Galleries: Celebrating the work of avant garde artist Senga Nengudi

Tights attached to the wall, stretched out, filled with sand, hanging, taut, spider-like, to the floor. RSVP, as it is called, is avant garde artist Senga Nengudi’s most well-known and influential work, both within and beyond the shores of her native America. It is just one of the pieces in a major retrospective of the African American artist’s work that will open at Fruitmarket next week, the second-leg of the first solo institutional showing of Nengudi’s work in the UK.

The exhibition opened last Autumn at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, where it was conceived by the Head of Programmes, Laurence Sillars, long an advocate of Nengudi’s work, to redress the low level of exposure she has had in Europe, despite her “enormous contribution to the narrative of sculpture over the past 40-50 years.” Born in Chicago in 1943, Nengudi studied Dance and Art at the University of California, Los Angeles, (BA, 1967), Japanese Culture at Tokyo University (1966-7), before returning to UCLA for an MA in Sculpture (1971). Her output to date includes sculpture, installation, video work, photography, painting, and poetry, yet she also creates work under various pseudonyms, playing with racial and gender preconceptions.

If Nengudi was part of the Los Angeles and New York avant garde in the 1960s and ’70s, her work trod its own path, diverting from the strict abstraction that ruled at the time, held back, too, by an art world that was both dominated by men and overwhelmingly white. Her radical work was championed by Linda Goode Bryant – who is coming over the Fruitmarket to give a much-anticipated talk on 19th March – in the 1970s and ’80s at the Just Above Midtown Gallery in the middle of art-land New York. And yet, “She hasn’t had the exposure that she could have had because people misread her work,” says Sillars, of a 1970s art world that thought her subtle, inclusive work wasn’t political enough, wasn’t feminist enough, or did not deal outright with topics of racial identity as they saw it. Recent major group exhibitions constructed specifically around feminism and racial identity have included Nengudi’s work, “but although it’s a vital force in her work, it is not the whole of it,” says Sillars. This exhibition will, he hopes, introduce viewers to “the many radical forms and different types of works (she has made) over the last four decades.” “The principle motive was to be expansive and show key moments throughout her career.”

The body and its movement in space has been a key element in Nengudi’s work, not least RSVP , which has been recreated in many ways and in many places since its first outing in 1977. Made whilst Nengudi was pregnant, it played on her fascination with the way her body was changing.

If the viewers’ first reaction is to “giggle at something so common as pantyhose used in sculpture,” said Nengudi once, sustained viewing shows her exploration of “the imposed tightness and packaging of one’s body”, and, by extension, the restrictions imposed on women in other ways. The works were frequently “activated” by Nengudi and fellow artist and choreographer Maren Hassinger in the early days, weaving their bodies in and out of the piece, stretching it, playing with the weighted sand “feet”.

Sillars is most pleased, he tells me, with the recreation of Nengudi’s early water sculptures, created in 1969, yet never shown or made since and a “key ambition” for the show. “She’d given up hope of seeing or working with them again,” says Sillars of the hard-to-fabricate works, which Nengudi, in Leeds for two weeks to install the exhibition, recreated with the help of a “very accomplished technician”. “The forms flunk on the plinth – everyone calls them popsicles,” he says of works which are both serious and warm, human and funny. Made, originally, to be touched and interacted with, like most of her work, their tactility must now only be imagined.

Nengudi’s key interest in not only the differences, but particularly the commonality of humanity across history and continents and religious practices is seen in another large installation not seen since the 1990s, called Sandmining, “that suggests the aftermath at a site of ritual.” There is also work that deals in the things we choose to hand down. “Bulemia” was another lost installation made in Baltimore in 1993, comprised of newspapers that Nengudi’s mother had assiduously collected for her down the years, “things which had some kind of resonance.”

“When they deinstalled the exhibition, the newspaper was all thrown away…Senga was devastated, and started collecting newspapers for her own kids,” says Sillars. That material has been used for a major new installation in this exhibition, echoing the Baltimore exhibition of 1993, but providing a whole new history in headlines. It, alongside all the other known and “lost” works, provide a hugely exciting possibility to view the key elements of Nengudi’s output over the past 50 years at a gallery, the Fruitmarket, that loves, as Sillars puts it “to shed light on the overlooked.”

