Based on Dr. Bridget R. Cooks’ book “Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum,” “Xhibiting Blackness” at Evolve the Gallery offers a look at works by talented black artists who too often have been marginalized by the mainstream art establishment.
Curated by Brady Charles Blakeley and A. Michelle Blakeley, the show includes mixed-media works, digital works, collages, photographs, sculptures and quilts by artists both established and emerging.
A quilt first grabs your attention as you enter the gallery. Dawn Williams Boyd’s “Odalisque” is a large-scale textile that depicts a beautiful and sensual black nude on a bed of richly patterned fabrics. It’s as joyous as a Matisse cut-out and as bold and imaginative as a Romare Bearden collage.
Marion Coleman offers a smaller but finely stitched quilt that pays homage to black public health nurses, presented in a collage of photographic images and words, and another titled “Neighborhood Watch” that records life in a black community.
Toni Scott blends African and American Indian imagery in her mixed-media collage “Reflections of Self.” In it, a nude woman sits in a chair gazing at a portrait of an ancestor set into a 19th century print of men in canoes. It’s a compelling image that has a strong post-modern flavor.
Ansel Butler pays homage to musical legend Nina Simone in “Mood Indigo,” a fragmented, three-dimensional image of the singer in several poses. Michael Massenburg gives us a poignant image of a young girl reading a book, the figure cut out and placed in a frame.
Miles Regis scores with “I Am Free,” a powerful image of a male figure against a backdrop of painterly drips and graffiti like writing. It has some of the urgency and rawness of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jean Dubuffet. Bryan Keith Thomas uses cotton, roses and African and African American symbols in his lushly painted, quasi-abstract canvases.
Richard Mayhew, the old master of the group, takes a more lyrical approach in his lushly colored paintings that hover between abstraction and representation. “Beyond the Rainbow” is a symbolic landscape in deep saturated hues, while “Monument Series” gives us an explosive, blossoming, pulsating green form against a deep red.
Terry Lynn gives us a moving image of a young boy in a field of sunflowers, and Cbabi Bayoc presents an image of a father imparting wisdom to his son. Ben F. Jones offers a fiery image of what might be a spiritual emanation of the female form. Cedric Adams is represented by a meticulously rendered drawing of a woman with dreadlocks in profile.
Deborah Willis’ strong color photos depict African American body builders in a gym. Shanequa Gay gives us a powerful gestural figure made up of loose brushstrokes, while Carl Joe Williams offers a precise profile of a woman against a background of colored circles and squares.
Willie Little is represented by an evocative installation of carved-wood African scepters covered with crushed glass and beading. They hover over the floor like sentinels representing strength, resilience and guardianship.
Nearby are a series of ceramic heads by internationally known sculptor Gene Pearson that range from the somnolent and sublime “Bumpy Head Gal,” to “Hershell and Zenia,” a pair of male and female heads that are as beautiful as ancient Benin sculptures.
Ed Dwight, who is known for his public artworks, offers a small sculpture of hands picking cotton and inserting a ballot in a box, tracing the long history of African Americans from slavery to electing a black president.
The Blakeleys have done a fine job of assembling works by artists whose names should be more familiar than they are. The show is installed in what used to be 40 Acres Gallery next to the Old Soul coffee shop.
Corrections were made to this story on Feb. 28.