Hand made

By GREG COOK  |  October 4, 2006


UBI GIRL FROM TAI REGION: Jones plumbed black identity in combinations of Western representational portraiture and abstract African designs.
Ubi Girl from Tai Region (1972) is the fruit of the latter voyage. In the bright, bold canvas, Jones contrasts traditional realist Western portraiture with the abstracted designs of traditional African art by combining a representational portrait of an Ivory Coast woman with a mask painted across her face; a traditional African weaving tool decorated with an abstracted carved face; masks from Zaire; and the flat geometric patterns of African textiles.

The painting seems at once a treatise on the influence of traditional African art on the Cubist paintings that sparked so much Western art in the 20th century and a summation of the lifelong inspiration Jones drew from the art of Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Painting during an era when many African-Americans adopted African fashions and names to connect with their African roots, the mature Jones examines the construction of black identity by returning to textile patterns, the labor of her youth.

Clare Rojas’s exhibit “Hope Springs Eternal” at Brandeis’s Rose Art Museum suggests an odd, unfathomable dream from a nostalgic land of fairy tales, Russian nesting dolls, and schoolgirl notebook doodles. The San Francisco artist packs two floors with paintings of serious women in bulky floral dresses, silly naked men with dagger penises, and hooved beasts wandering about bright landscapes patterned after traditional quilts or the kaleidoscopic flowers and stars known as hex signs that began decorating Pennsylvania barns in the mid 19th century.

A woman holds a tiny moustached man in her hand while in the background spikes jut from a mountain impaling hearts. A banjo-picking woman stands atop the belly of a giant horse while a man stands underneath smoking a cigarette. Diamond-headed people climb a ramp up to a woman’s mouth and push armfuls of diamonds inside. A sad, tired woman holds a heart in her hand while a butterfly flits about her mouth. A sour man and bear face each other atop a forest of triangle pines. The characters seem alienated from one another and their environs.

Naked men with extravagant facial hair lean against a box, sit in a field, perch atop a horse or a bicycle or the hood of a speeding truck. Curator Raphaela Platow says Rojas intends all these naked dudes, put in the poses of ladies in fashion spreads, to be a sly satire of pop culture’s objectification of women. On the landing of the stairs between the museum’s two floors, a sculpture of a naked man, a cartoon come to life, “pees” water into the museum’s fountain below while holding a flat-screen television playing a video of Rojas singing as her countrified alter ego, Peggy Honeywell. Downstairs, Rojas refitted the fountain’s jets so that they are cocks and balls spraying water. Uh-huh.

Rojas paints in latex and gouache on paper or plywood. She favors big flat shapes topped with fine outlines. The paintings come in two sizes, tiny or giant. Sometimes she borders them with a patchwork of fabric. Elsewhere she arranges painted wood tiles into giant triangle trees, geometricized flowers, a barn.

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