Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Captured Memory: The National Black Arts Festival 2009

Two exhibitions, Streams of Social Change and Abstraction in the CAU Art Collection, opened at the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries during the recent National Black Arts Festival 2009 (July/August). The exhibitions will be on view through spring 2010.

Noting the collection's significant history, Clark Atlanta University’s (CAU) permanent collection is replete with social commentary works that were acquired through annual art exhibitions held between 1942 and 1970. The Atlanta University Art Annuals, which were launched by Hale Woodruff, visionary artist and teacher, were a direct response to the overt exclusion of African-American artists from the contemporary art scene during that time period. Streams of Social Change clearly demonstrates and reflects the strength of CAU's collection relating to the theme of social commentary.

Streams of Social Change "features work that reference episodes in American history that have adversely affected African Americans—racial conflict, oppression, alienation, protest, politics, war, and displacement." One painting was particularly poignant because of the strength and pensive gaze of its sitter, a Black serviceman. I am referring to Mark Hewitt's Spirit of 366th, 1943. The Spirit of 366th was a Second Purchase Award in the 1943 Annuals.
Viewing this piece was a learning experience simply because I was not familiar with the artist, Mark Hewitt, so this has led me down a path of discovery and exploration, which is always an exciting experience.

Abstraction in the CAU Art Collection features older as well as recently acquired works of Sam Gilliam and Felrath Hines. "In this exhibit, the long standing debate between Modernism and Realism in which artists express their inner most concerns for formal and spatial elements of art are explored. After exploring the human figure early on in their careers, some African American artists were compelled to navigate between the expectations of the African American cultural establishment and their own creative freedom. When African American artists began exploring their African ancestral legacies, they were forced to reconcile the contradiction of European artists embracing non-European cultural expression while simultaneously being excluded from the discourse." A fine example from this exhibit is Felrath Hines (1918-1993), Intermission, 1989, oil on linen. (see image above) Intermission is one of six pieces donated to the Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries by Felrath Hines' widow, Ms. Dorothy Fisher.

The Galleries are located on the second floor of Trevor Arnett Hall on the corners of James P. Brawley and Greensferry Streets in Atlanta, Georgia. They are open from 11:00 am – 4:00pm, Tuesday – Friday and by appointment on Saturday. For more information call 404/ 880-6102, ext.6644.

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