed spiritual strands of Story Word Sound Sway in narrative form. Both are hermetic performances that cast the spectator as bemused observer of  enigmatic private mysteries.

Perhaps the most clearly community-facing work in Story Word Sound Sway is Schroeder (BFA ‘76) Cherry’s installation employing rod puppets the artist uses to reach out to a broad audience with public service messages both humorous and colloquial. His puppets have performed in museums, libraries, and cultural centers for adults and children across the U.S. in productions such as The Civil Rights Children’s CrusadeCan You Spell Harlem?, and Underground Railroad, Not A Subway. The main character in this particular installation is Khordell, whose casual instructions to and from his fellow puppets include reminders to wear a mask, to not drink disinfectant and to register to vote–all good advice.

Schroeder Cherry, Dallas Dan, 1992, digital print, 11” x 17” photo: Schroeder Cherry

A room-sized display of ephemera from the Ann Arbor Undercommons, collected by Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), provides extensive documentation of a performance-based collective of Ann Arbor students of color from Huron High School. Dated from 1993 to the present, the materials record the underground hip-hop scene in Ann Arbor, particularly the ongoing activities of the Athletic Mic League. The artists hope that this exhibition will serve as a catalyst to get the process started toward a final documentary product that remains to be defined.

Other event-related installations, like The Collab by Caleb Moss (BFA ’13) speak specifically to the artist’s ongoing involvement in his Detroit community. As community activist and graphic designer, Moss’s entries consist of video documenting community cultural events intended to raise funds for scholarships, and a display of way-finding graphics for The Detroit Department of Transportation. Moss explains,  “My work with The Collab has allowed my friends and me to give back to Detroit Public School students while utilizing our varying skills. “The Connection” (our staple event) is a night of art, music, and fellowship that highlights the many talents of local Detroit artists.” The diversity of his work illustrates the multiple routes by which art–and artists–can find a way into the cultural ecosystem of a city.

Caleb Moss, The Collab, 2020, Installation detail, poster. Photo: K.A. Letts

The curators describe Story Word Sound Sway as “research-driven and collaborative… a document and documentation… an analysis, a celebration, a critique.” Co-Curator Jennifer Junkmeier-Khan goes on, “The artists tell stories, use words, create and transmit sounds; physically sway in their work and sway “us” with their ideas.”   In the process they have also illustrated a more private and often unseen struggle by artists to contribute to their environment while managing to live a creative life in the arts. They are part of a cultural community that, like dark matter, is invisible but essential.

Artists in Story Word Sound Sway: Carisa Bledsoe (BFA Interarts ’14), Schroeder Cherry (BFA ’76), Elshafei Dafalla (MFA ’08), Masimba Hwati (MFA ’19), Caleb Moss (BFA ’13), Senghor Reid (BFA ’99), Valencia Robin (MFA ’08), Yvette Rock (MFA ’99), Wes Taylor (BFA ’04), Levester Williams (BFA ’13), and Elizabeth Youngblood (BFA ’73)

Penny Stamps Gallery is open during limited hours to holders of the MCard. For more information go here.

This review is re-printed with permission from the Ann Arbor District Library’s online culture magazine Pulp. (Editor: Christopher Porter)

The Salad Days @ Detroit Artists Market

The Salad Days, Installation shot 2021, Image courtesy of DAM

Curated by Holliday Taylor Martindale, “The Salad Days” is a Shakespearean idiomatic expression meaning a youthful time. The millennial renaissance of Detroit from 2000 through 2012 heralded self-made artist run spaces. With rent low and space unlimited, artists gravitated to this inclusive paradigm shift to bring engaging shows. Emerging from a prosperous decade and a world reshaped by the internet, it was a new beginning as much as an awakening. Salad Days explores the subculture and practice of artists who were working in Detroit in the aughts (2000s) while featuring current work reflecting an age of genesis and collaboration.