Senga Nengudi, Fruitmarket Gallery, 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, 0131 225 2383, 16 March – 26 May, Daily 11am – 6pm. Linda Goode Bryant in Conversation, Tues 19 Mar, 6pm – 7pm

Don’t Miss

The late Karolina Larusdottir’s, who died just a few weeks before this Castle Gallery exhibition opened, had an upbringing in Reyjavik that sounds the stuff of a novel. The granddaughter of a strongman in a travelling circus, she spent many childhood holidays in the Hotel Borg, which her grandfather set up as Reyjavik’s first “grand hotel” in the 1930s. The Hotel and its life inspired her surrealist work, many fine examples of which are displayed on the walls of the gallery this month.

The Good Gathering: Karolina Larusdottir, Castle Gallery, 43 Castle Street, Inverness, 729512 1-30 March, Mon – Sat, 9am – 5pm

Critic’s Choice

Zembla is only a gallery sometimes, its owner Brian Robertson tells me. Neat, white cube, very modern, it is contained within a house that only came into existence some few years ago when Robertson, a retired academic who “ran away to art college in middle age”, decided to fulfil a dream and build his own house in Hawick in the Borders. With an extra room downstairs overlooking the garden, he and his wife Lesley decided to create a temporary art gallery, which opens only a few times a year but has an artistic programme which belies its size, bringing high quality work to give locals the chance to see work “not normally seen outside a city centre.”

The Spring Exhibition, titled Heat and bringing together artists who make work using heat, or are otherwise engaged with the idea of heat, is a group show that includes work by Roger Ackling, David Blackaller, experimental filmmaker Nick Collins, London-based abstract painters Carol Robertson and Trevor Sutton and Dutch minimal sculptor Cecilia Vissers. Blackaller, who curated the show, chose his cohorts based on “their shared interest in economy, simplicity, or rhythm; each working in a different abstract language, with works often echoing something of landscape or an attitude of contemplation”.

Ackling, who died in 2014, is represented by early works, the sun burning insistent lines onto found pieces of wood, a key element in his work. Blackaller uses wood that has previously had some other functional use, marking it with traces of paths taken, of objects encountered. Robertson works with reductive geometries, Vissers with notched sculptures that abstract her relationship with nature.

Heat, Zembla Gallery, Little Lindisfarne, Stirches Road, Hawick, TD9 7HF, Tel: 07843625232, 18 Mar – 14 Apr, Open by appointment only.

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Atlanta History Center acquires rare Civil War African American troop flag er Newspapers

The front of the 127th United States Colored Troops flag. (Special)

The Atlanta History Center in Buckhead has acquired a rare, historic flag for an African American Civil War troop, the museum announced.

The flag, which was used by the 127th United States Colored Troops, is one of fewer than 25 known carried by African American soldiers. The museum plans to put it on exhibit as soon as possible.

The artifact is “key to the story of Civil War” and helps the History Center continue its mission of increasing inclusivity, the museum said. The flag was purchased June 13 for $196,800, the most the museum has ever paid for a single artifact, it said.

The History Center rarely makes major purchases for its collections, which have grown over nine decades mainly through donations of artifacts. But acquiring the flag, which was purchased through an auction, was seen by the History Center leadership as “an important opportunity to expand its narrative about the often-forgotten service of the USCT during the Civil War.”

“We want to tell the entire story of the Civil War and how it impacts our country,” Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale said in the release. “This flag is worth it in exhibit value alone. It’s one of those things that doesn’t need words to tell you what it is and what it represents.”

The History Center has been growing its Civil War exhibits, including acquiring and restoring the historic “Battle of Atlanta” Cyclorama painting. Also part of the exhibit is a historic streetlamp from Underground Atlanta that was named for an African American barber killed during the Civil War. 

