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Boston Biennial 4 at Atlantic Works Gallery

Corralled, by Andrew Fish

By Ali Russo

Atlantic Works Gallery had a “wicked good” opening reception on April 8, though the quintessential colloquial phrase undermines the true success of the show. The “Boston Biennial 4” delivered an evocative and inspiring selection of art of various types of mediums and styles; a panel of over 20 jurors, one of them being Artscope’s publisher and founder, Kaveh Mojtabai, helped choose the works for the show.

The gallery itself is a six-minute walk from the Maverick station off the Blue Line that’s located three flights up into a building with a brick façade reading, “Atlantic Works Rd” in faded, speckled paint down the side. The nearness of the ocean — especially the smell of it, leaves the area with a homey and welcoming feeling. Stepping inside, the sense is not only paralleled, but is also confined within the interesting design and architecture that the space has to offer. Through it all, this comfortable setting played to an advantage, for it was impossible to feign the overwhelming inundation of passion and respect that each artist had toward their own work and the others surrounding them.

Whether the work was a collection of wire and strings meant to emulate a looming, excited swarm of insects (Leigh Hall’s “Swarm)”, or a series of paintings from the floor to the ceiling that held a darker meaning than the bright, booming colors contrasting it (Lisa Reindorf’s “Aerial View Syrian Refugee Camp”), it was clear: the all-encompassing sensation was that of identity.

Nayda Aurora Cuevas, whose “#Latina: Reclaiming the Latina Tag” was inspired by a Tumblr post, arranged 26 individually-painted portraits of young women on canvases no larger than a cell phone screen; she wanted to collect the stories of young, Latina women in the modern world of selfies and self-depiction, and explore the intricacies in which they display themselves, despite the hyper-sexualized stereotypes often shown through the media. Cuevas’s goal is to have a collection of 100 of these portraits that display the sense of authenticity, confidence and pride that the women so wonderfully conveyed in their own photographs. Beside some of the portraits were accompanying captions, ranging from a description of their daily routine, to who and how they identify.

Identity had a different meaning in Farzaneh and Bahareh Safarni’s “Alone.” Identical twins in real life, they often collaborate on their art, something that began as a habit of convenience when helping each other with their pieces. The painting shows a woman sitting toward the left of the frame, draped in a black cloth with exposed knees, holding the fabric level to her chin. She sits on a bench that is in front of a green partition, exposing the light of an entrance opposite of the viewer; the detail from the light in the room onto the sheen of the hardwood is so detailed I almost believed it to be a photograph from farther away. With the woman portrayed in the painting looking very similar to the artists themselves, this piece leaves the viewer wondering about the title, of their solidarity in their “loneliness” by the depiction of just one of them in the work, and of how they share that identity.

Al Harden knows a thing or two about shared identity, and he dsplayed that through three photographs: “Survivor,” “Legacy” and “Brother’s Keeper.” In a very humble manner, he remarked on how this is his first show, ever. Coming from Cincinnati, Ohio, Harden spoke excitedly of his work and explained the thought behind each of them, which all shared a distinct, common visual: a dark, blue background behind a male figure donned in a gray hood. In “Survivor,” the figure has his back toward the viewer and his hands pressed to the wall in front of him. In “Legacy,” the figure has his arms raised, elbows bent, and hands clasped behind the back of his head. In “Brother’s Keeper,” the figure is met with an identical parallel, also faceless, and the two are engaged in a gesture that very clearly resembles the strength of their bond, and loyalty toward one another. Harden explained that these were his twin sons, and that the process of explaining the daily injustices in which they would face inspired him to create these photographs.

Atlantic Works Gallery was bursting with people, compassion and excitement at its opening for the “Boston Biennial 4” and it’s no question as to why: when the people in charge are just as engaged as the artists involved, it makes for perfect harmony. As the introduction to their project reads, you don’t need a “friggen invitation” to see this show.

(“Boston Biennial 4” continues through April 24 at Atlantic Works Gallery, 80 Border St., Boston, Mass. There will be a Third Thursday Reception on April 21 from 6-9 p.m., as well as a closing reception on April 24 from 4-6 p.m. General gallery hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 2-6 p.m. For more information, please call (857) 302-8363 or visit