Dawn Dedeaux's "Soul Shadows: Urban Warrior Myths," the latest project of the Museum for Contemporary Arts, grows out of her work with inmates of the Orleans Parish Prison. As a record of an artist's demonstrated ability to reach lives torn by urban violence, this installation can only inspire admiration.
And one can hope that some of those who see it here will be moved to emulate Dedeaux's example. In fact, her New Orleans program has already led to a similar project that last fall put artists in Baltimore's Woodbourne Center for severely troubled children, with remarkably successful results. So as a community we have already benefited from Dedeaux's efforts, and can properly be grateful to her.
Considered strictly as a work of art, "Soul Shadows" is less successful. This enormous work takes up the entire second floor the garage part of the now vacant Pat Hays car dealership building at Cathedral and Biddle streets. As one enters the space in which it has been installed, one is supposed to encounter a "Book of Judgments" recording the stories of those with whom Dedeaux worked. But this has been moved to one side, and may be overlooked.
The central axis of the installation is a long corridor, called the Hall of Judgment, with images of shadowy figures lining both walls. On either side of this hall (but entered from outside the work, not from the hall) are screening rooms, with videos of the people Dedeaux worked with, engaged in a number of activities -- most movingly, talking about their lives with drugs and pleading with those who hear them to stay away from drugs.
At the end of the hall is an "antechamber" called "Tomb of the Urban Warrior." This oval room's walls are lined with gilded photographs of a youth dressed for various roles, from businessman to athlete to warrior. Here, an explanation of the work says, "the artist reveals her belief that within each one of us there is the potential for transformation. However, there is only hope for the future if society develops support mechanisms to support this transformation."
I couldn't agree with her more, and hope her work will do some good. At the same time, it is repetitious, its message of redemption seems somewhat simplistic, and on the whole it's an awkward and in some ways overblown, pretentious presentation the results of Dedeaux's prison project.
This work isn't so much about being art, however, as it is about doing good, so that criticism becomes all but meaningless.
In another room are works made by the artists and students in the Woodbourne program: computer-produced images, enameling, a video of dance and an installation involving photography and text.
The installation and exhibit continue at 1111 Cathedral Street through Feb. 23. Call 462-3515.
The James E. Lewis Museum at Morgan State University currently has an exhibition of works by "The Women Weavers of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland." Organized under the International Trade Center of the United Nations, the exhibit constitutes a first effort in this country to find a market for the products of these weavers from three southern African lands. It includes tapestries, many of them pictorial and showing animals, landscapes and people; shawls, blankets, jackets, baskets and a small selection of jewelry. The works are for sale.
The exhibit runs through Feb. 22 in the James E. Lewis Museum of the Murphy Fine Arts Building, Hillen Road south of Cold Spring Lane. Call 444-3030.