Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Selective Recap of the National Black Arts Festival 2010

The National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) 2010 in Atlanta was particularly special for me this year considering that a small group of long-standing friends decided to meet and use the Festival as the backdrop for that reunion. A few days were devoted to activities centered around the NBAF, and selected highlights follow. Our journey began at the SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) in the Woodruff Arts Center to view Chakaia Booker's solo exhibition, Sustain
Chakaia Booker, Sustain, ACA Gallery of SCAD, installation view.
Photography by Dane Sponberg, SCAD visual media department.

Because I was particularly pleased with the 2009 exhibition at SCAD that featured Whitfield Lovell, my expectations for the 2010 were high. I was not disappointed at all; Sustain was all that one could have expected, and it was an added treat to have had an opportunity to actually meet Chakaia Booker in her colorful red and extremely large headdress which was a sculptural piece itself. The exhibition included a series of photogravures that captured the artist searching for found materials (tires) in the industrial landscape. It was my understanding from senior curator, Melissa Messina that this new series of photogravures were recently created by Booker at SCAD Atlanta, and they are featured in Sustain with the artist's signature abstract sculptures made from tires.  

The ladder sculpture, in the photograph above, was one of my favorites  in the exhibit. It was dramatic yet simple in its presentation, but complex as it's visual image seemed to change when viewed from different angles. In Booker's hands, it is obvious that the tires are as malleable as clay with their intricate, patterned designs, consisting of folds, and cascading layers of rubber arranged in uniform patterns. In my estimation, Booker's work falls into that category of "green art," and I have always been a fan of her work, respecting both the medium and her artistry. It is genius to take such a functional piece as tires and transform them into a sculptural piece of beauty. The following two images are other examples of Booker's work as it appeared in the exhibition, Sustain.

Chakaia Booker, Sustain, ACA Gallery of SCAD, installation view.
Photography by Dane Sponberg, SCAD visual media department.

Chakaia Booker, Sustain, ACA Gallery of SCAD, installation view.
Photography by Dane Sponberg, SCAD visual media department.

As of yet, an exhibition catalogue has not been published, but one is forthcoming. When it is released, I will forward details to all readers. For more details on Booker and the exhibition, see:

Immediately after leaving the Booker exhibition, and lucky for us that we were already in the Woodruff Arts Center, we were able to secure last minute tickets for Brazil Fest Concert: The Best of Brazil (Atlanta Symphony Hall) with musician/composer, Ivan Lins and a host of Brazilian musical talent, and a modern ballet group. This already excellent concert was enhanced for me by the inclusion of two African American special guests, Cassandra Wilson and Rachelle Ferrell. Wilson and Ferrell were each so exquisite in her own right, and since I am a personal fan of both of artists, it was a delight to see them in a live performance. This was my first time seeing Cassandra Wilson on stage. However, I have seen Rachelle Ferrell in concert before, and yet again, her artistry took me to another state of being and consciousness...her voice is simply an instrument. This was an evening that one would have to experience, to truly appreciate... magnificent. 

On Friday, we visited the Sandler Hudson Gallery, featuring Sheila Pree Bright's exhibit, Girls, Grillz and Guns, in which Bright explores the concepts of beauty and power. Arriving about an hour before the artist talk began, the four of us that toured this exhibition were able to have a private talk with the artist. It was this conversation that put the images into some artistic perspective for us. It was particularly informative and enlightening to hear from Bright why and how the series came about. From that dialog, I learned that Sheila Pree Bright, through her photography was investigating a fashionable statement of a few years back among young African American males for gold-capped front teeth. These grills, as they were called, were considered adornment and expressed that the wearer was cool, but the fad aroused fear in older adults, particularly white people because the grills were associated with gansta rap. As Bright explained, she defused fear with the images by adopting a scientific approach of shooting the portraits in black and white, posed each of her subjects in the same way with their eyes closed and mouths open. The exhibit will be on view through August 14, 2010. For more information see:  
(photograph: Sheila Pree Bright, Terrence from the Gold Rush II Series)

Nestled  in a backdrop that featured fine and decorative art galleries and antique shops, the Hagedorn Foundation Gallery provided an excellent setting for its featured exhibition, REPRESENT: Imaging African American Culture in Contemporary Art. This is a group photography exhibition dealing with the "roots of black culture and thus personal identity." The artist talk that featured Donald E. Camp was very well attended and was an especially strong presentation that offered explanations of his processes and techniques of creating his larger-than-life portraits, capturing the beauty and integrity of the average man, and revealing the subject's character. Camp places the camera within inches of the subject's face, moving into the subject's spatial comfort zone to capture the image while talking with the subject. Camp makes only one unique print of each subject. REPRESENT will be on view through September 3, 2010; for more information and images, see: and

Another gallery visit took us to Mason Murer Fine Art. This 24,000 foot gallery space has a central main gallery and a series of medium and smaller galleries or pods within the larger space. The overall space is open, free, and inviting with a positive industrial feel. When we arrived, the gallery was being prepared for a large fundraising function for later that evening, but staff allowed us freedom to walk through the various exhibits on display and were available to answer questions as needed. 

The final small pod that we entered featured a selection of works by African American Masters, and as I entered I was immediately struck by  the number of works, approximately 23 in total and the names of the artists represented: Duncanson, Bannister, Tanner, W.H. Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, and Charles Ethan Porter. We learned from Mark Mason Karelson, the director of the gallery, that the historical works were owned by a New York collector who started collecting in the 1960s; and these pieces were from the owner's warehouse of works. Seeing this number of works together in a small space was breathtaking, and it was obvious that the collector took care in assembling this collection of landscapes and still lifes. The visual representation of African Americans were not visible in the images, strictly landscapes and still lifes. As I viewed them, my hopes were that some institution could buy them in mass, whereby, the images would become available for a larger audience to appreciate, particularly our young art historians, critics, and artists. Since this is such an excellent collection of historical works that I wanted to share with a wider audience,  Mason Murer Fine Art was generous enough to sent me the following images to post.

   Robert Scott Duncanson, Untitled, 1850, Oil on canvas, 16"x25"

      William H. Johnson, Church in Oslo, 1935, Oil on board, 27"x24"

                 Henry O. Tanner, Gates of Tangier, 1908, Gouache on paper, 16"x13.5"

For details and to learn more of this historical collection, contact Mason Murer Fine Art:

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