The esteemed poet, essayist and playwright Elizabeth Alexander defines “the black interior” as “black life and creativity behind the public face of stereotype and limited imagination.” Alexander states that tapping into it “helps us envision what we are not meant to envision: complex black selves, real and enactable black power, rampant and unfetishized black beauty.”
This complexity of black consciousness, power of blackness, and the unapologetic beauty are eloquently explored in multidisciplinary artist Glyneisha Johnson’s exhibit “Bo͝ozəm” at Haw Contemporary Crossroads.
Fresh from her well-received one-person exhibition, “The Black Interior,” at The Union for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Johnson describes “Bo͝ozəm” (the phonetic spelling of bosom) as “an immersive installation and exhibition that highlights the black interior, as a maternal safe space marked with love, mantra, and self-healing.”
As she is known for, Johnson metaphorically uses collage to express the fragmentation of the black experience. “Gettin; Familiar,” a 44” x 67” collage, presents an idyllic portrait of an urban bus stop. An old graffiti adorned building stands out, juxtaposed with a paisley-ish ocean-blue, pink and white sky.
“Turned Tables,” another stunning collage, uses a riveting combination of textures, colors and asymmetry to present a monochromatic couch in a vibrantly colored living room. A gramophone with a horn sits alone, evoking thoughts of lazy afternoons listening to records.
The gifted Johnson also presents graphite works on paper that speak to heritage, history and humanity. “Orange Moon,” a graphite on gesso on paper work, focuses on an African statuette. “His Black Boots,” a graphite work, features a tender framed portrait of a young family on a table set between a candle and a vase.
Two large graphite works “Ain’t No Way” and “For Us, By Us” present eloquent and tender references to black relationships. In “For Us, By Us,” a young lady has her hair braided by a woman in a headdress. The headdress and African sculpture in the background evoke the power of heritage, history and ancestry.
“Ain’t No Way” is a poignant portrait of a couple sitting on a bed. With their backs to each other, the facial expressions speak to the ending of a relationship, evoking lyrics of Prince: “And love, it isn’t love until it’s past.”
Johnson addresses the power of the black interior to redefine and contextualize objects and infuse them with new meanings. “Cruisin’ Together,” a 42” x 30” mixed-media work, incorporates Crown Royal bags into the background, making the fabric a permanent part of the experience.
This exhibition is also an installation. An actual home interior, consisting of a sitting area, reading area, dining room and living room, provides the aesthetic framework for Bo͝ozəm. It is within this domestic infrastructure that we view the graphite and mixed media works that have evolved from elements of the installation. The furniture used is from the domestic spaces that Johnson experienced growing up. Her father loaded the work and drove it eight hours from Dallas to Kansas City. (Thank you, Sir!)
The reverential tone is set at the exhibit’s entry, where the viewer is presented with a series of intimate candid family portraits juxtaposed with “Turned Tables.” With the collage slightly covered by a decorative plant, this striking entrance presents a connection between the artist’s past influences, relationships, and experiences, her current work and a future full of life and artistic possibilities.
There are other works too, each just as striking and moving as the ones described.
“Bo͝ozəm” rewards us with a peek into the black interior, as beautifully presented by Glyneisha Johnson. In addition to offering a pleasure for the eyes, it provides a much-needed intimate portrait into the secret lives of black Americans.
Glyneisha Johnson: Bo͝ozəm continues at Haw Contemporary Crossroads, 19 W. 19th St., through July 17. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday – Saturday. For more information 816.715.4838 or www.hawcontemporary.com.