As I stood in the midst of 4 rooms filled with works of art, all created by women, The Silent Voice that Roars, that’s what came to mind. I was attending the opening night reception of an exhibition at AVISCA fine art gallery, entitled "A Woman's Work."
Located in suburban Atlanta, the venue--owned and operated by women, whose director is Byrma Braham, a native of Jamaica--is a contemporary fine art gallery specializing in artworks created by black artist in the Americas, Africa and the Caribbean. In this month--Women's History Month--such an eclectic show hosted in a uniquely intimate, elegant space, bears testament to the will of women of color--their ability to survive, create, contemplate and celebrate.
Take for instance South Carolina native, April Harrison. The three pieces that she’s exhibiting are mixed-media paintings in acrylic, watercolor, magazine print, old coins and other conjured material, featuring women and young girls unafraid to express their autonomy, independence and sass. The ladies depicted in Harrison's creations are a perfect parallel to her sophisticated use of substrate--a complex layering of paint on canvas with appliqués in found objects, re-purposed as funky belt buckles, earrings and necklaces.
Harrison's aesthetic is a rather painterly form of realism built upon figural stylizations that echo high-art illustrations, whereupon the shape of each person in her portraits are painted in a perspective, so that the women and girls framed within are deliberately placed well above the expected horizon, thus directing the eye of each viewer to gaze upward at the inspiring, color-filled bodies and faces. Through the hand of the artist, a relationship between gazer and subject matter easily develops, inviting admirers to experience a welcoming presence of humble grandeur, dignity and beauty. Of the women who have inspired Harrison throughout her life, she says "women contribute so much to society, yet they are expected to be silent...still, the powerful imprint of women is everywhere, as mothers, leaders, innovators and pioneers."
Hanging from above or suspended upon a wall, Teri Richardson’s sculptural collages in recycled denim capture the imagination, as does the Modern-esque paintings of Grace Kisa, whose harmonized, color-field abstractions in 2-D seem a lovely, visual throwback to the palette and playfulness of Jean Miro—also taking design cues from the carved massings of Dame Barbara Hepworth.
Yet even in the more abstract works, so much of the narrative seen in this thoughtfully-curated collection of sculpture, mix-media, paintings, drawings and prints, is exactly like the real-life narrative of everyday women who often ask themselves, am I beautiful enough, where do I fit in, do I have a right to be heard, why am I judged by the way I look, not the way I am, and why can’t I be intelligent, pretty AND strong?
One exhibitor who has answers to many of these questions is D. Lammie-Hanson, a multi-disciplined artist born and raised in Harlem, New York. In her artist statement she says “My approach to most of the work that I create is a cross between socio-psychology experiment and storytelling. I focus on the beauty of womanhood without the traditional superficial trappings of appearance. In my paintings, I try to capture the woman’s true light… her personality and her soul.”
This is exactly what she does in a large 42in x 42in painting rendered on recycled tarp. In the painting, bubbling monochromatic color swirls about—baby blue to a more electric hue—coming together to form the face of a delightfully, beautiful woman. With an elegant dancer’s neck, the woman’s head gently arches to the side, expressing all at once, a state of sorrow, love, meditation, understanding and bliss. Looking it over, I see a soul laid bare, residing in a place of knowing.
The piece is called “Upward Thoughts.”
Another woman whose work caught my eye is Jean Chiang, a Chinese-American. Chiang sews lines of colored beads on canvas, which are patterned in an orchestrated fashion, reminiscent of abacus arrangements. Like Hanson, Chiang is also from New York, having grown up in the back of a Chinese Laundry.
I was a bit confused when I first saw Chiang’s work, and I couldn’t get over the attentiveness to the detail in each of the pieces—the stillness and the silence--until I discovered that she has an interest in architecture, anthropology and archaeology. Then it all made sense, the way she constructs “historical” micro-sites, literally weaving and building her paintings as discovered artifacts, grounding each into a place of permanence. The work is here and now, but it also informs of some mysterious past. So evident is this in her diptych entitled “Inner Landscape”, created from acrylic, embroidery and beading on canvas.
What a beautiful contemplation.