Taurus Burns, The Hunt For Equality, oil on canvas 48” x 72” Image courtesy of the artist

Straight out of a nightmare comes The Hunt For Equality by Taurus Burns. Wickedly spiked branches trap a fantastical half-human creature while its hunters lurk in the shadows behind the twisted bark of complicit trees. The black and white palette fosters a scenario where present danger is felt, but not clearly seen. Under a draped confederate flag, a manacle and chain waits for its captive. A cross burning behind ghostly, pointed white hoods easily identifies the assailants. A harbinger crow warns from a branch high above as a modern-day lynch mob torch strikes down.

Burns interprets, “With this piece I wanted to capture the feeling of being hunted because of the color of your skin, while depicting the challenge of navigating America’s often polarized landscape as someone who is biracial. The panther here is inspired by both the Black Panther Party and the White Panther Party, both of which fought for Black empowerment against systemic racism. This panther wears the stripes of a zebra- a term sometimes used to describe children who have one black and one white parent. Tiki torches recall the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 where supporters of the rising white nationalist movement gathered together in a show of strength, and Heather Heyer was killed when one of them drove his car into a crowd of people protesting the rally.”

Scott Northrup, Wayward Boys and Assholes, paper on clayboard 16” x 20” Image courtesy of the artist

Scott Northrup communicates his always personal message in a quiet, but bold way that asks the viewer to slow down and pay attention to the details. The reductive techniques he’s honed through sculpture, printmaking and film narrows the focus to content. For Wayward Boys and Assholes he’s collaged three pieces of paper including a scrap of a photo printed across the fold of a magazine page. The assembled image is an upside-down oil can spilling its contents and embellished with a green tassel tip from an illustration of a whip. Cloaked in Northrup’s trademark snark is ruthlessly honest dialogue. He openly flirts with the viewer, teasing a response from a shy grin to an audible chuckle. He is the master of calling out well-guarded secrets.

Cal Navin, Liberty I, digital print 30” x 18” Image courtesy of Kim Fay

Cal Navin’s Liberty I spills a toybox onto the page inviting us to remember childhood afternoons immersed in enchanted landscapes and adventures with mystical friends. The series began with 3D images of nostalgic toys as a way to mourn her dearly departed brother; toys they had played with, things that reminded her of him. She translated those images into layered digital drawings to tell her story. Her imagery and palette convey playful delight. Navin creates her imaginative characters with love, kindness and a whimsy most of us set aside long ago. Her reminiscence indulges the relationship the random playthings have with each other and our formative creativity.

Chido Johnson, Ari, multi-media and video projection 8’ x 8’ x 8’  Image courtesy of DAM

Installed in the east end of the gallery is a loosely constructed but recognizable figure comprised from a cacophony of materials. Ari is a collaborative project orchestrated by Chido Johnson. He began by carving a left foot in stone, then invited sixteen artists to join him imagining a body. Halima Cassells contributed a cement cast heart embedded with her sister’s and grandmother’s jewelry representing family combined with plants depicting life itself. Graem Whyte attached a left arm, which he’d had for thirty years patiently waiting for a body. Floating, dripping scraps of translucent material cast using her own fingers, Lisa Tolstyka provides a transitional element through “touch”.

Living in the midst of Covid, each artist came into the installation space independently adding their contribution to Ari’s body. They recorded their experience with the body, which they shared online to be witnessed through a digital window to the public. In the tradition of an exquisite corpse, a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. they did not know what Ari would become. Although working in isolation, they called each other to better understand how they physically connected and functioned together. This in itself reflects the time we live in.

Since the exhibition’s cohesive thread is the artists themselves—when and where they were working during a particular period—the work is as varied as they are. Genres range from photographic collage, found object sculpture, abstract painting and loosely painted street scenes. Themes run the gamut from intense social commentary to pointed sarcasm. What is on display here is not only the freedom and brilliance of a simpler period but artists devoted to their practice with passionate support for each other and their community.

On view January 22-February 20, 2021 at Detroit Artists Market 4719 Woodward Avenue, Detroit

Participating Artists: Michael Nagara, Mukhliseenah Hajj, Scott Hocking, Andrea Eckert, Asia Hamilton, CeCe McGuire, Bryant Tillman, Anthony Divis, Dekilah Nazari, Simone DeSousa, Scott Northrup, Chido Johnson, George Rahme, Jeff Nolan, Martin Anand, Gilda Snowden, Cedric Tai, Sioux Trujillo, Taurus Burns, Erik Howard, Katie Hawley, Chris McGraw, Cal Navin, Undine Brod, Kevin McCoy, Steve Kuypers, Kate Silvio, Vincent Troia, Shoshanna Utchenik.

