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Smithsonian Mag features MAYA FREELON’s “Reciprocity Respite & Repass” at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building during Halcyon’s “By the People” Festival

22 Jun

 

Maya Freelon’s Immersive and Interactive Sculptures Bring Tissue Paper to Life

Her artwork will be a part of this weekend’s By the People Festival at the Arts and Industries building

 

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Maya Freelon’s Reciprocity Respite & Repass at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building (Courtesy of Halcyon)
smithsonian.com
June 21, 2018

For more than a decade, artist Maya Freelon has created striking abstract sculptures and installations from tissue paper and water stains. Her technique — letting water gently drip so the paper’s color bleeds organically — arose from happenstance, when, as an MFA student, she discovered a stack of old tissue paper in her grandmother’s basement.

Freelon’s assemblages reside in collections around the world, from U.S. Embassies in Madagascar, Swaziland, and Rome, to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. This month, she’s installed a monumental, interactive tissue paper sculpture for the first annual By The People International Festival at the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building. Named “Reciprocity Respite & Repass,” her artwork is one of a selection of immersive and interactive art installations at the AIB, the headquarters for the festival. By the People will also feature a series of workshops and talks with experts.

As for Freelon, however, there is perhaps no better introduction to her than the late poet Maya Angelou, who described the tissue paper artwork as “visualizing the truth about the vulnerability and power of the human being.”

When did you discover your medium, working with tissue paper and water?

In 2006, I was in graduate school in Boston at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, now part of Tufts Museum School. At the time, I lived with my grandmother and it was a found artist’s dream treasure trove because she did not throw anything away. Queen Mother Frances J. Pierce said, “We grew up a family of sharecroppers that never got their fair share.” She would always speak in rhymes and her sayings come up often as titles in my work, such as Bloom Where You’re Planted. She was very proud of her African heritage and really embraced it before it was cool. She followed the original Black Panthers. And she had stuff everywhere— books, papers, magazines stacked to the ceiling. She just collected and collected. There were journals and Confederate money I found, just things that had not seen the light of day in 50 or 60 years. Eight track tapes. Hot combs (the original kind that you put in the oven stove). Thousands of keys and pens.

So one day, I went to the basement and discovered this tissue paper that was water damaged. It must have been a leaky pipe or something because it was right under the bathroom. There was a watermark from a constant drip, which had to be years ago, on this rainbow pack of colored tissue paper.

What was so powerful about the visual manifestation of this leak for you?

The watermark is a familiar sign to most people in the entire world. It just means: water was once here. You can see that in a lake that has receded. You can see it in the desert. You can see it in a rainforest, creek bed, even the Grand Canyon. It’s a marker of time or evaporation — a familiar sign to all human beings. I felt the commonality and a kind of interconnectedness of our humanity. This beautiful little accident sparked a world of discovery for me.

And three weeks after I found the stained tissue paper, Hurricane Katrina wiped out the Gulf Coast. So, I’m finding a parallel between water moving color literally and water as destruction. Seeing the images in the media and simultaneously watching water push ink out of tissue paper, I was struck by how a constant drip of water can dilute pure color— and I reflected on the fragility of life. I also questioned the hierarchy of art materials. My grandmother used tissue paper in elementary school art classrooms, and there I was, discovering and using tissue paper for my graduate art class.

Did the fragility of tissue paper require copious trial and error?

When I first used the tissue paper I didn’t know what do with it. I tried to mimic the water mark and couldn’t. I was pouring carefully, using a watercolor brush, trying to get it right. But it didn’t work. It just looked like a mess. So then I got a water balloon, and put a pin in it, and let it slowly drop on the tissue paper, simulating a drip that might come from a leaky faucet. That’s when I realized, oh my gosh: it’s not a steady stream. It’s a drip process that pushes the ink to the outer edges. At that moment, I also thought about middle school. I always knew I was going to be an artist, and I remember looking up at the dropped ceiling and often there’s a brown water stain on the tile. In my boredom as a child, I remember thinking, what’s happening up there?

I think about how brown paper in front of buildings that are getting renovated gets wet and leaves a stain. You see it also in dried up puddles. It’s just so beautiful to me. It reminds me of the macro and the microscopic.

But aren’t there unique conservation challenges with such delicate material?

When I started, I was feeling a little self-conscious about tissue paper. It’s fun to experiment in art school, but the point is you want to know how to make a living as an artist. You want your art to sell, and the ephemeral nature is part of my work.

Creating an installation, a temporary sculpture, or even a performance is one thing. But a collector wants to know, how long is this going to last? Now I actually enjoy that part of my art, that feeling that makes folks a little wary and uncomfortable. Well, it is in a gallery so it must be worth something, right? But if tissue paper is on an elementary school floor of an art room, you just sweep it up and put it in the trash can. So my question as an artist is: What fuels our desire to preserve or protect something?

