Home Page Image

 


Never Forget

At Freedom's Door Reminds Viewers That Slavery's Cultural Chains Haven't Been Completely Unshackled

FREEDOM WRITERS: Arvie Smith's "Baltimore My Baltimore"
FREEDOM WRITERS: Arvie Smith's "Baltimore My Baltimore" (detail).
At Freedom's Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland

Nothing is sacred from Joyce J. Scott's astute mind. Whatever this nationally celebrated Baltimore artist chooses to draw a bead on undergoes transmogrification. The deft visual imagination of her previous works inspires awe: the little beaded personae that are loaded with operatic gesture; her uncommon, obsessive technical work; and the highly curious predicaments she sets her fetishistic figures to cope with, usually with culturally loaded found objects. But the newer works in Scott's current solo show, Breathe, which evidence her residency at Washington state's Pilchuck Glass School, step her work up to intoxicating heights. The glass vessels with which Scott now enriches her eccentric sculpture become the world as imagined by time--amniotic, molten, hookah-dreamt, green-glaciered, surname-engulfed, lava-lamped, wracked, and glorious all at once. They suggest the small special planet that the Little Prince sits upon and endeavors to save. But, of course, they are significantly weirder and decidedly more libidinous.

Meanwhile, in this blown-glass (or found object) realm are Scott's vying beaded inhabitants. As observed in "Him," "Yaller Girl," and "Melancholy City," they clutch at their hopes or past, writhe at their own choices, and dangle from others' acts or needs. And even if their peyote glass skin is not one's own matching color, suggesting stories that may be racially specific, we know these figures' trials, even intimately. We privately, guiltily, personally comprehend their innocent confused compulsions, or their efforts at survival and virtue, or even the folly of doting vanity.

Somehow in her knobby stitched assemblages of beads, Scott manages to craft facial expressions and gestures that can be deeply internalized. This is exactly the way that modern fetish figures should function. Their simple, piercing faces summon a state of mutuality that suckles on their beholder's sleepy empathy. They nudge a leap of consciousness that helps to realize--not some supplication we might once have made through a surrogate doll--but a revelation on the pathos of human history with respect to our antagonized ethnic lines.

The particular selection of work in this show centers on the relations of black, white, and Hispanic people. Even though they are made somewhat preposterous in their predicaments, her subjects generally maintain a mythological integrity as they manipulate or are themselves victimized. With her little taste for farce, Joyce Scott is nonetheless an honor-bound anthropologist. And while this review initially contends that that nothing is sacred for Scott, her work also equally suggests that everything is.

Among her characters Scott repeatedly includes a yellow figure often encapsulated in glass--as she is in "The Many Faces of Love #2," "Oh Hell, No," and "Yaller Girl, Egypt." This bound yellow figure might suggest an intercourse that is displayed like a novelty of nature, protected like a charm, sealed like a secret, held like a seed. Is she jaundiced or the yellow of new day? Imagined as the nexus of all ethnicities, born out of curiosity, lust, and love, this bright little persona is the irrevocable phenomenon of the future, the consenting genetic mélange made flesh. Oh, hell yes: So our melanin grows more similarly golden from sampling each other's peyote glass. We still have so many ancestral foibles to account for and so many ongoing vices to subdue, and Joyce J. Scott won't be out of colorful source material for a long time.

 

Reprinted from The Baltimore City Paper