At least 180,000 African Americans served in the United States Colored Troops, a special branch of the U.S. Army formed after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Objects specifically identified with soldiers or regiments of the United States Colored Troops “are extraordinarily scarce.”

“It’s an iconic knock-your-socks-off artifact,” Atlanta History Center Military Historian and Curator Gordon Jones said in the release. “Even an enlisted man’s USCT uniform wouldn’t be as historically significant as this flag.”

The back of the 127th United States Colored Troops flag. (Special)

Measuring 72 by 55 inches, the silk banner depicts a black soldier carrying a rifle and bidding farewell to Columbia, the mythical goddess of liberty. A motto above the soldier reads “We will prove ourselves men.” On the flag’s reverse side, an American bald eagle bears a ribbon with the nation’s motto “E pluribus unum” — or, “Out of many, one.”

This is the only surviving example of 11 flags painted by African American artist David Bustill Bowser, who lived from 1820-1890. Bowser was a noted Philadelphia sign-painter, portraitist and anti-slavery activist noted for his portraits of John Brown and President Abraham Lincoln, the release said.

For many years the flag was housed at the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum and Library in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Because much of the silk had deteriorated, the flag was carefully restored and framed. Nearly all other USCT flags are in institutional collections.


For Derrick Baskin, ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ Is A Chance To Inspire Young Black Artists

Twenty years ago, Tony-nominated actor Derrick Baskin couldn’t imagine his biggest dream coming true.

Baskin, 43, portrays Otis Williams, the lead singer of famed Motown quintet The Temptations, in the hit Broadway musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.” On Sunday, Baskin will be vying for the Tony Award for best performance by an actor in a leading role in a musical. It is his first lead role on Broadway, and he is the only black performer nominated in his category. The musical, which received 12 nominations, features some of the top singles by the Motown group, including “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination” and “I Can’t Get Next to You,” one of Baskin’s personal faves to perform in the show.

But in 1998, before he moved to New York City, starring on Broadway seemed like a far-fetched dream. He was living with his grandfather in St. Louis, applying to medical school after graduating from Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia, with a bachelor’s degree in biology. The seeds that were planted at Hampton — affirming messages and images of the power of black excellence — ultimately inspired him to strive for greatness, no matter what obstacles stood in his way.  

“I think that this Broadway musical is hopefully an inspiration to young black male artists. I love that this show shows five strong black male leads,” he said. “To have five of us in ‘Ain’t Too Proud,’ it is an important time in our culture to see that.”

Perhaps that’s what makes Baskin the perfect performer to portray the tenacious leader of one of the greatest singing groups of all time. In an interview with HuffPost, Baskin talks about what he learned from Williams, the power of seeing five leading black men on stage in Broadway and the message he hopes audiences take away from the show.

How did it feel when you found out that you had been nominated?

When they called my name, I was jumping up and down in my robe in my living room. I called my family immediately to video chat with them and share the news.

This is a big dream that I wasn’t quite certain would ever happen. I didn’t know that I was ever going to get an opportunity to even be in a lead position to get a nomination. When the nominations happened that morning, just a flood of emotions overtake you. It’s a bit of relief, extreme gratitude, and you’re also in disbelief. But, honestly, it really is about the work — and doing the work is actually the reward, as opposed to working for an award.

The Broadway cast of "Ain't Too Proud" performs March 21 on "The Tonight Show."<br>&ldquo;I think that this Broadway musical

The Broadway cast of “Ain’t Too Proud” performs March 21 on “The Tonight Show.”
“I think that this Broadway musical is hopefully an inspiration to young black male artists. I love that this show shows five strong black male leads,” Derrick Baskin says.

The musical ultimately got 12 nominations, so that was probably an amazing feeling as well.

Yes, and it’s a lot of firsts for all of us. I think this material is so special, and it kind of commands your respect and commands you to step up your game. For everyone to be acknowledged in a particular category, I think it’s a testament to the love that we actually have for The Temptations and the love that we have for the piece, and I think that’s reflected in the nominations.

Let’s talk about The Temptations. You portray the only living original member. What did you learn from Otis Williams?