You know, we buy flowers— beautiful bouquets for hundreds of dollars sometimes. They die. They’re dead actually and we enjoy that. It’s something that we invest in. We spend hundreds of dollars on a delicious night out of food. What we appreciate and why we appreciate something is interesting to me.

What work are you presenting at the By The People Festival ?

The great thing about festival is that they specifically sought artists that have interactive components to their art. And what’s great about tissue paper is I can work with anyone from under 1 year old to over 100 years old. I use the most simple materials so anybody can interact and join in. I’ve done collaborative tissue quilt-making a few times, once at the North Carolina Museum of Art. You sit down next to somebody and you start looking at bits of torn tissue paper, which is interesting because of all the colorful stains. You pick your favorite color and you start connecting the papers with just a simple glue stick— Elmer’s. My materials are not a surprise or a secret. You’re sitting; you’re building, piece by piece. And as you get bigger, you bump into your neighbor on the right, your neighbor on the left, your neighbor at the table in front of you. You are joining and talking because the action is pretty simple, like a quilting bee.

Your mind kind of shuts off and it’s almost like a form of mediation. Some people are very quiet and work very meticulously. Some people are sloppier and just talking. But once you get in the groove of things, you have permission for your mind to take off a while, doing this task that is repetitive. But it’s also about that unity, that togetherness, that strength and power of joining together as opposed to being one piece flying off by itself.

How do you feel about being labeled a female or African-American artist (or both), rather than simply “an artist” as say, Picasso or Warhol is?

First of all, I am like Picasso and Warhol. I have vision and a dream and an overwhelming desire to create. I love that question, mainly because my favorite thing to say to picky young artists is: okay, you don’t want to identify as female? You don’t want identify as Black? Well, I’m going to apply to those grants, and I’ll take them. You don’t have to take them. Get in line for the generic ones. You don’t have to identify as anything. I know that there are historical inaccuracies and inadequacies. I know that it’s not fair and that other people are getting opportunities in this closed inner circle.

But these grants for artists that are underprivileged, or underserved, or minorities— whatever you want to call it— this is an attempt to level the playing field; to offer opportunities to see new perspectives; to honor different cultures; to embrace that otherness. It doesn’t matter if you don’t say a thing. You will still have some sort of identity, and for me, I embrace the myriad of my otherness. Recently, I began to identify as a queer artist as well.

One of my mentors is the contemporary painter Beverly McIver, who is a professor of art, art history and visual studies at Duke University. When I was 14, I used to sit in her studio and clean her paint brushes. She was the very first Black, female artist and professor that I met in person. I want to be that motivating source for someone else who has a dream and a passion.

What role should artists take in times of political and cultural division?

Artists are always at the forefront of revolution. They are the ones that push the buttons that make us stop and say, this isn’t right. They spark dialogue. We aren’t held back by, what will my town think? Am I going to get fired? Is this okay? Your job as an artist is to utilize your freedom to speak your mind and inspire. And at the same time, be ready for backlash, or the people that you are going to anger.

For me, my place of peace is always back in the commonality of us all. We can all agree that this is a watermark, right? I dislike you and you dislike me, can we find some common ground? Can we agree that this piece of art is beautiful?

Halcyon’s “By the People Festival” takes place June 21 – 24, 2018, at five official sites and numerous satellite locations throughout Washington, D.C. A list of more than 100 art installations, performances and talks, and to register for a free four-day pass, can be found here.

Click HERE to learn more about Halcyon’s “By the People Festival”.

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The Nation features VICTOR EKPUK’s work on Achebe’s book covers at Smithsonian

7 Mar

Ekpuk exhibits Achebe’s book covers at Smithsonian

 

As part of global celebration of the 60th anniversary of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Nigerian-American artist based in Washington, DC, Victor Ekpuk, will hold an exhibition featuring artworks used as book cover books, including TFA, in the United States.

The exhibition will hold at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on March 15, 2018. The event will also feature a panel discussion featuring Prof Nwando Achebe – Jack and Margaret Sweet Endowed Professor of History at Michigan State University – Ekpuk and others.

Ekpuk’s art reflects his experiences as a global artist.  “The subject matter of my work deals with the human condition explained through themes that are both universal and specific: family, gender, politics, culture and Identity” says Ekpuk on his works.

His art, which began as an exploration of nsibidi “traditional” graphics and writing systems in Nigeria, has evolved to embrace a wider spectrum of meaning that is rooted in African and global contemporary art discourses.

