“Making Our Mark: Art by Pratt Teaching Artists” speaks to the breadth of talent of artist educators who have imparted their wisdom onto those who are fine-tuning their craft. Visitors to the show will see a variety of mediums represented, including sculpture, paintings, glass, jewelry and an interactive installation. The exhibition showcases 292 works of art, making it the largest group show in Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM) history. Typically group exhibitions require artists to compete to enter. In “Making Our Mark,” anyone who taught at Pratt Fine Arts Center since its founding in 1976 could be a part of the show.
“What you see is the beauty of all these different techniques, all these different mediums and all these different walks of life,” artist Che Lopez said. “Pratt is very unique where it has a lot of different instructors from all different parts of the world, across the country. They bring that flavor to their work. That’s what I like. I like to see a little bit of them, a little bit of us, a little bit of me inside of the work, and I can see that.”
Lopez is the president of the Northwest Watercolor Society and is currently teaching at Pratt. His portrait, “La Princessa," is included in the show. The acrylic multihued and textured work shows a woman giving the audience a piercing look. The short strokes of color surrounding her face give the impression of a crown.
“The possibilities that Pratt presents to all the students are limitless,” Michael Monroe said. “They’re encouraged to experiment, they’re encouraged to break the rules, they’re encouraged to be inventive to express themselves without reserve.”
Monroe is BAM’s director emeritus. He also curated the show, which was a challenging feat. After choosing what would be shown he grouped similar works together as to not overwhelm the eyes of visitors. For instance, he placed about a dozen self-portraits together on a wall with Doug Parry’s “Maurice” on one end. Because of the arrangement, it appears Maurice is looking toward the other portraits. In another area, most of the work is earth toned.
Nana Bagdavadze’s “DNA Triptych – Law of Three” is an oil-on-canvas work depicting the double helix in varying colors. It’s part of her “Nanovision” series that was inspired by her experience nearly 30 years ago as a bone marrow donor to her sister Zizi who had leukemia.
One of the most striking pieces in the show is Tip Toland’s “African Teen with Albinism.” The nearly 3-foot-tall bust sits alone on a square white stand. Despite being surrounded by other works it stands out even from several feet away. Toland was inspired to create the work after learning about the attacks on people who are Albino in Tanzania and other African countries. The maiming and deaths are due to a cultural belief that Albinos are not human and have magical powers if their limbs are harvested.
“It’s a rampant and heartbreaking butchery,” Toland said. “I found it by mistake on the internet a few years back, and I couldn’t let it alone. Going back to it, reading again and again and just more and more accounts of horrible brutality of these kids being basically invaded by people with machetes in the middle of the night. Just kind of hack off an arm or leg or fingers or anything and taking them for huge profit to the witch doctors.”
Despite crackdowns and the 2015 arrest of more than 200 people in Tanzania, the practice continues. Toland said she relates to suffering and vulnerability, which is why she couldn’t let go of the images. She wants her work to invoke empathy in the audience.
“I want a connection between the viewer and the piece,” Toland said. “I want the piece to hold you just for a minute. And you resonate with what it would be like to be in that person’s shoes.”
While compelled to produce art around the topic Toland had reservations that she contemplated for some time. As a White woman she wasn’t sure if it was her place to tell this particular story. Artist Marita Dingus is glad she did. “African Teen with Albinism” was a part of a larger installation that included a mother and Albino siblings.
“I had heard, but not in the depth that she told the story,” Dingus said. “I want our stories told. Granted it’s best that we, Black people, tell our stories, but if other groups know our stories, tell them. I want to hear our story.”
As well as being a fan of the show Dingus is also a participant. She created the mixed-media “Rainbow Dancer” from a CD stand, the wire frame of an umbrella, scissors, Plexiglas samples, medicine bottles and other reclaimed materials.
“I use anything and everything I can get my hands on,” Dingus said. The result is a hodgepodge of items that all come together seamlessly into a figure mirroring a ballerina.
Nearby is Sabah’s “Ancient Expression.” While created in 2012, it could easily pass for an unearthed ancient relic. Chiseled from sandstone, the work is just the bottom portion of a face.
“Having just a fragment of it, it makes the viewer more engaged with the piece because they have to fill the rest,” Sabah said. “If you give them all the information that’s already there, like it or not it doesn’t make them stop to engage with it as much as if there’s lots of information.”
Sabah was born in Nasriyah, Iraq, and is trained in classical art. In 1993 he came to the United States as a political refugee. By 2000 he began teaching at Pratt. He speaks highly of its collaborative and encouraging environment.
Located in the Central District, Pratt Fine Arts Center is focused on bringing art access to all. For four decades the school has fostered self-expression and transformation through creativity. Several of its teaching artists describe it as having a welcoming environment similar to a family.
The arts hub is named after Edwin T. Pratt, a Black civil rights activist born in Miami. He moved to Seattle in the mid-1950s and later served as the executive director of the Seattle Urban League. Being an advocate for desegregation of public schools made him a target and, like many others across the country championing equality, he was killed in the doorway of his Shoreline home in January 1969. Law enforcement never charged anyone with his death. The education center is a tribute to Pratt’s community spirit and leadership.
“Making Our Mark” is a diverse exhibition where finding an enthralling work is effortless. The range alone demonstrates the endless bounds of creativity.
“The role of the artist is to provoke thoughts,” Monroe said. “The best art in the world does not answer questions. The best art in the world asks questions, and this show is full of questions.”
WHAT: “Making Our Mark: Art by Pratt Teaching Artists”
WHEN: Runs until April 8, 2018
WHERE: Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge, Facebook
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Wait, there's more. Check out the full December 6 issue. https://www.realchangenews.org/issue/december-6-2017