Images and Reflections
by Carl Mellor - Thursday, October 17th, 2013
Several exhibitions with radically different portfolios are on display at SU Art Galleries.

Several exhibitions with radically different portfolios are on display at SU Art Galleries. The artists come from around the globe, from East Africa, Syracuse, Indonesia and other locales. Yet the shows share some general connections.

Nyumba Ya Sanaa: Works from the Maryknoll Collection highlights Syracuse University’s acquisition of a group of artworks created in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a coastal city. There, the Maryknoll Sisters ran a cultural center and art school whose mission was to support local artists and help them display or sell their work.

Some 90 pieces created by the school’s alumni are on display in a large exhibit that stretches across several rooms. It features a range of work including acrylics and watercolors, a slew of monoprints and sculptures. The show explores both the rhythm of everyday life in Tanzania and community connections.

Indeed, the exhibition presents pieces dealing with day-to-day tasks and agricultural work: “Feeding Chickens in the Morning,” a monoprint by Francis Patrick Imanjama; Cyprian Msafiri’s pen-and-ink drawing, “Carrying Water”; “Mushroom Pickers,” a fine watercolor by Henry Likonde. They are talented artists.

In addition, the show discusses family life, as seen in Thomas Valentino’s sculpture depicting a woman and her grandchild. There are works referencing traditional culture, such as John Valentino’s “Snake Dance” or Evaristi Chikame’s “Homage to the Chief,” an acrylic showing a village honoring a leader. Other pieces depict community decision-making, masks, even spirits.

This sprawling exhibit can’t succeed without individual pieces that clearly stand out. A short list of such artworks has to begin with George Lilanga’s pieces. He created “Mkono Nyoka (Snake Hand Spirit),” a batik, as well as “Wazee (Elders),” an African blackwood sculpture, and “Resting on the Calabash,” an ink pastel that blends colors beautifully. Look for Robino Ntila’s etching, “Storyteller,” and his screenprint, “Tambika (Tree for Prayers).” “Hunger Figures,” a haunting sculpture by Phidelis Hassan Kawwona, delves into AIDS’ impact in Africa.

A second show, Voices Heard and Celebrated, displays works created by 12 Henninger High students. They first viewed the Nyumba Ya Sanaa exhibit and reflected on the pieces. The goal wasn’t to copy work or to simply echo themes communicated by the artists from Tanzania. Rather, the exhibition served as a jumping-off point for thinking about everyday experiences in Syracuse.

Ultimately, the students used pointand-click cameras and Photoshop techniques to create a series of images. Nessa Vallaneuva’s photo portrays a person in bed watching television and also looking at an iPhone. Only the person’s hand is visible, and the phone and the television screen play off darkness in the room.

Sierra Vespi’s shot of seven young people isn’t documentary photography; she accentuates various colors, giving the photo an entirely different look. Thomas Smothers reworks an urban scene centered on concrete walls; his image suggests ruins far older than anything still standing in Syracuse. And Warood Alamane’s piece, consisting of three photos, has a dynamic quality as it depicts youth break dancing.

The exhibition represents a successful collaboration involving the students’ teacher, Lori Lizzio; Stephen Mahan of the Photography and Literacy Project; and Domenic Iacono, director for SU Art Galleries. It shouldn’t be viewed merely as an adjunct to the Nyumba Ya Sanaa show. Voices Heard and Celebrated has its own identity and its own appeal.

Finally, A World Apart: Art from the Samuel T. Pees Collection clearly has an international flavor; it presents work by artists from Indonesia, Haiti and other nations. There are landscapes, pieces portraying everyday life and other works. Some of the best pieces include “Crescent,” an oil by Sjarifuddin K. Rd. Luckman, and “House with Bird Cages,” a dazzling dye batik work by Sujatto, an artist who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name. o All three exhibits will be on display through Oct. 20 at SU Art Galleries, in the Shaffer Art Building, on the SU Quad. The venue is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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