Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bronx Museum of the Arts

(To see photo captions, scroll over "notes" at bottom right corner of slideshow)

Standing inside the Bronx Museum of the Arts Sunday, guest-curator Carey Lovelace was asked to describe the overall feel of the exhibit titled Making It Together: Women's Collaborative Art and Community. She had just kicked off the opening of the exhibit, part of the museum's spring exhibitions, with a chat to museum-goers and an interview with a brightly lit News 12 camera. Without pausing for a second, she answered the question with a single word: "Pink!"

It was true; the walls that held the artwork were painted a soft, creamy shade of pink, and a chair or two scattered around the room were upholstered or painted the same color. The hue helped to set a mood that Lovelace described in more detail as "very lively, humorous - satire to make a point." Looking around the room, the photographs, writings, film and other media all contributed to the sense of theatrics Lovelace was talking about.

"It's not just ho hum, we're here on the wall," she said. "This branch of activism, humorism, is what people like the Guerilla Girls were going for." She points to a picture of a woman wearing fishnet stockings, leaning against a stool and wearing a guerilla mask. The engaging and bold nature of the exhibit is appropriate, given it took its inspiration from the1970s feminist movement.

The theme of theatrics making a political point pervades the whole exhibit, though not always as playfully as the Guerilla Girls have interpreted it. The first thing viewers see when they walk through the museum's doors is a mural covering an entire wall. The colors are not as soft as the pale pink; instead blood red, black, neon green and white make up the color scheme. The mural depicts the faces and names of various women, from a young girl standing with her hands on her hips, to Elvira, whose name is grouped with the words "single mother," "cleaning lady" and "Mexican immigrant." Phrases like "Abuse of Power," and "We pay with our Bodies" are graffitied across the mural.

In addition to the still art, there was a panel during the opening day that discussed how feminist thought and gender-based critique has shaped artists' collaboration over the past 30 years. There will also be a Day of Collaborative Performance on May 17 from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. with The Brainstormers, in collaboration with the Guerilla Girls, Christal Brown and Ridykeulous, among others. The cost of cocktails at the event will reflect the disparity between men and women's wages.

"Making It Together" is one of two featured exhibits currently at the BMA, and a thread that ties them together is community. One explores the community of a collaborative feminist movement and the other of people in New York City who represent and inspire social activism. The latter is expressed in photographs taken by Jamel Shabazz in the 1970s and 1980s.

Shabazz's photos are of all kinds of people: a Vietnam veteran with his fist raised high in the air, kids posing on a motorcycle, the homeless amidst wealth, a break-dancer in the middle of a head spin, a member of the Blood gang on a park bench. Shabazz says he always had his camera with him, loaded with film.

"I understood history was being made every day," he said, adding that every photo was "spontaneous."

The exhibit was curated by a group of teenagers from local high schools as a part of the Teen Council Internship Program. Out of 30 applicants for the internship, only about eight new members are chosen each year. They arranged the artwork, included items from Shabazz's life, a documentary made by last year's students, and made a zine, MuseZine to accompany the art.

"One main reason we're so excited is that we got to curate the exhibit," said Teen Council Assistant Manuel Gonzalez, 19. The BMA has hosted teen art curated by teens before, "but here we got to curate renowned, professional artists," he added.

The images are meant not only to document street culture, but to inspire young people through portrayals of their peers and neighborhoods. The introduction printed on a buttery yellow museum wall describes the images as "the unseen, the unnoticed, the mundane beauty and the simple detritus that we walk past on our way to school every day." The photos aren't particularly dramatic or sensational but depict scenes you would see as you were walking around on any given day.

Although both exhibits discuss important social issues that impact our society, each of them does so with a sense of levity, "Making It Together" with its humorism and sensationalism, and "Jamel Shabazz," with the liveliness of his photography and the energy of the teen curators. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, which is located at 1040 Grand Concourse, will run these exhibits until Aug 4. For more information, visit BronxMuseum.org.

No comments: