April 23, 2006

PROVOCATIVE: Local project moves to Salem

By Tom Patterson

Darryl Hunt is dressed in white and spotlighted, seated alone in a chair on an otherwise dark stage. The photograph of him is the central image in Toby Gordon's triptych titled Meditations. It was probably made at one of the public appearances Hunt has made since his release from prison in 2003 and the overturning of his conviction for a 1984 rape and murder. the image is flanked by two mysterious photos of shadowy figures, alluding to the misidentification of Hunt as the guilty party.

The Hunt case is familiar to most residents of Winston-Salem. That's why local viewers are likely to consider Gordon's triptych one of the most effective pieces in an exhibition at the Salem College Fine Arts Center through next Sunday. It's the second installment in a four-show series titled "Blurring Racial Barriers." The series' first exhibit closed last month at Winston-Salem State University's Diggs Gallery.

The concept behind the series involves bringing together works by artists with various racial and cultural backgrounds in order to promote social harmony and mutual understanding. Gordon's piece underscores the value of such an effort, both locally and socially.

This is a smaller show than the first in the series, since Salem College's gallery is considerably smaller than the Diggs Gallery. As was the case earlier, not all of the works in this one are overtly relevant to the theme, and they vary considerably in quality. All in all, though, it's a thought-provoking show that deserves to be seen.

Among its more straightforward images of racial harmony is Debbie Schiappa's Girl Talk, and impressionistic painting of two young women seated on a low concrete wall on what might be a college campus. One woman is white, the other is black and they appear to be engaged in a casual friendly conversation.

The same idea is treated in a more sophisticated, contemporary style in Les Caison III's Company, a cartoonishly expressionistic oil painting. It depicts two grinning men along side each other at a bar or table. The one on the left is black and holds a can, and the one on the right is white and has his arm around his friend's shoulders. The two loosely circular overhead lights could be a pair of divine eyes looking benevolently down on them.

Some of the show's more striking works are expressions of particular racial, ethnic or cultural identities. One such piece is Helida Otero Flatow's self-portrait, Pedro Pan Child, Cuban Parrot. It consists of an expressionistic facial-portrait of a dark-haired, dark-eyed girl. Collaged onto this image are fragments of text repeated in the title and a cutout illustration of a brilliantly hued parrot.

In Irmaly Bracken's similarly expressionistic oil-on-paper work titled Appalachian Girls, two blonde girls are seated in chairs on a round, braided rub bearing the words "THE CIRCLE IS UNBROKEN," adapted from an old southern Appalachian gospel song. Both folk-influenced and sophisticated, this image is rendered mysterious by the small, unidentifiable objects that both girls hold close to their faces.

Southern Appalachian folk culture also informs Terri Dowell-Dennis' Doll Installation. It consists of six hand-sewn cloth dolls mounted together on the wall. Each doll consists of two legless figures in contrasting colors, joined at the waist so that one figure is inverted while the other is upright. They're further distinguished by differences in their hair, clothing and the imagery embroidered on them. An embroidered snake is twisted around one of them, for example, while another is embroidered with a fruit tree and another with an image of internal organs.

Traditional Islamic culture is referenced in The Dark Side of Love, a mysteriously surrealistic oil painting by Kucharsky. The upper half of it is occupied by 11 women standing close together and all wearing traditional Muslim attire, including veils that obscure their faces. They stand as if in judgment over the inverted corpse of a large, ostrich-like bird whose torso has been cut away to reveal a womb occupied by a naked, androgynous adult figure in a fetal position.

Amy Funderburk also uses a surrealistic approach in her painting titled XX. The Revenge of Sekhmet, which references Egyptian mythology and the Tarot. A lion-headed, white-robed woman representing the Egyptian goddess Isis stands with arms outstretched in this painting's foreground. She presides over a desert scene where lions roam peacefully among kneeling worshipers, funeral vases and ritual paraphernalia. The ghostly heads of two other mythical figures loom over two pyramids in the background. An accompanying panel explains this painting's symbols.

Other highlights of the show include a mural-scale drawing by Scott Betz; a pair of glass-and-ceramic sculptures by Nancy Blair; a collaged, tepee-shaped "book" by Mary Beth Blackwell Chapman; a print by Terry Schupbach-Gordon; paintings by Raul Montero and Ricky Needham; works by Leo Morrissey; and a collage by Mary Ann Zotto.

Two more installments of "Blurring Racial Barriers" are scheduled – one at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (May5-June 18) and the other at Delta Arts Center (Sept. 17-Oct. 31).

The Salem College Fine Arts Center is on the Salem College campus near the intersection of Salem Avenue and Stadium Drive. For more information phone 721-2636.

Published:April 23, 2006
Reprinted from the Winston-Salem Journal
© Piedmont Publishing Co. Inc.


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