Ari artists: Chido Johnson, Dyani Douze, Fatima Sow, Graem Whyte, Halima Cassell, Heather Anger, Jessica Harvey, Kasper O’Brien, Kristina Sheufelt, Kyle Lockwood, Lisa Tolstyka, Manal Shoukair, Sabrina Nelson, Sean Maxwell, Sophie Eisner.
See exhibition: The Salad Days

WSU 2020 Art Faculty – Virtual Exhibition

The James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History, Wayne State University, presents the 2020 WSU Faculty Exhibition, a virtual exhibition that opened November 19, 2020.

The Art Department Faculty Exhibition at Wayne State University began as an installation in the Community Arts Gallery but quickly became virtual in mid-November 2020 to conform with university Covid-19 requirements. Faculty members from the department who advance the study and practice of art history, design and fine art come together to reflect the university’s full spectrum of area disciplines.  Click on this link, and you’ll find these images above are links to each faculty member’s work here: https://www.waynestategalleries.org/2020-faculty-exhibition-2

Adrian Hatfield, If this isn’t nice, what is?, 2019 oil and acrylic on canvas 48” x 36”

The painting and sculpture of Adrian Hatfield remind this writer of the term magical realism, more often referred to in literature, but that may apply here.  The term magical realism was introduced by Franz Roh, a German art critic in 1925. When Roh coined the term, he meant it to create an art category that strayed from the strict guidelines of realism, which Hatfield’s collage-like work conveys. Hatfield’s work recombines art historical imagery from the industrial revolution and the Romantic era with imagery from current and environmental concerns. In the work, he creates a black & white drawn universe, juxtaposed to these full colored floating dimensional shapes and landscape, part of a dualism that plays with the viewer’s process.

In his statement, he says, “As I explore this dualistic theme through the remodeling of art-historical and scientific imagery, the resultant pieces are mournful, unnerving, and yet oddly hopeful.”  Adrian Clark Hatfield earned his B.F.A. from Ohio State University and his M.F.A. from Ohio University.   https://www.adrianhatfield.com/

Margi Weir, Caution Guardrail, 2020 India ink, Sumi ink, watercolor

Patterns are a large dominating part of Margi Weir’s oeuvre, as illustrated here in this work, Caution Guard Rail, 2020. She uses this technique she describes as Snap Line when she dips cotton twine into thinned acrylic paint or ink and snaps a taut line onto a supporting surface. The spray from the line often begins the process for the composition. Weir’s body of work is expansive and includes paintings, drawings, prints, and installations. The paintings and prints are dominated by a highly developed geometric and colorful pattern. There is a theme reflected somewhere in the pattern, often in the border, where she stitches together multiple symbols to make them visually appealing.

She says in her statement, “In one body of my work, I use a computer (a non-traditional painter’s tool) to repeat images that I stitch together visually in order to make an appealing pattern, often resulting in tapestry-like, spatially flattened compositions.  This references pre-Renaissance and/or non-western methods of pictorial organization, for storytelling purposes, that were used in textiles, ceramics, and architectural decoration.  This particular use of juxtaposed images, stacked and repeated, is a unique addition to the visual language of painting in the 21st century.”

Ms. Weir earned her MFA in painting from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA); her MA in painting from New Mexico State University. She also holds a BFA in painting from San Francisco Art Institute and BA in art history from Wheaton College.   https://margiweir.weebly.com/

Millee Tibbs, Transfrontalier, 2018 Gelatin Silver Print + Custom Frame

To describe Millee Tibbs’s work as landscape photography would not be complete, although she is using a camera and capturing images of mountainous terrain. Instead, that would be the starting point for various manipulations; whether it be the entire shape of the image or the overlay of a second geometric shape on the terrain, there is an astute variety in how these images are presented.  The artwork derives from Tibbs’s interest in photography’s ubiquity and the tension inherent in manipulating reality. Sometimes it is in the overlay of a geometric shape on the mountainside; other times it includes the shape of the image, mat, and frame. It’s as if the mountain terrain becomes the backdrop for an artist interested in what I might call a shaped canvas work: Frank Stella, 1965; Ellsworth Kelly, 1970, or Elizabeth Murray, 2006.

