By Rosemary Chandler
BOSTON, MA– The work of five Roxbury artists has traveled to Back Bay’s American Islamic Congress for Discover Roxbury’s latest exhibition, “Egyptian Moments, Roxbury Connections.” Inspired by Egypt but grounded in the artists’ Roxbury roots, the artwork reflects the artists’ personal experiences in the civilization built up along the banks of the Nile.
The exhibit features the work of multimedia artists Ekua Holmes, Lucilda Dassardo-Cooper and Basil El Halwagy, as well as photographers Hakim Raquib and Derek Lumpkins. All of these artists recently spent time abroad in Egypt.
Ekua Holmes’s “Ascension” series is the clear standout of the show. The four-panel series — composed of collage and mixed media on wood — is a fiery burst of brilliant reds and oranges against the white walls of the gallery. Holmes imparts her impressions of Egypt through an assemblage of irregularly cut papers. Looking closely at the work, desert scenes begin to arise from what at first appeared to be a random collection of shapes, colors and textures. Triangular shapes take on the appearance of pyramids, and arbitrary bands of color emerge as the carefully constructed layers of a radiant desert sunset. Dark blues and blacks are interspersed among the warm hues, creating an unexpected harmony. The shades flow into one another with the ease of the eternal waters of the Nile.
With her “Ascension” series, Holmes has ventured outside of the typical figurative style for which she is known, and entered into new and noteworthy artistic territory.
The bold colors of Lucilda Dassardo-Cooper’s works also draw the viewer closer. Cooper presents us with painted scenes from the streets of Cairo: A butcher hauling a slab of meat to his shop in “Osiris-Continuity;” a woman sells loaves of bread on the sidewalk in “Our Daily Bread.” Cooper overlays these urban scenes with ancient Pharonic imagery. Inspired by the tomb art of the Egyptian pyramids, she paints winged scabre beetles and robed priests. Yet rather than enrich our understanding of this culture, these images only complicate her works and confuse the viewer.
Cooper values travel as an opportunity to become more aware of herself and her individual aspirations, and to separate what is uniquely hers from her cultural assimilations, she writes in her artist’s statement. The viewer wants to follow her on this highly personal journey, to wind through the streets that unfold behind her painted figures, and to immerse his self in Cooper’s experience. But it’s an impossible yearning. One remains stuck on the surface, shut out by the complex imagery in the foreground.
“Egyptian Moments” is the first exhibit that the AIC has shown in its new gallery space. It is a thoughtful reflection on a nation that is always in the headlines of late, and an innovative spark for important intercultural dialogue. I hope to see more exhibits like it at the AIC in the future.
(“Egyptian Moments, Roxbury Connections” will be on view through July 14 at the AIC Center, 38 Newbury Street, Boston, MA. For more information, call the American Islamic Congress at (617) 266- 0080, or Discovery Roxbury at (617) 427-1006.