“The Sun Rises in the West and Sets in the East,” on view at Tufts University Art Gallery through December 11, begins in contrast. On one wall, two copper works by Nari Ward —“Restin’ Well” and “Restin’ Paradise” — draw the viewer to examine what look from afar like stars. The pieces radiate a spiritual energy, so bold they nearly have a sound and taste. On the opposite wall, 12 quietly vibrant watercolors by Ali Cherri hang in a row. Each depict a songbird lying dead. Taken together, the two set the tone for an exhibit rooted in place and perspective.
In Ward’s works, copper nails punctuate a copper sheet treated with darkening patina to form concentrations reminiscent of constellations or points on a map. The symbols do, in a way, reference the sky: the formations are interpretations of the Congolese Cosmogram, a spiritual and cultural symbol core to Kongo culture from before European contact. Ward’s use of copper invokes its real and metaphorical qualities of resilience and conducive potential to create what look like bursts of light. These spiritual yet terrestrial works center iconography and materials to explore issues of economic labor, cultural memory and migration through transatlantic pathways.
Across the room, Cherri’s “Dead Inside” depicts delicate dead birds. Though they appear to the viewer as if lying on an examination table or pinned to the wall, these watercolor portraits are infused with a sense of vibrancy and pride. The romantic tones of the pieces can be attributed to the artist’s use of hues inspired by those produced by a Claude glass (or black mirror), used in the 18th century for landscape painting. With compelling juxtaposition between the grim and the nostalgic, Cherri invites viewers to consider perception and romanticization. Thus begins the group exhibition, “The Sun Rises in the West and Sets in the East.”