Tracing history of murals by black artists

Museum is a treasure of the D.C. arts scene


July 28, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

One of the underappreciated treasures of the Washington-area arts scene is the Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Museum and Center for African American History and Culture, tucked away in a quiet wooded area in the city's southeast quadrant.

Over the years, the Anacostia Museum has presented many important exhibitions of African-American art by local and nationally recognized artists.

Through Oct. 16, the museum is displaying Walls of Heritage, Walls of Pride: African American Murals, an exhibition of African-American mural painting.

The show features the work of Georgette Seabrooke Powell, who created important work during the period of intense creative ferment known as the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and '30s.

Powell, who was born in 1916, painted the mural titled Recreation in Harlem for New York's historic Harlem Hospital in 1936. The piece is being restored under the artist's supervision.

Powell is represented in the show by an oil painting on which this mural was based.

The show traces the evolution of mural-painting by African-American artists in response to the changing conditions of the 20th century, from the social activism of the 1930s to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, urban renewal in the 1970s and '80s and the emergence of hip-hop culture in the 1990s.

The show includes public artworks by acknowledged "Old Masters" of African-American art such as Hale Woodruff, Aaron Douglas, Charles Alston, Charles White and John Biggers.

It also includes works by contemporary artists such as Cheryl Foster, whose large-scale mural Literacy Is Global extolling continuing education for adults was commissioned by the University of the District of Columbia for a charter school in the city's ethnically diverse Adams Morgan community.

The museum is also mounting an intriguing companion exhibition about Islam among African-Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries and a site-specific installation by artist DeWayne Barton on the subject of African-American voting.

The museum is at 1901 Fort Place S.E. Admission is free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Call 202-357-2700.

For more arts events, see Page 32.

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