Our Common Bond: Mother, Daughter, Sister, Self
October 1 – November 15, 2009
Our Common Bond: Mother, Daughter, Sister, Self is a survey of the life experiences of fifteen African-American woman artists, bound by their roles as mothers, daughters and sisters, and the quest to maintain their self-identity. Their narratives, conveyed through their poignant works of art, are a social and political commentary on black womanhood, and compelling testament to courage, love, strength and self-sacrifice. And while every aspect of the traditional roles of women is not addressed in this exhibition; as the works are autobiographical, each expression provides a commentary on black womanhood through imagery constructed around the maternal bond.
The role of mother, daughter, and sister is the sustenance of the black community. These artists, whose artistic genius give voice to these roles, share in a journey that spans nine decades; from the matriarch, Elizabeth Catlett, the conveyer of our social and political landscape, to her artistic progeny, the generations of women artists who follow in her path. They are master storytellers, astute herstorians whose works becomes the iconography that symbolizes our rich cultural and historic heritage.
In capturing the essence of womanhood, the artists embrace an aesthetic informed by a solidarity based on shared conditions and concerns. They remind us that black women are bound, beyond the blood which flows through their veins. It is also through a sisterhood and intuitiveness which stems from the feminine divine.
And yet, there remains the quest to preserve the “self,” while existing within the role of caregiver, mentor, friend, and lover. In an intense commentary on self-identity, the artists define their own vision and sense of purpose. Narratives, deeply rooted in personal experiences are portrayed through allegorical imagery, which provides a compelling view on self and purpose.
In Free Your Mind, printmaker Maya Freelon Asante employs the ink from tissue paper gifted by her grandmother and a photograph of Harriett Tubman to create a powerful mono/print in which Tubman becomes the archetype for motherhood. A runaway slave and abolitionist, Tubman became known as “Moses” for sacrificing her life to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom. Mother Harriett continues to be the embodiment of motherhood and symbol of the courage, unselfish love, and sacrifices made by black women.
Master printmaker and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett reminds us that the maternal bond extends beyond the immediate family. Mimi is devoted to one Catlett has embraced outside of her family circle. The work is symbolic of relationships formed among women, where love and wisdom are shared.
Photographer Linda Day Clark captures the artistry of quilt-making in her series of photographs of the women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Featured are Mary Lee Bendolph and Addie Pearl Nicholson who are bound by their shared history, strong sense of community, and commitment to preserving the quilt-making tradition.
Printmaker Margo Humphrey employs her mastery of lithography in creating Dorothy’s Flowers. A beautiful bouquet of colorful flowers pays tribute to Humphrey’s mother, Dorothy Reed Humphrey “for her undying love and support and the nurturing of my talent as a young artist.” And for the “beauty she brought to our home and environment.” This loving sentiment is a testament to the significance of the mother and daughter relationship.
Annie Phillips’ remembrance of growing up in Washington, D.C., during the period of prohibition is captured in Yes-Mam Girl. Paying tribute to her mother who served with dignity as a waitress at the Cairo Hotel and other private clubs in the city, Phillips’ collage composed of colored paper fragments takes on the shape of her mother, dressed in a lacy white cap and apron, who stands in a handsomely furnished room filled with finely dressed white women who await her service. In making her mother the dominant figure, Annie conveys the message that even in the midst of subservience and segregation, the black woman’s dignity and pride cannot be lost.
The African-American community is deeply rooted in spirituality and religious conviction. And prayer is the core of this existence. In Supplication, an emotionally compelling work by painter Delilah Pierce which portrays a woman with eyes looking toward the heavens with hands pleading for divine guidance. The figure is symbolic of every black woman who turns to pray for strength and guidance.
In Evita Tezeno’s The Bus Stop Shuffle, the juxtaposition of paper of varied shapes and textures form the figures of black women posed for the bus as they begin or end their work day. Drawing from childhood memories and historic events, Tezeno’s work is telling of the role of black women working outside of the home, and symbolic of the historic bus ride taken by Rosa Parks, the pivotal civil rights figure whose historic bus ride in Montgomery, Alabama, prompted a bus boycott.
Galileo said, “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.” For Joyce Wellman it is the vernacular through which her work speaks. Wellman, an abstractionist, combines geometry, ubiquitous elements, and cryptic messages to create works that are spiritual and otherworldly. In Ode to Off Spring I & II, a diptych by Wellman is “influenced by the intersecting circle of the Visica Piscis. These works have the added imagery of numbers and reference remembrances to my mother. Thematically, these abstract canvases are inspired by the confluence of the sacred in art and the embrace of a mathematics aesthetic.”
In a personal narrative, Oletha DeVane explores the emotional depth of the mother and daughter relationship in Parallel, a video and installation that explores the analogous existence between mother and daughter who “grow apart to come back together again.” The video is a testament to their bond and the strength of their love.
Sculptor Martha Jackson-Jarvis’ Umbilicus is an amalgamation of spherical shapes and abstract forms which take on an ethereal appearance, as spirally shaped wood symbolic of the umbilical cord, the tube through which life-sustaining blood flows; joins densely covered objects, whose symbology represents the bond between mother and daughter and the physicality of their relationship.
Photographer and printmaker, Evangeline J. Montgomery’s explores identity and cultural memory in the photomontage, Heritage #4, which features the faces of African-American, Ghanaian, Kenyan, and Nigerian women. Through the complexity and formal arrangement of the layered faces, Montgomery links four generations of woman who are bound by their African kinship.
Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle’s intuitive re-purposing of ethnographic photographs of West African women encompasses the solidarity and intimate knowing shared among women. In A Promise to You a Promise for Me, sisters “support each other and act as towers of strength.” They are bound by strands of hair, drawn by Hinkle, which act, as she suggests, as a metaphor for power and signifier for culture, sex and gender.
— Toni Morrison (Beloved)
According to Alexis De Veaux, Valerie Maynard makes the viewer aware of what a black woman sees when the world is shaped by her hands. Free Woman, a linoleum cut by Maynard invokes the independent spirit of black women sending a message to maintain the “self,” a part of their existence that is independent of the role of mother, daughter, and sister and be free within ourselves, with outstretched arms, ready to embrace the universe of possibilities.
In her series, Ancestry Progeny, Joyce J. Scott speaks through an aesthetic of fused/painted glass, imagery, and objects in addressing her African-American, Native and Scottish heritage. Ancestry Progeny II is a personal narrative on race and identity. Scott, portrayed as a reclining nude surrounds herself with objects symbolic of her cultural legacy.
Mixed media artist, Renee Stout employs conjuration, root work, folklore, and music in creating See-Line Woman, a silkscreen titled after the song made popular by Nina Simone. Stout appears as her alter-ego, the root worker/seer Fatima who personifies the power and seduction of the See-Line Woman. Possessed with the ability to control men with her wiggle, purr and cat-like movements, the seer stands posed, as she conjurers up her next victim.