January 18, 2007


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Expressions of character
Self-taught art helps break stereotypes at Revolving Museum
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

A throne made of bottle caps, dozens of pipe cleaner dolls, and a totem pole-style wood carving of Muhammad Ali greet you at the Revolving Museum in Lowell, Mass.

“Race, Class, Gender ? Character” is Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum’s first visiting exhibition. Visionary art, or what some might call outsider art, is done by self-taught artists. AVAM is designated by Congress as America’s official national museum, education center and repository wholly dedicated to visionary art. Painter Lily Yeh, founder of The Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia, was the guest curator for this exhibit.

“In a world that seems so determined to sort its population into subjective categories of good and evil, ‘Character’ reminds us that everyone smiles in the same language and everyone feels the pain of injustice,” said Jerry Beck, founder and artistic director of The Revolving Museum. 

More than a dozen paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media pieces from the 300 works at the Baltimore exhibit, which ended in September, are at Revolving through Feb. 4.

Street artist Mr. Imagination awoke from a coma with a new vision after being shot in the stomach. The Chicago-born self-taught artist is now known internationally and his throne and ottoman covered in bottle caps are at the Revolving. The throne is meant to remind people that each is “a child of a King.”

Two portraits by Morgan Monceaux, “The Last Maya King” and “Queen Nzingha, Last Queen of Angola” show that the concept of royalty extends beyond modern ideas and racial divides.

John Abduljaami carves totem pole-like shapes, and his Muhammad Ali sculpture is in this exhibit. “I carve it like it is — fairy tales don’t happen,” Abduljaami has said.

Chris Roberts-Antieau’s fabric paintings are highly detailed and brightly colored. The two panels shown here are like storyboards. “The Recovery of Roy” portrays the white tiger incident with Las Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy, and Siegfried’s constant watch over Roy.

Dozens of “Skinny Girls” by Linda St. John make up an installation. She used scraps of cloth and found objects to make dolls as a child in the south. She still makes them, representing the “haves” and “have nots” of her memories.

The Amazi Abeifazane Project panels are the most striking. South African women were asked to portray a day they will never forget. Each brightly colored cloth is embroidered or beaded, but a close-up view often shows a body across the ground, a gun in hand, or a bleeding hole in a stomach.

Art created by local teens in reaction to the exhibit is also displayed. The Revolving Museum uses public art, exhibitions and educational programs to promote exploration and appreciation, encourage community participation and provide opportunities for empowerment and social change.

Revolving Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm.,  22 Shattuck St., Lowell, Mass., (978) YES-ARTS, revolvingmuseum.org. Admission is free.

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