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75 [[right margin]] VOICE SEPT. 10-16, 1980 [[/right margin]] ART By Carrie Rickey DIALECTICS OF ISOLATION, AN EXHIBITION OF THIRD WORLD WOMEN ARTISTS OF THE UNITED STATES. A.I.R, Gallery, 97 Wooster Street, through September 20. Affinity shows are rapidly replacing theme exhibitions as a logical way to bring together a group of artists. Is this because political and social issues are more pressing than aesthetic considerations? Because, given the rampant pluralism of today's art, ideology is the only common denominator? Lines are drawn politically, as in "Artists for Kennedy"; sexually, in "Third Wave, Lesbian Artists"; and now sociopolitically, in "Dialectics of Isolation," coordinated by Kazuko, Ana Mendieta, and Zarina, which features eight third world women artists who live in the U.S.A. In her introduction to the show's catalogue, Mendieta sees a double struggle for the nonewhite woman in America. She must fight against white male society's systematic extermination of indigenous and non-European cultures while demanding recognition from predominantly white middle-class feminists from whom she feels excluded. Mendieta concludes: "This exhibition points not necessarily to the injustice or incapacity of a society that has not been willing to include us, but more towards a personal will to continue being 'other.'" Despite Mendieta's avowal of otherness, most of the work here extols the phenomenological, the lyrical. Which makes for good art, but work that doesn't illustrate the passion for the affinity group's spokeswoman. Witness Beverly Buchanan's cast cement bricks which are tinted with an admixture of iron oxide and acrylic paint, exuding the red earth color of Buchanan's native Georgia. Here is a very sophisticated procedure for making what appear to be primitive artifacts, her sculptures have the excavated loo of brick shards arranged evocatively, like the rocks at Stonehenge. Zarina shares Buchanan's love for the tactile in her cast-paper relief, Corners. The inch-deep relief, notched in a wafflelike grid, is rubbed with graphite to give it luster. The rhythm of the niches seems an analogue for the rhythm of a chant, making an icon as musical as it is luminous. More interested in the cerebral than the sensory, Lydia Okumura contributes an old-fashioned site-specific installation, a taupe-painted trapezoid plotted on the wall and floor, with 3-D extensions of same shape drawn in black paint further up the wall and protruding in real space. The intention of the piece is to eradicate the juncture of these two intersecting planes, perhaps symbolic of the way Okumura would like to eliminate the painful intersection of emotional barriers. Her attempt is unsuccessful mostly because the piece's geometric neutrality fails to carry the weight of her would-be metaphor. Senga Nengudi, on the other hand, constructs a visual paradigm for an emotional state precisely by stretching the point. She interweaves wooden slats with panty hose, creating an improbable hammock which reflects a hang-loose flexibility. Cotton lisle, nylon, and silk panty hose hold the works together in Nengudi's haphazard monument to tensile elasticity, perhaps a comment on the conditioned flexibility she must maintain as a non-white. The last of the lyricists, Selena Whitefeather, offers Complete View of a Region in Every Direction, an audiotape/slideshow presentation of thriving shrubbery–predominantly evergreens–in its various species. The text, read by Whitefeather, is a lexicon of botanical maladies-of gall and canker and rot and maggots-heard against images of these dignified shrubs. Whitefeather's poetic litany of plant diseases includes: Frothy [[center]][[image]] Janet Henry and "Ju ju Bags"; casting a spell, critiquing a culture masses on stems...large brown blotches...dark sooty areas near wounds..." More than likely Whitefeather is giving a thinly veiled societal catalogue of the vulnerability of living things. Notwithstanding the exhibition's preponderance of lyricism, there are three ideologues whose work has the passion of Mendieta's declaration. Judith Baca, California muralist, does it allegorically. Janet Henry, a New Yorker whose assemblages fuse the conceptual with the narrative, delivers social commentary in a wickedly ironic tone. Howardena Lindell, a well-known painter and collagist, offers a videotape in which she looses her anger at the racism of white feminists. The Great Wall of Los Angeles is what Judith Baca calls her colossal mural project that she's undertaking. With assistance, Baca's now painting the walls of L.A's Tujunga Wash, a sluice bounded by concrete channels, its prime function being flood control. Seventeen