'Original Aspects' rich in spirit art review: MAP gathers African-Americans works full of beauty and hope.

October 18, 1995|By JOHN DORSEY | JOHN DORSEY,SUN ART CRITIC

"Original Aspects of Humanity" at Maryland Art Place is an exhibit by 10 African-American artists of works that reflect belief in such values as heritage, spirituality, family, community and self-esteem.

The exhibit is curated by artist, teacher and independent curator Duane Thigpen. Although it doesn't have a specific theme or represent a single point of view, it does have a cumulative effect on the viewer. These artists are a diverse group, but for the most part they communicate a positive outlook.

Some values are stated explicitly in Nichole Gray's "Grandaddy's Medicine Chest," a wall-hung sculpture in the form of a chest containing bottles and jars. Written on the door is "Grandaddy's remedies, follow directions carefully," surrounded by such words God, knowledge, family respect, music. Obviously this work springs from, as well as preaches, strength of family ties and the passing on of value systems.

The best of Gray's works here are her fabric collages, influenced to some extent by Romare Bearden. They are about music, and && they make music visual in the rhythmic patterns of "Sometimes the Blues Is All You Got" and the swirling colors of "When Grandma Starts Hummin' the Savoy Is Back to Swingin'."

Of Janathel Shaw's two works, which combine aspects of sculpture and installation, "Death God fo da Young'ns" is a horrifying image about murders of urban youths. The death god is riddled with bullet holes, and on the floor around its pedestal lie the heads of young ones, as if they were sacrificial offerings. There are bullet shells scattered around. In its own way this has a positive message, too, for it's saying that a community cannot allow such slaughter to continue.

Espi Frazier's ink and acrylic works on paper and wood, including "Mother of Us All," are offerings of a different kind: to beauty, and particularly to inner beauty and serenity of the spirit.

Phyllis Wilson's installation, "From the Clay of the Earth He Made Them Male and Female" is made of natural materials including earth, sand, wood chips and pebbles. Its swirling forms surround male and female figures as if each is in the womb of the earth. The soothing earth tones of this work complement and reinforce its message that we are all a part of the natural scheme of things, and whatever we do to nature we do in some way to ourselves.

Gregory Fletcher's paintings on paper combine the heritage of art and the heritage of people of color especially effectively in the cubist-inspired "Artisan." The mask-like face recalls that Picasso and other modern artists were heavily influenced by African art. Rudy Mendes' "Untitled" is an installation that in its materials, symbols and hierarchical progression of spaces reflects the interaction of nature, ritual and spirituality in shaping the human essence.

Harold Smith's and Maria-Theresa Fernandes' installations, Sam Holmes' small sculptures and Ronald Roberson's paintings deal with similar or related subjects. The works in this show are not all equally successful, but on the whole they leave the viewer with a sense that the "Original Aspects of Humanity" they deal with are encouraging ones.

At MAP

What: "Original Aspects of Humanity"

Where: 218 W. Saratoga St.

When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Nov. 22.

@Call: (410) 962-8565.

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