Artist pursues liberation and growth

Exhibit at MICA is emotionally gripping

Art Review

May 06, 2002|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

With dozens of ordinary wooden chairs, 29-year-old Marc Robinson creates a powerful work that breaks with the pictorial tradition of African-American art while retaining its political agenda.

Robinson's sculpture is part of a master of fine arts thesis exhibit at the Maryland Institute College of Art featuring the work of three young African-American artists. In addition to Robinson, the show, on view through tomorrow at the Decker Gallery in the Mount Royal Station building, presents paintings by Tonya Ingersol and installation and sculpture by Amana J. Johnson.

Robinson's signature piece, Myth Monolith, is constructed from cast-off chairs whose interlocking forms appear to sweep and soar upward through space in one continuous motion.

Accompanying it is a large gouache-and-chalk drawing called Conscientizacao, a term coined by the late Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire that can be (roughly) translated as "sensitivity and creativity facilitating awareness and commitment to a more just world."

Taken together, the sculpture and drawing are dramatic images of change and expanded awareness that reflect the artist's commitment to a radical transformation of human consciousness.

The title Myth Monolith refers to the African-American leader Malcolm X, whose evolution from vituperative racial demagogue to something closer to the humanism of Martin Luther King Jr., the other great figure of the era, represents for Robinson the only way forward in creating a more just world.

Robinson's admiration for Malcolm X finds expression in several other works in the show, including a video installation called Brilliant Gorgeous Talented and Fabulous, which depicts a ceramic bust of the leader being lovingly caressed by the artist, and Prayer Podium Procession, an altar-like sculpture whose hand-forged steel nails and crimson ink silk-screened on wood evoke a powerful image of personal sacrifice and redemption.

From the 19th-century onward, African-American artists have sought to counter the negative, dehumanizing stereotypes of blacks in American culture by creating images that reflect the positive aspects of the black experience and the full humanity of black people. (This is, incidentally, the impulse behind Tonya Ingersol's skillfully executed paintings, which depict black subjects in race-neutral settings intended to emphasize the universality of human experience.)

Robinson, for the moment at least, seems to have abandoned that tradition of representing the external appearance of blacks in favor of visual metaphors that evoke the internal acts of consciousness that lead to liberation and growth.

This is no less a political vision than the overt resistance to racist images waged by earlier generations of African-American artists. That Robinson's approach is abstract and conceptual rather than pictorial and narrative makes it no less emotionally gripping, either.

This is daring work by a stupendously gifted young artist from whom great things may be expected.

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