hundred feet long and 13 feet high, the mural is a chronicle of Los Angeles during the '30s and '40s which proposes to restore to public consciousness the ethnic and cultural history of the city's minorities. Eleven blueprints of the mural cartoons are on view at the gallery, detailing the highlights of this ambitious narrative. Baca works on the murals side by side with neighborhood kids because she feels that working with community members ensures community "ownership" of the mural, safeguarding it from vandalism by locals protective of their turf. The images, the products of Baca's collaboration with her assistants, are equal parts Nathanael West delirium and John Steinbeck documentary–happily lacking the sentimentality and and narrow visions of these California chroniclers. Baca presents the unglamorous events of Los Angeles's balkanized inner city; black jazz performers playing the segregated Dunbar Hotel in South Central L.A.; the shabbily shod paupers in a breadline eyeing the billboard images of a romantic Hollywood clinch; and strikers fighting unionbusters during the '30s movie industry struggle. Baca's story is far removed from the popular myths of Thalberg's genius and the promise of a palm tree on every patio. She also documents the plight of displaced native Americans whose treaties will never be honored by the government, the tragedy of 350,000 Mexicans being deported by the Golden State trembling with racism and hostility, and the saga of the Yellow Peril scare and its horrific result, the Japanese internment camps. Dispelling the notion of California as land of plenty, as a place redolent of orang blossoms and Philip Marlowe's humidor, Baca tells stories that have waited a half-century to be told, a complicated social history that could be a blueprint for Mirami's present. While Baca gives a history so people can better understand the present, Janet Henry illuminates the excesses of the present so that we can learn from her satire. She assembles miniature items–effigies, tiny apparel, and the like–in small clear vinyl containers she calls Ju ju Bags. Every Ju ju Bag tells a story, but most of them inventory the compleat WPM– White Protestant Male. One tiny purse, sticky to the touch, contains the WPM adventure-pak, complete with khakis and obligatory Bwana rim for the Mogambo explorer. Another, affixed with a memo to all WPMs re proper business accoutrements, includes a better mousetrap, a BOP elephant keyring, stock certificates, all in the attache case that's the sine qua non of WPM-dom. Henry's toys for the ruling class suggest that the notion of power symbols is itself a toy idea. She has a good eye for the semiotics of the ruling class (not to mention a resource for finding everything in miniature versions; she gets an A in shopping). By reducing the scale of WPM enterprise from human scale to doll size, she cannily trivializes the appurtenances of dominance, proving herself to be a firstrate satirist. Janet Henry can joke about the WPM, but Howardena Pindell doesn't think the ruling class is a laughing matter, as her 12-minute videotape, Free, White and 21 amply illustrates. The structure of the tape is anecdotal, the artist herself relating seven incidents of racism that either she or her mother have experienced. Intercut with Pindell's matter-of-fact exposition of each situation is a haunting visage (the artist herself in whiteface?), a blond-wigged and powdered-white creature who is a figure of authority, spouting hostilities such as "You ungrateful...after all we've done for you...don't worry, we'll find other tokens...your art won't be validated until we validate it...we don't believe in your symbols, you must use our symbols..." Pindell and her nemesis face each other like analysand and analyst, Pindell reporting each awful truth while the white woman responds with glacial hauteur. Lindell characterizes her experience as a nonwhite as an unremitting series of humiliations, victimizations, discriminations. The most terrifying: a babysitter scrubbing Pindell's mother with lye because she thought the youngster had dirty skin. Her mother still has the buns. Pindell's response: volcanic outrage. No one can watch Pindell's tape without sharing her anger, being tripped by the guilt she stirs, perforated with wounds, shrapnel from her considerable artillery of rage. More than anyone else in this exhibition, Pindell typifies the dialectics of isolation. For her the tyranny of the WPM is nothing compared to the cruel liberalisms of self-serving feminists who dabble in the politics of liberation, but take a vacation when they get tired. Pindell's saying that a nonwhite never gets a vacation.
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