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2008 Exhibitions

¡Merengue! | Reflections in Exile | Allan Rohan Crite | Calvin Burnett | Malcolm X | Middle Passage | Mya Freelon

Past Exhibitions 2010 | 2009  | 2007-2006 | 2005-2003

Merengue

¡Merengue!

Visual Rhythms/Ritmos Visuales
through November 2008

Organized by Sara Hermann of the Centro Cultural Eduardo Leon Jimenes, Merenque! will present 47 works by 27 classical and contemporary artists—paintings, works on paper, and an illustrated timeline that reveals the diverse styles practiced by Dominican artists who interpret the island’s most important musical and dance form.

An extensive program of bilingual educational and cultural events will accompany the exhibition. For more information visit the ¡Merengue! website

ExodusView "Reflections in Exile: Five Contemporary African Artists"

Ilona Anderson, Khalid Kodi, Chaz Maviyane-Davies, Salem Mekuria, Ezra Wube. Co-organized with the South Shore Art Center

EXILE Press Information I - Exile PressInformation II

Blue Battle

The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists is pleased to present Reflections in Exile: Five Contemporary African Artists Respond to Social Injustice through July 27, 2008.

Reflections in Exile features installations by Ilona Anderson of South Africa, Khalid Kodi of the Sudan, and Salem Mekuria of Ethiopia, posters by Chaz Mayivane-Davies of Zimbabwe, and paintings by Ezra Wube of Ethiopia. The exhibition was co-organized with the South Shore Art Center co-curated by Candice Smith-Corby. The catalogue was underwritten by a gift from BJ and Steve Andrus.

The exhibition provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about contemporary Africa and its cultural-socio-political issues through the lenses of five artists all of whom are currently working in New England, but meditating on their homelands.

In Memory of ALLAN ROHAN CRITE (1910-2007)
Through July 2008

Featuring more than fifty works from the museum’s permanent collection

For nearly ninety years, Allan Rohan Crite was rarely seen without a pencil and pad in hand. Having given his life to art, he was especially well known for his narrative paintings of the religious and social life of lower Roxbury/South End, his depictions of Christian themes in contemporary, often local, settings, and his ecclesiastical subjects on gold leaf. Very prolific, he produced an enormous body of work that will sustain his legacy as a painter of the American scene.

Over the eight decades of his career, he inspired generations of younger artists who bestowed on him the honorary title of the Dean of African American artists in New England. His place in American art is evinced by his inclusion in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, Smithsonian Institution, Museum of African American History, Boston Athenaeum, Phillips Collection, Corcoran Gallery of American Art, Boston Public Library, Newark Museum and others, as well as by many one-person exhibitions, including Allan Rohan Crite: Artist-Reporter of the African American Community (2001) at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle, Washington.

Born to Annamae Palmer and Oscar W.Crite in 1910 in North Plainfield, New Jersey,
the infant Allan Rohan came to Boston where his father worked as an engineer. He grew up in lower Roxbury and attended public schools. An early interest in art was cultivated at the Children’s Art Center and nurtured by his mother who regularly took him to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum. While still a Boston public school student, he took art classes at the Museum of Fine Arts by special arrangement. In 1929, he enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts where he completed studies in 1936. After two brief stints with the Works Progress Administration (WPA), he went to work in 1940 as a draughtsman at the Boston Naval Yard where he remained until his retirement in 1974. Simultaneously, he pursued his art career, cultivated his skills as a prodigious researcher, and actively involved himself in missions of the Episcopal Church. Along the way, he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the Harvard Extension School where he subsequently became a part-time librarian. He also studied at Boston University and the Massachusetts College of Art.

As his career developed, Crite built close relationships with the Boston Athenaeum, the Boston Public Library, the Episcopal Divinity School and many national and local Episcopal parishes. After its founding in 1969, he added the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists and the Boston Collective, a group of younger African American artists who encircled him and with whom he traveled to China in the 1980s.Throughout his long career, Crite strove to make his art accessible. This desire led him to publish two books of ink-brush drawings Were You There When They Crucified My Lord (1944) and Three Spirituals (1948), both with Harvard University Press.

He also regularly provided illustrations for church service programs for several Episcopal parishes, and he independently self-published waves of prints of his artwork, some hand-colored and some with gold leaf added. He also painted several murals most notably at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, New York.

A singular feature of his art was his placement of the Holy personages in contemporary rural or urban settings.
In the illustrated spirituals, the Heavenly Hosts are black singers hovering above Southern fields populated by black farmers. In the Madonna of the Subway series, Mary sits comfortable on a Boston rapid transit train amid ordinary riders going about their daily business.
In another work, Mary and Jesus are boarding an airplane at Logan Airport. After his travels to Mexico and Puerto Rico, Crite painted the Nativity story set in the Americas. Indeed, he was a pioneering figure in the practice of representing Christian figures as black or Latino in American art. Crite was a careful observer of places and people. His paintings and drawings of lower Roxbury and the South End document local architecture with great precision. In certain cases, Crite’s rendering provide a rare, if not exclusive, portrait of portions of the city that were demolished during Boston’s urban renewal. Similarly, he tirelessly sketched people and put them in his art.

In the late 1960s, he undertook creating a series of extraordinary accordion books of global history, such as Reflections on the Cultural Heritage of Afro-Asian-American Peoples of Color. He filled these books with many portraits of political, social and arts figures from Boston amid historical characters from the past. Crite’s research skills are evident in the several of these tomes, for they are amazing in their historical scope and exacting visual details. Some of the accordion books folded out to more than sixty feet and are populated with thousands of figures. Like his self-published autobiography, the books capture his reflections on the human condition and spirituality.

Among the last of Crite’s major projects was his remarkable Book of Revelation produced by the New York-based Limited Editions Publishers in which he created illustrations for the last book of the Bible. Bound in maroon cloth and printed on deluxe paper,

Revelation brought together a lifetime of visual thinking about Christianity and Biblical texts by an artist who loved almost equally the art of paint and of words.

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CALVIN W. BURNETT (1921-2007)
Through July 19, 2008

Featuring nine works drawn from the permanent collection of the museum.

Endowed with a nimble imagination and enormous technical facility, Calvin Burnett distinguished himself as an artist who often brought sharp, satiric wit to his explorations of social themes, using a visual vocabulary ranging from abstraction to realism. He is especially noted for his many depictions of black historical figures from Marcus Garvey to Angela Davis, and for his inventive re-use of favorite motifs, such as the floating girl, in myriad compositions. When he joined the faculty of the Massachusetts College of Art in 1956, he became the first African American teacher at a New England professional art school. He was an excellent teacher, especially in the area of perspective, which was the subject of his book 1966 Objective Drawing Techniques (Reinhold Publishing Company). Always interested in promoting appreciation of the visual arts in black communities, Burnett participated actively with many artist organizations throughout his career, such as the Boston African American Artists Association (formerly the Boston Negro Artists Association).

Son of a doctor, Burnett was born in Cambridge in 1921 and attended Cambridge Public Schools, followed by the Massachusetts College of Art from which he was graduated in 1942. After working at the Naval Yard during World War II, he pursued study in graphic arts at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (1945-1946) and he earned a degree in Teacher Education from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1951. In 1962, he received the MFA degree from Boston University in 1960.

As a young man, Burnett played the clarinet and piano and was deeply involved in music. Works such as the watercolors Jam session: Engine Room (c.1945), Clarinet player (1946) and The blues Singer (1969) capture this interest. In the same period, Burnett painted The Dancing Doorman in which a black male grins and dances wildly while extending his hand for a tip, and They that carry us away require of us a song. The former watercolor comments on the sycophancy required of black men in a racist society just to make a living. The latter, evoking the story of the bondage of the Hebrews in the Old Testament, calls attention to blacks as entertainers who provide delight for a white nation despite their own pain and unfair limitations.

The satiric bite so stinging in these works remained in much later compositions such as Two Months and Race Riot, both completed in the early 1990s. Two Months, currently on display at the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, interrogates the contemporary meaning of February as black history month and March as women’s heritage, cynically observing the necessity for advocacy in American political consciousness. In many of these works, Burnett added bits of text to assure that his sardonic intent would not be missed.

By the mid-20 th century, Burnett was known far beyond New England. I first encountered his work in Atlanta, Georgia, his painting Insect hung in Atlanta University’s Trevor Arnett Library. Beginning in 1947, he regularly exhibited in the Atlanta University Annual where the practice for the University to purchase and display the prize winners. Burnett regarded participation in the Annual as important to his career. As his reputation grew, his art increasingly appeared in national African American shows, and found it way into private collections as well as those of institutions such as the Boston Public Library and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists. Not surprisingly, he was welcomed as an illustrator by the Houghton, Mifflin Company (cover designs for Contes Africains, and Explorations in Literature, both 1972), Porter Sargent Publishers (The Black Power Revolt, 1968) and others.

As an artist, Burnett was adventurous, pursuing many disparate interests. Some thought that he was too eclectic. He experimented with the use of metallic paints, using spray cans and other techniques to apply pigment to his surfaces. Unafraid of abstraction, he cut, sliced and folded painted canvas to create quite wonderful low relief compositions. Indulging his passion for perspective, he fashioned intriguing, sometimes confounding linear arrangements of boxes, cylinders and other forms in pictorial space. In Calvin Burnett: In a lifetime, an exhibition at Artworks in New Bedford in 2005 such works fascinated viewers.

Printmaking was an arena of particular excellence in Burnett’s oeuvre. He excelled at lithography as shown by Sojourner Truth, serigraphy as demonstrated by Girl in Red, and woodcuts as evinced by Theseus and King. Frequently, Burnett would engage more than one technique in creating a print. Sometimes he would repeat the same motif in different prints varying the color, or perhaps working over it with crayon, charcoal or ink. Just as he might re-imagine a print by juxtaposing familiar motifs, he might also cut it up and make it part of a collage that involving drawing and sometimes over-painting. Burnett was always very generous in supporting interest in the visual arts. In 1950, he became the first art teacher for the newly formed Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts on Waumbeck Street in Roxbury. In the mid-1960, he joined James Marcus Mitchell and a small band on local aspiring black artists in forming the Boston Negro Artists Association, an organization whose successor continues to mount its signature Art in the Park exhibition annually. Until he moved away for the Boston area, Burnett showed with the group in a sign of solidarity with its goals and ambitions.

Over the last decade, Burnett lost his sight and as suffered increasingly from Alzheimer’s disease. He died October 8, 2007 in Medway, Massachusetts, where he lived. His daughter Tobey and his wife of many years, Torrey Milligan, survive him.

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FEBRUARY 2008

Malcolm XMalcolm X: In Action
Photographs by Robert L. Haggins
Painting by Theodore Charron

Presented in cooperation with the Malcolm X/Ella L. Little-Collins Family Foundation, MALCOLM X: in action features eleven photographs by Robert L. Haggins and an acrylic portrait by Theodore A. Charron.
The photographs document Malcolm X as a tender father with two daughters, and as a friend and spiritual advisor to Cassius Clay as the latter transforms into Muhammad Ali. Several images show Malcolm in his role as national representative of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad who headed the Nation of Islam (NOI) in l934. In two of these, Malcolm is addressing a street rally in central Harlem.

In another, he is flanked by Manhattan borough president Hulan Jack and flamboyant Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. When Malcolm is encountered next, he is leaving the Nation of Islam’s restaurant in the company of several other Muslim spokesmen including Boston’s Minister Louis X (later Louis Farrakhan). A new series of photographs focus on Malcolm after he returned from his hajj to Mecca and launched the secular political organization known as the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).

First Malcolm is seen speaking to an audience of OAAU supporters, and then fraternizing with new associates that he had met in Africa or at the United Nations. Beginning and ending photographs, along with the painting by Charron, offer psychological portraits of Malcolm. They suggest his inner strength, determination and intelligence.

Malcolm X was a major figure of the mid-twentieth century whose impact still reverberates widely. His story is one of dramatic spiritual and political transformation. After sliding into a life of small-time crime, he found himself in Massachusetts prisons where he became an avid reader and a convert to the Nation of Islam, a Muslim organization headed by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in l934. Following his parole in l952, he eventually rose to become chief representative of Mr. Muhammad. Soon he built a wide following for Black Nationalist ideas, racial pride and solidarity, all wrapped in the envelope of the NOI. Eventually, he left the Nation of Islam, joined Sunni Islam, and launched a secular political entity—the Organization of Afro--American Unity. He set as a goal bringing the United States before the United Nations on human rights charges for its treatment of black Americans. In l965, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York. Although two Muslims were convicted for his murder, many believe that the U.S. government had a hand in the tragedy.

Malcolm X lived in Roxbury after initially visiting his half sister—Ella L. Little-Collins— in l939 to the mid-1950s when he became minister at Temple No. 7 in Harlem. Even thereafter, he regularly visited his family in Boston and was widely known and remembered in Roxbury.

View - Reflections on the Middle Passage

In 1807, the British outlawed the slave trade on the high seas. In theory, this act should have ended Middle Passage experiences for enslaved Africans bound for the Americas, but of course this was not the immediate outcome. New illegal human imports from Africa were still arriving in the United States up until the eve of the Civil War. The traffic in slaves was abiding as long as it was profitable, despite the effort two hundred years ago to crush it. Middle Passage refers to the period of time between when captured, purchased or otherwise imprisoned Africans left the shores of their native continent and when they set foot on soil in the Americas.

The six weeks or so at sea was horrific with up to half of the cargo of enslaved Africans dying en route, some from the exceedingly unhealthy conditions on the ships, some from brutal treatment at the hands of their captors, some from despair-driven suicide, and still others from diseases. Middle Passage was a tragic ordeal of Biblical proportions, yet it was also the prelude to an extraordinary resurgence of creativity and humanity by its descendents in the “new” world. Reflections on the Middle Passage acknowledges the terror of that experience and pays homage to our forebears who survived it to flourish here.

Three works anchor the exhibition: The Negro spirituals speak of life and death by Jimmy James Greene, an illustration from Middle Passage by Tom Feelings, and a passage from the long poem Middle Passage by African American poet Robert Hayden. Both of the visual art items are drawn from the museum’s permanent collection. Especially compelling is The Negro spirituals speak of life and death for it is at once an altar and a slave ship. It’s overall form may be seen as a Gothic arch enclosing a shrine, or as a ship deck viewed from above. At the foot of the arch, Greene has evoked more strongly memories of the slave ship by recreating the planking of the deck and exposing the dark revulsion of the hole, that dreaded cramped space below the deck. Both above and below are corpses recalling those who died at sea and were often feed to the sharks. Barbed wire and nails emphasize the brutality of the ocean interlude. Rising in waves above the ship’s deck are generations of survivors of the Middle Passage who evincenot only the power of hope, but also the resilience of life that fired the bosom of those Africans.

Greene has embodied hope in Christian iconography with a black hand reaching high against a blue sky within a Romanesque window surmounted by the image of Christ offered forward by caring hands beneath the apex of the Gothic arch. Also within the apex of the arch is a small relief image of Africa, the ancestral home and destination of the dematerializing bodies of the dead that ascent along the frame’s outer edges.

Reflections on the Middle Passage will be on display throughout the summer.

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Enter-ACTION - New Artwork by: Maya Freelon

Untied StatesView - Enter-ACTION is a new exhibition created by award-winning, mixed-media artist Maya Freelon.

Freelon, who interrogates social issues by juxtaposing traditional and contemporary media, transforms the museum into an interactive installation. Working with tissue paper, her sculptures reach from the ceiling to the floor taking on monumental proportion, yet their fragility and anthropomorphic qualities remain exposed as they shift gently with the fluctuating air current. “Maya’s organically-inspired mixed-media compositions offer fresh and dynamic ways of experiencing color, transparency and incidental light effects all within a strikingly impressive visual fluidity. We are delighted to present this early career exhibition for an artist of growing significance” said NCAAA museum director Edmund Barry Gaither.

The NCAAA has the honor of being the first venue to introduce the intense, beautifully abstracted video 'FREE ALL Political Prisoners!', which is a tribute to the many people who have been, and continue to be incarcerated because of their political beliefs, activism or threat to the dominate power structure. The video includes a soundtrack of speeches from revolutionaries including Mumia Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur.

Maya Freelon’s desire to share her art with the world has garnered her exhibitions at the Combes Gallery in Paris, France, Rhonda Schaller Studio in New York City and an invitation to show her work at the National Art Gallery of Namibia. A 2006 Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture alum, Maya Freelon is also the founder of the award winning, community arts collaborative, Make Your Mark Art, www.makeyourmarkart.org

For more information go to www.mayafreelon.com