‘Peers and Pathways’ explores race from different angles
Six photographers and one filmmaker have work in “Peers and Pathways: A Photographic Redux.’’ The show runs at Massachusetts College of Art and Design through Nov. 24. All of them were variously associated with MassArt and/or the Boston arts scene in the late ’60s and ’70s.
All are also black. Those years were, and were not, a good time to be black and artistic in Boston. They were good because of the general cultural and political ferment — and also the specific cultural ferment spearheaded by Elma Lewis and the National Center of Afro-American Artists. They were bad because of the racial tinderbox this city became during much of the ’70s.
What makes “Peers and Pathways’’ resonant and satisfying is how the artists both draw on race and transcend it. The people in the five photographs from Hakim Raquib’s “Canvas Cathedral’’ series, from 1992, are all black. But the emotions conveyed — of religious faith and devotion — are universal in their humanity. Conversely, Omobowale Ayorinde’s tightly framed multiple-image scenes of building exteriors in Paris, Washington, D.C., and Israel are universal in their inhumanity. They are literally inhuman: People are nowhere evident in them. For that matter, living things of any sort are almost wholly absent (there’s a bit of greenery visible in the Israeli pictures). Yet in presenting such sterile scenes, Ayorinde manages to avoid sterility. The latticework of fire escapes and stairs in “Spirals,’’ for example, does lovely, unexpected things with light.
There is nothing impersonal about the late Rudy Robinson’s photographs. His portraits of black men manage to be at once strongly emblematic and no less strongly individuated.
Ekua Holmes works primarily in collage. In an artist’s statement, she writes of how an aged grandfather presented her with a shoebox of old photos. Using those photos and such everyday items as twine and yarn and tissue, she investigates — evokes may be a better word — the workings of memory.
Reginald L. Jackson describes himself as a “visual anthropologist.’’ “I see my mission as a visual artist to present what has been seen before in new ways, to think about what is photographed in ways not seen or thought of before.’’ His large-scale color prints from Ghana are very handsome. Part of what makes them so is the special quality of light that fills them. Part of that is the combination of inquiry and acceptance Jackson brings to his looking.
“These pictures are about people,’’ Lou Jones writes of his work, “people as fugitives in their environments with an emphasis on African American diaspora.’’ That might suggest a certain solemnity, or even grimness. And it’s true that his “Labor,’’ taken in Haiti in 1977, is quite moving. Yet there is a truly marvelous vitality, even joy, in a photograph such as “Graduation 1’’ or “Preservation Hall Jazz Band’’ (preservation, in this case, being a form of celebration). Jones can be very sly. “Bar, Havana, Cuba’’ is like a merengue-inflected Norman Rockwell. And “Park Avenue, New York’’ — what a terrific picture! — manages to evoke Paul Strand’s classic “Wall Street,’’ Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Streetworks’’ series, while being utterly distinctive.
It seems unfair to assign Eric Meza to a final perfunctory paragraph. But the selections from various of the music videos, commercials, films, and sitcoms he’s directed which play on a single monitor are themselves treated perfunctorily. No titles or related credit information are given. There is one bit involving revenge, a set of toothbrushes, and a highly intimate bit of personal grooming that for better or worse is not itself perfunctory in the least.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.