The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

September 15, 2009

Damond Howard and Still America’s Greatest Problem

There are only two weekends left to see Damond Howard’s works in progress at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art Loft, and I suggest you do not let this opportunity pass you by. 

Bonnie, Kristine Hartvigsen and I went out to see this small showing and meet Damond along with his wife and daughter last Sunday afternoon, and we were taken by the intimacy of the event.  Damond receives his guest in the loft space he inhabits at 701 on weekends — the artist teaches during the week at Claflin University in Orangeburg, so he’s only in this studio space for the weekends of his six-week-long residency.  

The walls of the space are lined with  large black and white images depicting the artist himself balanced against  traditionally racist images in a similar pose.  There’s a minstrel and a dandy and, most disturbing of all, a gorilla — all juxtaposed against the depiction of a black man exhibiting almost the same posture.  If the presentation of the images alone is not enough to bring about the kind of discomfort that makes white folks feel like blushing and stuttering a little, the eyes of the subjects definitely do the trick.  While in one pair the eyes of the man seem to capture those of the caricature — accusatory, shocked, pissed — in the next pair, the eyes of the parody seem to assess the image of the man — more accusation? respect? also pissed?  It is the projected internal exchange between the subjects that makes the viewer realize an intimacy not common in contemporary art.

Stop by the studio some time before the 24th of the month and take a look at what Professor Howard has been up to.  And ask him if he’s thought anymore about Joe Wilson’s outburst — we had a nice conversation about it, but the artist kept his grace and objectivity far better than I am able to.  Particularly given that the name of this exhibition is, “Still America’s Greatest Problem.” 

May 2, 2009

Anne Boudreau and 701 Whaley Street

Visiting an artist in residence at 701 Center for Contemporary Art on Whaley Street in Columbia is the equivalent of being allowed into the inner sancta of the heart and soul of art and creativity.  A bold statement, to be sure, but when we consider the history of the facility itself, which is all about creative productivity, and combine it with the purpose of the facility now, again all about the potential for artistic creativity — I don’t believe the fact overstated.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit 701 many times within the past few months.  In addition to enjoying a massive Valentine’s Day party and the Runaway Runway show downstairs, I also took in some of the Indie Grits presentations upstairs in the more intimate but still size-able rooms above.  I saw Miriam Barbosa dance beautifully there around Beth Melton’s huge textile installation, then I saw Martha Brim dance around Ellen Kochansky’s installation in the same space.  Finally, last week, at the preview of Anne Boudreau’s installation, which depicted just a few pieces of her works in progress for her May 7th opening, I was one of a too small number who got to see Thaddeus Davis and Tonya Wildeman-Davis dance with and around some of the larger of Anne’s pieces.  So, at this point, I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable in the facility.

And I can’t say enough good things about it. When I enter the doors and walk down the long halls, my eyes wander to the traces of paint and days and lives gone by that still cling to the walls and ceilings, and my mind wonders at the history still clinging there, as well.  As the grandchild of a mill family, married to the grandchild of a mill family, and a student of southern culture, I often feel a bit of a knot in my throat and a mist in my eye when I contemplate the massive and quite grey contribution that the textile industry has made in the lives of people around whom my life has been built.  Bittersweet.  People who were thankful for difficult and dangerous jobs.  In so many cases, the complete and irrefutable absence of choice.  Making do.  Getting by.  Cradle to grave.

And I can see all that there on the walls of 701 Whaley, scrubbed clean but still reeking of the past, the memories trapped between the layers of paint left for the rest of us to witness.  And without fail, there is one word that comes to my mind every time I enter the building:  integrity.  Here’s hoping the facility continues to live up to that regard.

To read my article on Anne Boudreau, this season’s artist in residence, please click on http://www.thestate.com/static/images/magazines/LakeMurrayColumbia0509/ and flip to pages 22 – 23.

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