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MFA Exhibit Review- Touching Roots: Black Ancestral Legacies in the Americas

Updated: Apr 14

2 Charcoal members take a trip to the MFA to learn more about an Exhibition on Black Ancestral Legacies.

Amisha Kumar and KJ Jasti

Bear Father, Bear Son

Norval Morrisseau

Norval Morrisseau describes this painting as "bear gives knowledge to man, man gives knowledge to son." The portrayal of a parent-child relationship and the idea of learning is in tandem with my perception of the piece.

The placement of the hand of the parental figure–the bear-human amalgamation–on the child's back symbolizes contrasting acts of nudging and support. This duality can be interpreted as a balancing act, highlighting the parent-child dynamic of providing guidance and encouragement while respecting autonomy.

The contrasting colors reiterate the idea of a parent and child being autonomous. Yet, the repetition of colors used in both the figures contrarily recalls the concept of them bearing parts of each other.

The proximity of all the figures in the painting creates a sense of entrapment, evoking tension. This, along with pairing bold colors together, is reflective of the emotional draw and limitations a parent faces in the process of creating a balance in their parenting, as it ferments their life-long dynamic with their child. The use of black to create clean, sharp borders around all the figures adds an element of stiffness to the painting, perhaps intending to depict a lack of flexibility in a parent-child dynamic of teaching/learning.

The tension in the painting can also be interpreted as the expectations and pressures placed on the child. While it is beneficial to nudge a child towards certain behaviors or goals, too much of it can strain their relationship as it creates stress via the pressure that comes with expectations. Parental expectations are especially strenuous as in the process of growing up, the image of a parent figure to the child departs from idealistic or that of a "role model" to a reflection of their own worst and best traits due to act of inheritance that essentially arises from the balancing act of nudging and support from childhood.

Another way to interpret tension in the painting is the tension that arises from a child's limited perspective about parenting and the bigger picture of their development. From the child's perspective, although it seems like a surface-level decision parents make, its complexity can create breaches in the child's development due to its implications on building-block-like attributes of confidence, self-sufficing, empathy and resilience. A child's lack of insight into this results in resentment towards parents when nudged too much or intense emotional reactions when not being supported enough, creating tension in their dynamic.

Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors - 7th Avenue Style

Stuart Davis

Characterized by improvisation, jazz has no structure or limitations. Jazz represents a superposition of different melodies created by the artists playing their respective instruments. The complex harmonies of jazz are reflected in Stuart Davis’s Hot Still-Scape for Six Colors - 7th Avenue Style. Davis evokes the energy of jazz and city life through his compositions. The fast-paced lifestyle of living in a city can often be compared to uptempo jazz.

Stuart Davis provides a snapshot of the disorder from the elements he drew influence from. The adjective “hot” relates the background crimson red, a color typically associated with warmth and fervor, to life in the heat of the moment - parallel to the processes of creating jazz. The title “still-scape” alludes to an abstract landscape; 7th Avenue references a street in New York, and the contrast between stillness and bustling city life highlights chaos. The structured rectangular panels, parallelograms, and circles are accompanied by irregular shapes and abstract brush strokes, implying that life in a city is never still.

The primary colors red, yellow, and blue comprise a majority of the composition. Davis divides the piece into rigid, layered panels that tamper with the audience’s depth perception. Indicative of the integrated life despite pandemonium, the straight-edged panels can be interpreted as a window into the different facets of city life.

Various abstract symbols of inanimate and natural objects painted within each window often bleed into neighboring cross-sections. The abstract impressions of birds, rodents, and humans are detailed with inanimate tools such as shovels, candles, and vases. The synergy between life and the tools that facilitate it can be interpreted as the forced unity of the natural and unnatural in a modern city. Although the color scheme throughout the painting differs between perspectives, Davis uses different colors to paint the same elements over different background colors to further perpetuate the chaos.

Davis utilizes only six colors to depict a vibrant yet intricate compilation of rudimentary and irregular shapes. The colors complement each other in ways analogous to instruments in jazz composition. Colors overlap in ways artists improvise music together.

Other pieces from the exhibit: