"African M+Pulse," Obsidian Arts' new exhibit now showing at Pillsbury House, is a fascinating look at contemporary artists creating works by delving into, springing from, and, sometimes, deviating against African art traditions. It's a wonderful show that is worth checking out at the vibrant community center.
Obsidian Arts was established in 2001 after operating informally as an arts collective for five years. Their first gallery space opened in 2003 when the organization secured their 501 (c)3 status. Several years ago they moved to Pillsbury House on 35th and Chicago.
Curator Roderic Southall says that while there are certain aesthetic disadvantages to not being able to show artwork in a "big white cube," displaying pieces in a community center has its own advantages. Many people who use Pillsbury House -- whether they are going to church, going to the health clinic, using the childcare services, participating in after school youth programs, or going to the theater -- "happen upon the art," he says. That visibility is tough to beat, even if it means that there's a big community table in the middle of an exhibition.
Detail: In Plain Site by Amma Aning Odum
In some cases, artists can adjust according to the space. For instance, Amma Aning Odum changed the color of an etching that was on a clear board which serves as a background for her installation In Plain Site. The color works nicely with the wall behind it.
Odum's installation is the most stunning piece in the exhibit. Featuring a simple table and two chairs, along with the background board, the installation offers an exchange of histories between Ghanaian and American culture. Odum, whose family is from Ghana, was born in upstate New York, but has always had a yearning to find out who she is. As an entry point, she has turned to storytelling as a way to get a grasp of the culture and its verbal histories.
In Plain Site by Amma Aning Odum
Her installation illustrates the story of the golden stool, which she says brought disparate clans under the Ashanti Tribe together. According to the legend, priests prayed for a sign and the golden stool was sent from the sky. Each slab on the table's surface has been etched separately, and shows the eight clans brought together. The etching on the clear background board shows the clans symbolized by different animals, such as jaguar, a dog, and a crow.
The furniture itself, Odum says, incorporates traditional angular lines. Her use of contemporary processes with traditional storytelling and shapes uniquely bring together Ghanaian and American cultures.
Another artist in the show is Adama Sow, who has lived in the United States for 27 years, the last 10 in Minnesota. Sow studied ceramics in both Senegal and at the FUH School of Ceramics in Hor-Grenzhausen, Germany, and currently teaches at the Edina Art Center and other places.
In one of Sow's pots, he fired the work only once, then used lipstick and shoe polish to add color. It's a method used by women in the village where he is from. The clay absorbs the color, which gives the piece an an earthy, rich tone.
In another work, Sow takes a plate that is divided in two and ties it together with leather string. The piece uses shoe polish for coloring, and shells as details. The artist got the idea to tie the two halves of the plate together from the tradition of making jugs of water from the calbash, a kind of gourd.
Sow also uses pottery techniques that are considered more western, employing two firings and colorful glazes. In both types of work, he proves a skilled craftsman with a keen eye for simple elegance.
Other artists in the show include Daniel Kerkhoff, Rabi Sanfo, Koffi Mbairmadji, Nisserene Dondini, Tanegha, Taiwo Olatunde, Kofi Arrsor, and Aksokipala. The survey of African artists is a remarkable exhibit of contemporary pieces.