She says in her statement, “My work has evolved into an investigation of idealized landscape imagery – the kind that is easily consumable and often commodified. I am fascinated with the landscape genre and its language, the aesthetic imposed onto the land through photographic framing, and the historical rhetoric inherent in these images that justified Manifest Destiny and conquest through what is left out—namely inhabitants.”

Millee Tibbs earned her B.A. from Vassar College and her M.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)    https://www.milleetibbs.com/

Sheryl Oring, “I Wish to Say” Video, 5:13 minutes

The video work of Sherl Oring investigates social issues through projects that incorporate on-camera interviews that examine public opinion. In “I Wish to Say”, Oring sets up a portable office where woman in secretarial costume interview individuals at large about the state-0f-affairs in the U.S. and documents their comments using a typewriter, intending to main a postcard to the White House.  To date, nearly 4000 postcards were mailed.

Having worked in educational television, it is important to say the standards and caliber of production in these short videos are of the highest quality: the recording of imagery and audio and the direction and editing of these videos are highly produced.  The “I Wish to Say” project has a companion book from the University of  Chicago Press, Activating Democracy, a result of helping people from across the United States voice their political concerns.

From the Public Art Review, “Sheryl Oring’s multiyear, ongoing I Wish to Say project—in which she sets up a desk with a typewriter and invites people to dictate a letter to the President or a presidential candidate, which she types and sends—is a catalyst for a deeper look at artists’ intersection with public policy.”

Sheryl A. Oring earned her B.S. in Journalism at the University of Colorado and her M.F.A. from the University of California.  http://www.sheryloring.org/

Works by the following full and part-time faculty are featured in the exhibition: Maria Bologna, Kiley Brandt, Betty Brownlee, Allana Clarke, Pamela DeLaura, Jessika Edgar, Laura Foxman, David Stephan Graves, Richard Haley, Adrian Hatfield, Margaret Hull, Lauren Kalman, Deborah Kingery, Ruth Koelewyn, Brian Kritzman, Claas Kuhnen, Evan Larson-Voltz, Heather Macali, Katie MacDonald, Heather Mawson, Judith A. Moldenhauer, Carole Morisseau, Sheryl Oring, Kathyrose Pizzo, Tom Pyrzewski, Kyle Sharkey, Rebekah Sweda, Andrea Thurston-Shaine, Millee Tibbs, Maureen Vachon, Margi Weir, and Golsa Yaghoobi.

Wayne State University,  2020 Faculty Exhibition, a virtual exhibition opened November 19, 2020, and runs through January 8, 2021.

 

 

Moving Forward @ OUAG

Oakland University Art Gallery opens the fall season with a faculty exhibition

Installation image, Moving Forward, OUAG, 10.2020

Every fall since I can remember, the Oakland University Art Gallery, under the direction of Dick Goody, Professor of Art, Chair of the Department of Art & Art History and director of the Oakland University Art Gallery, has started off the fall season with a large curated show (supported with a four-color catalog) that would have required months in the planning and often brought in artwork from various parts of the United States and beyond.  Given the current situation under Covid 19 restrictions, Goody has opted to curate a faculty show, including his own work, supported with information on the web site to provide a venue for his faculty members. I suspect he is waiting until later in 2021 to present the public with something more in keeping with his previous tradition. Nevertheless, the gallery is open to the public, with Covid 19 restrictions in place,  noon – 5 pm, Tuesday through Sunday, closing November 22, 2020. It’s worth a visit.

Cody VanderKay, Flattening, 32 X 43 X 3 20, PAINTED OAK, 2020

 

The work of art that jumped out at me was Backstage, by the artist Cody Vanderkaay, an eclipsed shape object with a highly constructed surface of vertical squared planes painted in progressive shades of green. It’s a new experience.  Not a figure, landscape, still life or photo image reference, but a newly experienced object.  In the surge of artist returning to painting the figure, Vanderkaay stays on course with his abstract imagery presenting a consistent path for his work to expand and enlighten.