When I met him, we showed him the first act of the show, and since then he’s been an immediate source of wealth. He’s been so open, warm and candid with his experiences. He’s very protective of the story, as he should be, and he’s protective of his brothers. And now he’s adopted us, so he’s very protective of us, too.

I count it a blessing to have him as a resource because the other four guys don’t have that same experience. He invited us to his house in Los Angeles, and it was amazing to spend one-on-one time with him. I got to know him as a man, as a son and as a black artist. I was able to look at him not just as an icon but as a black artist like myself.

There are many powerful scenes, but one particular moment is when Otis learns that his son has died. How did you channel that energy and translate that to the stage?

Every night is different. The night you saw, there were more tears from me than had happened for a long time. Grief happens differently for different people, and in different moments in your life it can happen differently. What I allowed myself to do is to surrender to that moment and allow whatever that grief feels like in that moment to come out. I don’t try to force it. If I’m honest in that moment, I feel like the audience can feel it as well. I don’t want to ever put on a performance. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to tell a story. I’m here to bring you along on this journey.

The musical is set in the ’50s and ’60s but still feels of the moment. What are the messages in the story that resonate with you that people need to hear today?

What I love about this music is that it is timeless. In the time that it was written and performed, there was civil unrest. And then you parallel that with what’s happening in Alabama and other states with abortion laws. You parallel it to senseless violence against black people by police. There’s a lot of civil unrest and issues that we deal with today that we’re still fighting as people. And in this country there’s just a lot of tension, and the man who is running the country is dividing us.

This music gives us an example of how we can protest the establishment and protest things that are unjust. This music is kind of a beacon for hope that we can come together and fight the issues that are happening in our community. I’m really proud to sing this music and happy to show young people who didn’t grow up with The Temptations. It’s great to show them that when there’s something wrong in this country, say something, express that, protest that, fight that. I think The Temptations did a good job of channeling that through their music. I think that it’s an example today in how we can continue to fight because there are a lot of issues that as African Americans, as artists, as women, there’s things to fight. The fight never stops, and this is an example to keep the fight going.

What is next for you? Do you want to stay on Broadway?

Right before I booked this job, I was doing a TV show called “Difficult People” on Hulu with Gabourey Sidibe. Then I did a movie called “Marshall” with Chadwick Boseman. It kind of wet the whistle as to what I really want to do. I would love to make movies. That’s always been a dream of mine. I’m hoping this will be an opportunity to be seen for some really big projects.

What has been one of the big takeaways from “Ain’t Too Proud”?

I think that this Broadway musical is hopefully an inspiration to young black male artists. I love that this show shows five strong black male leads. We are not always sidekicks, and we’re not always just in the ensemble. There’s nothing wrong with either of those roles; I was both. But my dream was to always lead. And there are very few examples: Norm Lewis, Billy Porter, Brian Stokes Mitchell and others before me. But to have five of us in “Ain’t Too Proud,”  it is an important time in our culture to see that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Waterbury ahead in offering courses spotlighting African-American and Latino culture

WATERBURY – Crosby High School English Department chair Sean Mosley teaches traditional high school literature like Shakespeare or Beowolf. But Mosley also introduces other works, like “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent” by the Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez and “The Joy Luck Club” by Chinese-American writer Amy Tan. Mosley said he wants to highlight […]

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Battle flag carried by black Union troops hits auction block

Updated 12:49 am CDT, Monday, June 10, 2019

DENVER, Pa. (AP) — A flag that was carried into battle by a black Union regiment during the Civil War and hand-painted by an acclaimed African American artist is going up for auction in Pennsylvania.

The 127th United States Colored Infantry Regiment’s flag depicts a black soldier waving goodbye to Columbia, the white female personification of America, beneath a banner reading, “We Will Prove Ourselves Men.” It was one of at least 11 such flags painted by David Bustill Bowser, an artist, activist and son of a fugitive slave. It’s the only known surviving flag, and is being auctioned off June 13 at Morphy Auctions in Denver, Pennsylvania, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Philadelphia.

