Many of the sculptures are suspended, often in the air, as if to simulate the precariousness of a ship at sea. Some of the banner pieces are ghostly white-on-cobalt cyanotypes or include backdrops made with the process, best known for its use in architectural plans. Most stand-alone ship-like assemblies are small, but “Night Boat of the Golden Moon,” whose twisted wooden base is painted white, spans more than eight feet. The found objects are “in appearance fragile but in fact resilient”, notes the artist’s statement.
Among Klagsbrun’s notable influences are Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” whose tales of transformation—often of women altered by imperious gods—correspond to the artist’s interest in protean forms. This show features a few works titled after lines by British Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, such as “Laced With Fire”, whose jagged voids have been scorched by an actual flame. Hopkins, whose verses only gained followers decades after his death, seems an apt reference for “Crossings.” The poet was a self-proclaimed traditionalist who came to be seen as a modernist, illustrating how life’s journeys can lead to totally unexpected destinations.
Water imagery abounds in Elizabeth Curren’s “Impact,” also at the Studio, but human destiny is seen differently in the artist’s beautiful handmade prints, paintings, and books. Its subject is climate change, represented by the reduction of glaciers and the progression of fires. The presence of humanity is only occasionally suggested, notably by a few tiny, simple houses overshadowed by smoke and flames in “Armageddon Approaching”, a painting-collage. Painterly forms are sharp and flat, though enhanced with mottled colors, in most of Curren’s work. But there’s literal depth to two “tunnel books” that develop sequences through several cut-out pages. “Paradise Fire” and “Through Blue Ice” draw the eye to layered tales of burning and melting.
Studio’s third set of ocean views is “Something Old, Something New” by Carolee Jakes, an exhibition of paintings, prints and a multimedia work. Included are intricately shaped wooden blocks resembling underwater nautiluses and a ‘tsunami’ in which loosely painted waves rise behind a hard-edged globe. This image’s contrast between surges and circles continues in “Just Another Cloudy Day in May”, a striking triptych in which the central panel is higher than the two flanking it. While Jakes’ landscapes do not present philosophical or environmental parables, their ingenious compositions have a narrative flair.
Micheline Klagsbrun: Crossings; Elizabeth Curren: Impact; and Carolee Jakes: Something Old, Something New Until May 21 at Workshop gallery2108 R St. NW.
Transformer is an intimate space, the size of a cramped dining room where only three people can sit at the table, since the fourth side of the table must lean against the wall. This is how Azikiwe Mohammed placed the central piece of his exhibition “Shared Words, Split Catfish and Sweet Tea: An Open Platform for Discussion”. Three members of the Auntie/Uncle Julius family, represented by double-sided paintings on cut-out panels, are seated for a meal that illustrates African-American eating habits.
Most of Mohammed’s multimedia installation is painted. In addition to diners, the New York artist has simulated paneling on the walls, which are hung with naïve-style images that mostly depict edibles. But the food on the main table and the smaller buffet are represented by glowing neon outlines. Also included are found objects, including cut-glass serving vessels and fanciful ladies’ hats of the kind worn in traditional black churches, and recordings of possible dinnertime conversations.
According to the gallery’s statement, the exhibition is part of Mohammed’s “reflections on black people’s relationship to time – a rarity and a luxury for many as they navigate the responsibilities and demands of life.” But the installation can also be experienced as a place out of time, a room just big enough to allow visitors to take a few steps into an idealized past.
Azikiwe Mohammed: shared words, split catfish and sweet tea: an open platform for discussion Until May 21 at Transformer1404 P St. NW.
When Helen Zughaib presented her “Syrian Migration” series at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al Quds three years ago, it included 25 paintings. Now, the oft-exposed DC artist’s Arab-American commentary on the exodus from devastated Syria has grown to 43 images and is on display a few blocks away in a much more visited location: the Kennedy Center, where Zughaib is a resident of social practice. .
The paintings are in Zughaib’s trademark style, executed mostly in gouache with bright colors and simple, stylized forms. But the artist drew inspiration, sometimes even reworking specific compositions, from the 60-panel “Migration Series” in which Jacob Lawrence documented the journey of early 20th-century black Americans out of the South. (Half of Lawrence’s series is in the Phillips Collection.) In one of Zughaib’s updates, for example, Lawrence’s train doors providing passage to the North become airport gates leading to the Turkey and Europe.
Syrians are usually dressed in vibrant two-tone striped dresses that suggest both traditional clothing and abstract paintings on a colored background. The exuberant costume stands in contrast to explosions, barbed wire fences, heard fighter jets and waves threatening to swallow small overloaded boats. To see such perils depicted in Zughaib’s brilliant and orderly style is shocking and poignant.
Helen Zughaib: Syrian Migration Until May 27 at the Hall des Nations, Kennedy Center2700 F St. NW.