He says in his statement, “The artworks explore and consider how individuals, objects and spaces interrelate, and how relationships between these entities develops over time. The sculptures displayed in this exhibit signify various states of change: A circular plane of wood appears pleated and compressed to produce a variegated effect; a vertical square column bends in diverging directions under invisible force; a small-scale architectural relief implies stories behind the scenes.”  Cody VanderKaay was born and raised in North Metro Detroit and graduated from Northern Michigan University with a B.F.A. in Sculpture and from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia with an M.F.A. in Sculpture.

Sally Schluter Tardella, Bulb, Oil on Canvas, 72 x 48”, 2020

The work of Sally Schluter Tardella, Bulb, also attracted this writer, a sort of melancholy oil painting that revolves around a painter’s favorite subject, light.  This single bulb illuminates its surrounding  vertical space filled with tones of red, brown and grey and a repeating motif of ellipses, lines and small shapes creating a somewhat mysterious abstract space.  It is the idea that draws the viewer to the work of art highlighted by something we all recognize: a small domestic light bulb.

Tardella says in her statement, “A wall surrounds, encloses, immures. A barrier, it is a continuous surface that divides rooms, separates and retains elements. I see transparent and opaque layers of material from above and below, as I imagine cross sections of wood beam structures folding into new systems of wall. In Bulb the atmosphere is lit by the single light bulb, the space defined is both deep and blocked by surface texture, whereas in Light, the light source is transparent and the space is shallow. In Fan the screen is made of tactile architectural symbols.”  Sally Schluter Tardella uses architectural tropes as metaphor to explore personal ideas of body, gender, culture, and politics. Tardella moved from New Jersey to study Painting at Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Susan Evans, Some Art From My House, Mixed Media, 2020

This eclectic collection of photo imagery, Some Art From My House, is exactly that, a mixture of small photographic images that vary in color size, format and subject, which is meant to demystify the taking of images and their content.  There are images I like and others not so much, but it is a window into her perception of what photography is, at least for her.

Evans says in her statement, “ What we look at everyday becomes familiar and generally, familiar things become preferences which define ideas, beliefs and experiences. Although I have not made any of these works as a group these pieces become an intimate self-portrait. The true meaning of the piece is not about each image individually, instead it is about the sum, juxtaposition and connection between the different elements. Who then is the true author of the artwork?”  Susan E. Evans received her B.F.A. in photography/holography from Goddard College, and an M.F.A. in photography from Cornell University.

The Moving Forward exhibition features the work of the full-time faculty of the Department of Art & Art History at Oakland University that includes the work of Aisha Bakde, Claude Baillargeon, Bruce Charlesworth, Susan E. Evans, Setareh Ghoreishi, Dick Goody, David Lambert, Lindsey Larsen, Colleen Ludwig, Kimmie Parker, Sally Schluter Tardella, Maria Smith Bohannon and Cody VanderKaay.

OUAG Hosts Faculty Exhibition Moving Forward closing November 22, 2020

 

 

Sabrina Nelson @ Galerie Camille

Sabrina Nelson, They Go in Threes, installation detail, mixed media and drawings.

Sabrina Nelson, Detroit artist, educator and activist, has chosen the totemic blackbird as the animating metaphor for her exhibit Blackbird & Paloma Negra: The Mothers, on view now at Galerie Camille in Detroit, until October 3. Through drawing and installation with both constructed and found objects, she explores the psychic territory between private grief and public mourning felt by mothers of Black children lost to racial violence.

Nelson was born during the Detroit Rebellion of the 60’s, descended from a long line of strong Detroit women who she credits with galvanizing her spirit early on.  In a recent article for detroitlover.net, she describes her female forbears as “three generations of remarkable, independent women who each had her own way of being… My mother was probably the most rebellious in the house. She was young, had an afro and this attitude like, ‘I ain’t doing none of that stuff y’all did — this is the new deal.’ She was down with the Black Panthers and was fighting for what she felt was right at the time. There was some serious rebellion going on when I was in her belly, so I’m sure there’s a part of that energy in me.”