Guided by the aesthetic philosophy nsibidi, where sign systems are used to convey ideas, Ekpuk re-imagines graphic symbols from diverse cultures to form a personal style of mark making those results in the interplay of art and writing.

Link to full article.

Click HERE to view available artwork by VICTOR EKPUK.

 

NATE LEWIS in Art in Embassies Exhibition/Catalog

18 Feb

We are pleased to announce that two pieces by artist NATE LEWIS have been included in an Art in Embassies exhibition in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There is a catalog with the exhibition that features images and a write up about the work, which you can see below.

If you would like a PDF of the the introduction and Nate’s work, please contact the gallery.

 

ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY Featured in the James Renwick Alliance Craft Quarterly, Winter 2018!

6 Feb

Artist ROSEMARY FEIT COVEY is featured in the upcoming print and online editions of the Winter 2018 issue of the James Renwick Alliance Craft Quarterly. You can get a sneak peek below. To see available work by Rosemary, please visit our website or stop in and see us at the gallery!

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American Lifestyle Magazine features artist MAYA FREELON ASANTE

17 Jan

‘Bleeding Art’ an interview with Maya Freelon Asante written by Shelley Rose featured in American Lifestyle Magazine Issue 87, 2018.

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‘Visionary and artist Maya Freelon Asante discovered her preferred medium by happenstance.   While living with her grandmother during art school, she found water-damaged tissue paper in the basement and became fascinated by the bleeding of the color.  This fortuitous accident became her muse, and she has been using tissue paper to create her art ever since.’

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“When I create the large tissue quilts, I always ask the community to help in the creation process.  [To me], community means, ‘I am because we are’ Ubuntu.”   ~Maya Freelon Asante

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Please contact us here at the gallery by emailing mortonfineart@gmail.com for a PDF readable version of this article as well as additional information and images.  Available artwork by MAYA FREELON ASANTE can be viewed here on our website.

The Washington Post features JULIA MAE BANCROFT a review of ‘Mending Moments’

30 Dec

In the galleries: Julia Mae Bancroft stitches the past to the present

 December 28 at 4:00 PM

“Mamie’s House,” on view through Jan. 4 at Morton Fine Art. (Julia Mae Bancroft/Morton Fine Art)

 

It’s not only the predominantly gray palette that gives Julia Mae Bancroft’s artwork a ghostly feel. The mixed-media pictures in her Morton Fine Art show, “Mending Moments,” feature old-timey houses and interiors. Arrayed inside are women in long dresses, sometimes with faces transferred from vintage photos. The Virginia-bred D.C. artist graduated from the Corcoran College of Art and Design only a few years ago, yet seems fixed in an earlier era.

The “mending” in the show’s title refers in part to Bancroft’s use of embroidery. She stitches as well as draws and paints, working thin, white strands into compositions that sometimes also incorporate layers of paper pulp. The threads can be abstract elements or represent literal things, such as human hair. The vertical strings that cloak “Moonlit Overcast” suggest both hanging moss and the mists of time.

The effect can be spooky. The subject of “Sitting in Her Empty Chair” has a indistinct face and a clawlike hand. “Reverie,” the most 3-D piece, is built upon an iron grate with a tombstonelike shape. Bancroft, it appears, doesn’t merely ponder the past. She actively disinters it.

Julia Mae Bancroft: Mending Moments Through Jan. 4 at Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW. 202-628-2787. mortonfineart.com.

 

Available artwork by JULIA MAE BANCROFT as well as her artist bio with statement can be found by following the highlighted link to Morton Fine Art’s website. Please contact the gallery for additional details.

“Abstract Minded” Curator Soiree with OSI AUDU & LAURIE ANN FARRELL at N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

14 Nov
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Next Saturday, November 18th join us at a special reception for Abstract Minded.
 Abstract Minded Curator Talk 2-full

Abstract Minded Curator Soiree
with Osi Audu, exhibition curator &
Laurie Ann Farrell, 
curator of contemporary art at the DIA 
Date:  Saturday, November 18, 2017
Time: 2:00pm – 5:00pm
Location: Detroit, MI – The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, 52 E. Forest Ave.

Abstract Minded curator and artist Osi Audu and the Detroit Institute of Arts’ curator and department head of contemporary art, Laurie Ann Farrell discuss the artists, exhibition, and influence of the African Diaspora on contemporary art at this intimate afternoon event.

Refreshments will be served.

Abstract Minded: Works by Six Contemporary African Artists” showcases explorative works by Osi Audu, Nicholas Hlobo, Serge Alain Nitegeka, Odili Donald Odita, Nnenna Okore, and Elias Sime that thematically or conceptually connect to the continent of Africa by pursuing the use of abstraction as a way of engaging the broader conversation about art. The exhibition will be on display through January 6, 2018.

