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Arts & Culture

'African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond'

Mennello exhibit is a rich cocktail of beauty, pain and sorrow

Photo: Photos courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum/VAGA, License: N/A

Photos courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum/VAGA

"Top of the Line (Steel)," Thornton Dial

Photo: "Hip Hop," Earlie Hudnall Jr., License: N/A

"Hip Hop," Earlie Hudnall Jr.


In the far left gallery, abstract expressionist artists challenge viewers' perceptions of color and light. Emilio Cruz's "Angola's Dreams Grasp Fingertips" is a gigantic diamond mandala, with delicious, wiggling ropes of blue in a primal soup of magenta and yellow. Felrath Hines' crisp, flat color fields contrast this with austere geometric patterns, yet have a jazz tempo to them. The abstracts explore powerful themes unrelated to race and struggle, yet are informed by their makers' perspectives.

Black historian W.E.B. DuBois cautioned that "herein lie buried many things" about the African-American experience, and his statement is true of this exhibit as well. This is art at its best, a means to communicate, document and especially transmit understanding. This show, as deeply powerful a communication vehicle as any, does not hold back. Uncover what lies buried here and emerge stronger, having tasted a rich cocktail of beauty, pain and sorrow; you'll never be the same again.

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