True to the spirit of the matriarchs in her family, Nelson has found her own way of being and means of expression as an artist. She recognizes the emotional dissonance between the lonely, visceral sorrow a mother feels at the loss of her child and the public rhetoric that surrounds the Black Lives Matter movement.  She honors this more personal sorrow with a series of artworks that are poignant, elegiac and at times seem poised to disintegrate into their broken and damaged constituent parts. In her statement she writes, ”We live in a hash-tag era, where Black and Brown bodies are brutally murdered and swiftly turned into hash-tag symbols on social media; where often the focus of how they were killed is sensationalized and who they were as valued beings in their communities is ignored.”

Sabrina Nelson, The First Home/ Grace 3, hanging sculpture, mixed media, size variable.

Three fragile tissue and tulle dresses hang from the ceiling in the main gallery of Galerie Camille, threatening to dissolve at the exhalation of a sigh. The dresses provide a surround for sooty and slightly deformed birdcages, their womblike forms evocatively referencing both the absence of the child and the remaining husk of the inconsolable mother. These three artworks represent the emotional core of the show and seemed, to me, to be the most direct and moving expression of her theme.

The charcoal and acrylic drawing of a monumental blackbird entitled Raven: Attempted Conspiracy, occupies a central position in the main gallery, gazing quizzically at gallery visitors as they enter. Its intent is mysterious, its cunning obvious. Her choice of the blackbird as a visual metaphor throughout Blackbird and Paloma Negra: The Mothers is both potent and equivocal and allows for multi-layered interpretations.  The corvid’s complex associations across a variety of world cultures resonate throughout the collective consciousness, freeing Nelson to play at the shadowy margins. She skates metaphorically along the borders of confinement and flight, freedom, death and the afterlife, embracing the poetic ambiguity of the blackbird. She says of the species, “Our body and our nesting always tell the truth. A group of black crows is called “a murder of crows” and a grouping of ravens is called “a conspiracy of ravens” or “an unkindness of ravens”. These poetic names were given to these corvid creatures during the 15th century.”

Sabrina Nelson, Raven: Attempted Conspiracy, charcoal and acrylic on paper, 50” x 93”

In Galerie Camille’s back gallery, Nelson strikes a reverential note with her complex, multi-faceted installation Altar, a ritual display that features devotional objects: feathers, candles and nests, along with drawings. The immediate mainstream association to a visitor might be with the commemorative ofrendas that appear yearly in Hispanic households for the Dia de los Muertos. This is a perfectly satisfactory association as far as it goes, but it’s likely that Nelson is also referencing devotional shrines of the African Yoruba religion, which forms the basis for a number of diasporic belief systems such as santeria and vodou.

Nelson is an accomplished draftsman, and her skills are on display throughout the exhibit, but are especially striking in her wall of small drawings in the gallery’s Cube Room.  Her handling of the water media in They Go in Threes is technically impressive and emotionally resonant. She employs the liquid properties of the paint to suggest shadows and fugitive movement. The drawings hint at both the presence and absence of bird souls, the accretion of images delivering a powerful charge of nostalgia and a suggestion of violence in the dripping inks.

Sabrina Nelson, Altar, installation, mixed media

Nelson specifically references Black singer Nina Simone’s lament Blackbird (released 1966) as an influence in developing the work for this show:

Why you want to fly Blackbird you ain’t ever gonna fly
No place big enough for holding all the tears you’re gonna cry
’cause your mama’s name was lonely and your daddy’s name was pain…

The continued relevance of Simone’s lyrics serves as an indictment of our slow progress toward racial equity. Paul McCartney’s Blackbird, from the same period, is also about the struggle for Black civil rights, but strikes a more hopeful note:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free…

In Blackbird and Paloma Negra: The Mothers, Sabrina Nelson channels the mood of this moment in history in the U.S. and in Detroit. There is grief and pain, yes, but also hope.

An Artist Talk will be held on Sept 18, 3:00 p.m. Live on our Facebook and Sabrina’s Instagram live feed @sabrinanelson67. Galerie Camille hours are Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., by appointment during the pandemic. Please make an appointment by email info@galeriecamille.com