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Osi Audu
Osi Audu is a Nigerian born artist whose work explores the intersections of scientific, cultural and philosophical ideas about the nature of consciousness. His work, which has been shown in numerous international exhibitions including the Kwangju Biennale in Korea, the Africa Africa exhibition in Japan, and the Museum of the Mind exhibition at the British Museum in London; has also been collected by a number of public institutions such as the Newark Museum in New Jersey, The National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, the British Museum, and the Horniman Museum in London. He has presented papers and talks about his work at several international conferences such as the 16th ACASA International Triennial Symposium on African Art at the Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Human Image conference at the British Museum in London, Conversations with a Continent: FIVE AFRICAN ARTISTS at Columbia University in New York; and Next Wave Nigeria: Artists Dialogue at the Newark Museum. His article –Yoruba Concept of the Mind was published in the 2nd edition of The Oxford Companion to The Mind, edited by Richard Gregory. He was a lecturer in Painting and Drawing at the University of Benin for 9 years, and the Head of Art and Design at Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School in the UK for 11 years. He received an MFA degree in Painting and Drawing from the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.  He lives and works in New York.

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Laurie Ann Farrell
Farrell came to the DIA in 2016 in from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) where she was executive director of exhibitions initiatives. She directed exhibition programming for the SCAD Museum of Art and SCAD FASH, its museum of fashion and film, as well as the university’s galleries in Atlanta, Hong Kong and Lacoste, France. Farrell is currently an art consultant for the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium Art Collection in Atlanta and curator of the first Rolls-Royce art program in North America.
Farrell has curated exhibitions of work by a diverse group of prominent contemporary artists, among them Marina Abramovic, Doug Aitken, Carrie Mae Weems, Yinka Shonibare, Alfredo Jaar, Michael Joo, Sigalit Landau, Stephen Antonakos, Cao Fei, Kader Attia and Yeondoo Jung.
Farrell was curator of contemporary art at the Museum for African Art in New York City from 1998 to 2007, where she curated the exhibitions “Personal Affects: Power and Poetics in Contemporary South African Art” and “Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora.”
In 2006, Farrell organized American participation at Angola’s inaugural Trienal de Luanda with support and funding from the U.S. Department of State. Farrell received the Abraaj Capital Art Prize with artist Kader Attia in 2010, the ArtTable New Leadership award in 2011 and the Southeast Museum Conference 2015 Museum Leadership Award. Farrell is widely published in art journals and has lectured throughout the Americas, Africa and Europe. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in art history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Master of Fine Arts in art history and theory from the University of Arizona.



Osi Audu’s curatorial abstract: 

“Abstraction is as indigenous to African visual culture as it is to other parts of the world. The exploration of purely formal elements is not only readily evidenced in the rich traditions of textile designs and other decorative practices from the continent, but is also present in the stylizations of much figurative work from Africa. The six artists in this exhibition, all born and, or raised in countries in Africa, produce work thematically or conceptually connected to the continent by pursuing the use of abstraction as a way of engaging in a broader conversation about art. In our increasingly global existence of the 21st century the world is becoming less and less exotic, and is being experienced more as a sphere of commonalities of being, dreams, fears and aspirations.

Cultural ideas once thought as discrete are now being understood as archetypical, having resonances across the wider world. Aesthetic engagement with form is as important a part of the content of these artists’ works as is their symbolic, historical, socio-political, or conceptual significance.

Among the many questions raised by this exhibition, the overarching one must be the dialectical question:

what is contemporary African art?

Abstract Minded: Works by Six Contemporary African Artists is not simply about looking for the African in African art, it is also about taking a look at what some African artists are doing today in order to get a fuller sense of the current ‘state of things’ in contemporary African art.”  –


Don’t miss the Curator Soiree happening next Saturday, beginning at 2:00pm at the N’Namdi Center!


The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art presents diverse, multi-disciplinary and engaging art experiences. It serves to promote and perpetuate the cultural legacy of African-American and African diasporic art, along with art from diverse cultures. Since its conception in 2010, the N’Namdi Center has contributed to the Detroit arts scene by presenting art exhibitions by nationally and internationally renowned artists as well as local and emerging talent.

The N’Namdi Center’s work is based on two core beliefs: that the arts can play an integral role in the revitalization of Detroit, and that a thriving creative community depends upon the participation of a diverse group of artists, organizations and individuals. The N’Namdi Center builds on these beliefs by acting as a catalyst in the development of Detroit’s creative ecosystem, with a continuing focus on African American art and community engagement through the arts.