About 11,000 black union troops trained at Camp William Penn, just outside Philadelphia, on land that belonged to abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Lucretia Mott. They weren’t permitted to join state troops, so federal black regiments were formed, said Joseph Becton, of the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

Bowser had a successful banner and sign business in Philadelphia, and was chosen to design regimental flags for those troops. Supervisors at the camp opposed the idea of a black man receiving the commission, but he pleaded his case and was eventually granted the job.

“Bowser’s works were the first widely viewed, positive images of African Americans painted by an African American,” according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Regiments received such flags after they had completed their training as badges of honor as they moved off to battle or to other assignments, said Dr. John David Smith, the Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Smith has written extensively about black troops during the Civil War.

“I do know that African American troops took special pride in these flags,” he said in an email. “Not only did they represent their communities, but they underscored the honor and manhood that serving in the U.S. Army signified to them and the opportunity of Lincoln’s black soldiers in blue to help destroy slavery and to preserve the Union.”

Bowser made flags for the 11 regiments that trained at Camp William Penn. Seven of the flags were given to West Point around 1900 and they were destroyed in the 1940s. Photographs of the destroyed flags still exist.

The 127th Regiment’s battle flag had been on display for years at the Grand Army of the Republic Museum in Philadelphia, but the board recently decided to auction it to help bolster the museum’s finances, said Dr. Andy Waskie, vice president and historian at the museum.

“It’s such an enormously significant relic,” he said. “We were forced with great reluctance to sell it.”

It’s expected to fetch at least $250,000.

Bowser was a well-known artist, successful business owner and anti-slavery activist who began his career as a sign painter in Philadelphia. His early paintings included landscapes, portraits and banners for organizations like firehouse companies and political parties. His most noted works include portraits of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist John Brown.

The images on Bowser’s regimental flags were designed to be inflammatory to Confederate soldiers, Becton said.

For instance, the 127th regiment’s flag from a distance appears to show the black soldier and white woman holding hands, but in fact she’s holding a flagpole and he’s bidding her farewell. The banner for the 22nd regiment showed a black Union soldier pointing his bayonet at the chest of a fallen Confederate soldier who is tossing aside his sword, beneath a banner reading “Sic semper tyrannis,” which translates into “thus always to tyrants.” That was also the motto of Virginia at the time, so it was likely meant to enrage the enemy, Becton said.

“When people saw these images, it was their worst nightmares,” he said.

Bowser’s civil rights work included joining activist Octavius Catto and others in the effort to desegregate Pennsylvania’s streetcars in the late 1860s, Becton said.

He painted several portraits of Lincoln, his most famous from 1865, which he created from an image that was later used on the post-Civil War $5 bill.

Bowser also was involved with the abolition movement and his family home transformed into a stop on the Underground Railroad. He painted the portrait of abolitionist John Brown during his visit to the Bowser family home.

David Harrower, a Philadelphia historian who has written about troops at Camp William Penn and is working on a biography of Bowser, describes him as multifaceted leader in the community: a middle-class member of library and orchestral societies and voting rights groups; in addition to helping fugitive slaves reach freedom by providing them shelter in his home.

“Bowser’s story is important to Philadelphia history, to African-American history and to American history,” he said.

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Last-Minute Plans: 104 Free, Cheap & Easy Things To Do in Seattle This Weekend: June 14-16, 2019

An Ice Cream Social Pop-Up, Black Arts Fest, and More $10-and-Under Events

Snag scoops from vendors like Puffle Up (pictured) at the South Lake Union Saturday Market’s Ice Cream Social Pop-Up. Ice Cream Social Pop-Up via Facebook

Panicking because you don’t know what to do this weekend and you’re short on cash? Don’t worry—below, find all of your options for last-minute entertainment that won’t cost more than $10, ranging from Freeway Park in Bloom to the Chase the Light Pop-up Exhibition, and from the Pride edition of Mama’s Thirsty: A Queer Lady Hangout to Black Arts Fest. For even more options, check out our complete Things To Do calendar and our list of cheap & easy things to do in Seattle all year long. Plus, check out our list of last-minute and afforable Father’s Day events for this weekend.