Landscapes of the soul

SoulScapes, a unique exhibition that showcased the work of talented African American women, came to a close on Saturday, Feb. 16. Presented by Women of Visions, Inc., the exhibition was held at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture and was co-curated by Cecile Shellman, a specialist in aqueous media, and Marica Jackson, a ceramic artist and the president of Women of Visions, Inc.

“[Women of Visions, Inc.] was brought about because there was no place for African-American artists to exhibit their work,” said Joyce Baucum, a member of Women of Visions, Inc. and an employee at the August Wilson Center. “And so [the founders] decided to get together in a group and have their own shows and rent different venues. [We wanted] to show folks who said that we could not do it that it’s being done, and it’s being done well.”

The exhibit showcased the work of 18 different artists, all of whom are members of Women of Visions, Inc. The organization was started in 1981 and is celebrating its 27th birthday this year. Baucum’s contribution to the exhibition was a collection of beautiful silver gelatin photographs, each capturing a special moment in time.

“We sat down and went through brainstorming sessions, and I think we went from talking about landscapes and how they represent what’s on the outside of you to SoulScapes [and how they] represent what’s on the inside of you,” Baucum said.

The exhibit’s artwork offered a diverse array of perspectives and media. The pieces ranged from artistic ceramics, fiber, collage, and mixed media works, to vibrant oil, acrylic, and watercolor paintings, along with several computer-generated and silver gelatin photographs. Each display had its own message, evoking different feelings in the viewer.

The first piece on display was a beautifully worked blue structure created by Charlotte Ka. Entitled “Go Cry Girl, Girl Go Cry!”, this piece was an encaustic on a wooden panel, meaning that it was made entirely out of wax. The structure was inspired by an opera about an enslaved woman who would rather sacrifice her children than allow them to be enslaved as well. It was mounted by the figure of a woman’s face with a jeweled teardrop sliding down her cheek.

Both curators had their work on display at the exhibition. Jackson created a ceramic statue of a woman, inspired by a poem that was adapted from an old Viking battle prayer. This statue is the first in her “Beloved” series, a series about women who celebrate life and are prepared for the hereafter. Shellman had two intriguing watercolor paintings on display entitled “First, Man” and “First, Woman.”

The exhibit also contained quilts made of colorful pieces of fabric and hand-embroidered designs. Many had vibrant beads stitched onto them, tracing symbols and patterns.

One of the most interesting pieces in the exhibit featured fiber on canvas. Entitled “Inside and Out: Self Portrait,” the piece depicted the face of a woman whose features were outlined by beads and threads of various colors and textures. The artist, Mayota Hill, also created a piece called “Soul Engine #9,” which, through its fusion of beads and colorful fabric, threads, and cogwheels from clocks, seemed to be whirring and coming to life, pulsating like the actual soul.

Another very interesting piece was an acrylic painting by Delores Currin called “Meditation.” The painting depicted a woman, her eyes half closed and smiling, sitting outside at a table and warming her hands on a cup of coffee. The artist intended this image to represent that perfect moment in a woman’s day when her worries have not yet begun and she has the time to enjoy her first cup of coffee.

“I think a lot of people can connect to, not just this painting, but a lot of the work here,” said Treshea Wade, manager of communications for the August Wilson Center.

The exhibition also contained a number of collages, each sending its own unique message. One by Laverne Kemp, entitled “Soul shapers, the women who raised me,” is an amalgamation of pictures of loved ones and letters addressed to them, assembled with obvious love and care. Another collage, “Souls of Men” by Mary Martin, aimed to spread awareness about the high number of deaths among African-American youth. Pictures of the deceased were layered over cutouts of newspaper reports, creating a simultaneously moving and chilling piece of art.

There were also some powerful paintings, each showcasing part of the identity of African-American women. “My soul be drowned in this ocean,” a painting by Harriette Meriwether, was inspired by the painful journey of African women forced to leave home and come to America. It centered on the continent of Africa, surrounded by a swirling sea of brilliant blue and green, and has a touching message written in a spiral. Adrienne Powers’ painting “Soul Sista” depicted the strong image of the African-American woman back in the ’60s, when she began to forge her own identity.

The exhibit contained amazing works of art, each laying bare a piece of the artist’s soul. The talent, hard work, and emotion behind each artist’s contribution were evident in every piece. Each work was unique in its own way, either through the materials they used or the message they conveyed. As a whole, the exhibition certainly exemplified its title, presenting many examples of SoulScapes.