The new exhibit at the Community Folk Art Gallery presents artwork by two different artists who work in different media. The show doesn’t try to overemphasize connections between the two artists. As usual, any connection arises from the works themselves, on display in Reflection and Identity: Works by W. Michelle Harris and Michael Roman.
Harris creates digital prints, incorporates electronics into some of her installations and generally takes a freewheeling approach as she explores societal views on women and race. Roman, meanwhile, has created 22 drawings, most of them done in charcoal and ink on paper. He delves into faith and spirituality in his pieces, expressing the notion that these are complex matters.
Still, the exhibition has unifying elements: Both artists are interested in the human form and both have searched for ways to express specific narratives.
Harris has varied artworks on display, ranging from a digital print, “Mammy’s Revenge,” to “Feet,” which shows a mother and child in bed, their feet sticking out from under the covers. In one installation, three dresses hang on a coat rack. When a viewer walks directly toward one of the dresses, she or he triggers a sensor, and the dress moves. In yet another piece, the artist has created the outline of a female body, then filled it with “bitch,” “honey” and many other words.
Her most interesting works come from her “Barbie” series. In “Three
Graces,” Harris has positioned three plastic dolls in close proximity to
each other and in front of a
mirror. The dolls seem to eye each other, and it’s a garish scene. Yet the artist isn’t operating in a pop-art context or seeking to create a satirical artwork. Rather, she’s investigating Barbie as a mass-culture icon, as one example of objects that influence us consciously and unconsciously.
A second work from the series sets up a dresser with four Barbie dolls on top of it and the heads of two dolls, full of blonde hair, attached to each of three drawers. On a nearby wall, a projector beams images of dozens of Barbie dolls in a mosaic format. The images are constantly in motion, and it’s very difficult to focus on them. This isn’t a gimmick. It’s another way of engaging viewers, of looking at our relationship with mass culture.
For his part, Roman’s expressive drawings share recurring motifs like the birds that inhabit each piece and the halos that appear around each human’s head. Here Roman is communicating the notion that God is present throughout the world and in each of us; every person has a physical and spiritual dimension.
At the same time, the artist deals with the human dilemma, referencing the idea that spiritual journeys are often difficult, that struggle is ongoing. This may sound inner-directed, but Roman has clearly thought about how to develop a visual idiom for expressing such ideas. In his drawings, he has depicted people dealing with inner agony, with doubt, with the human condition. In “Awkward,” for example, a man sits on a pedestal, in deep thought and surrounded by several birds. His body language and facial expression convey emotional content; it’s easy to empathize with him.
In other drawings, Roman takes a fairly provocative approach by depicting women in various states of nudity. These artworks need to be assessed in the overall context of the drawings on display here. The artist seems to be acknowledging that sexualized images of women are common today and certainly have an impact. At the same time, such depictions aren’t determinative. Every woman, like every other person, has physical and spiritual facets. Indeed, every one of Roman’s subjects, male or female, has some form of halo around the head.
The exhibition does a nice job of presenting the artists’ work, of
displaying enough pieces so that viewers can get a good sense of Roman’s
and Harris’ creative approaches. Reflection and Identity is on
display through April 21 at the Community Folk Art Center, 805. E.
Genesee St. The rescheduled opening reception will be held Saturday,
March 24, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a live figuring drawing workshop taught by Roman at 11 a.m., followed by a reception and panel. The CFAC is also screening Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour,
with a discussion featuring W. Michelle Harris Thursday, April 5, from 6
to 9 p.m. The art center is open Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5
p.m., and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call