African-American sculptures evoke jazz, folk art

February 11, 1994|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

You don't have to know the titles of John T. Scott's sculptures (including "Doorway for the Blues" and "Blues for Sister Sara") to know they reflect music, specifically jazz.

You can tell from their bright, modulating colors; their rhythmic striping; the way their metal bands glide up or swoop down, changing direction improvisationally. And you can tell from the way they make you feel -- good, like jazz does.

The six poles that jut into the air from the arched frame of "Doorway" might be dancers' walking sticks, or trombones. Whatever they are, they're having fun.

Scott is one of five artists in "Sources: Multicultural Influences on Contemporary African American Sculptors." The exhibit, at the art gallery of the University of Maryland College Park, seeks to demonstrate that African-American artists draw on many sources for inspiration -- European, African, American, folk art, as well as academic art and other disciplines, such as music and architecture.

The only problem with this theme is that it belabors the obvious. But no matter. If the point needs proving, this show helps prove it; if it doesn't need proving, the show brings together artists whose work is worth the trip to College Park.

Joyce Scott draws on African art, folk art and craft traditions, as well as African-American history, in her pointed sculptures about race relations. Her "Mammy, Nanny" series juxtaposes black women with white babies to show how whites have used blacks to raise their children, who then look down on the very people who raised them.

Denise Ward-Brown uses found materials, especially architectural materials (doors, columns, etc.), to construct sculptures that reflect the patternings of textiles and the assemblage techniques of both collage and African sculpture. Some of these, such as "Cake Walk" and "Sing Praises," also refer to music and religion.

Martha Jackson-Jarvis combines Italian marble and glass with clay and other materials from this country in an ambitious installation called "Last Rites." It involves seven coffin-shaped boxes covered with material representing aspects of the natural world -- water, earth, etc. It's not always possible to decipher the individual parts of this work, but it does make the point that we are killing the ecosystem that has nurtured us.

Melvin E. Edwards' wall-hung, welded steel sculptures refer to contemporary abstract sculpture. But, called collectively "Lynch Fragments" and made with chains, locks and other materials associated with bondage, they also refer to the history of race relations.

ART REVIEW

What: "Sources: Multicultural Influences on Contemporary African American Sculptors"

Where: Art Gallery, Art Sociology Building, University of Maryland College Park

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (to 9 p.m. Wednesdays), noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through April 11

$ Call: (301) 405-2763

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