February is Black History Month, and throughout the city various exhibits are featuring the work of black American artists.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Afro-American Studies at UCLA, sees the month as a time for reflection on the past and a time for creating positive visions of the future.
"The exhibits are transmitting knowledge that helps people to operate more intelligently and understand the diversity of people," she said. "(The exhibits) can improve inter-group relations and understanding. Not only are they inspiring, they are a cause for celebration."
The following is an overview of four exhibits being held this month.
THE PALOS VERDES ART CENTER
Nearly 60 works by 26 artists, including Elizabeth Catlett, Charles Dickson, Varnette Honeywood, John Outterbridge, Alison Saar, Betye Saar, Augusta Savage and Charles White are part of the "Ancestors and African American Art" exhibit, which continues through next Saturday at the Palos Verdes Art Center.
Besides the various traditional African wood carvings--which clearly have influenced the works by these contemporary black artists--are lithographs, photographs, watercolor, acrylic and oil paintings, lino-cuts and mixed-media compositions, among other media.
One of the more unusual pieces on display is Dickson's "Blossums," a 54x36-inch creation of "Hispuf" (High Impact Styrene Plastic Urethane Foamcore). After developing an allergy to wood, Dickson began working with the new medium. He wrapped a live model in surgical bandages, which hardened to form a cast. He added decorative touches to the sculpted figure with telephone wire, tape and cowrie shells, resulting in the finished female image.
In his untitled artwork, Outterbridge uses a variety of found materials, including sheet metal and barrel bands, to create a unit with "architectural character to contrast the other pieces on display."
On Sunday the art center will also feature craftsmen and artists at its African Market Day from noon to 1:45 p.m. Among those scheduled to attend are ceramist and sculptor Greg Chaney and doll-maker Riua Akinshegun.
The Palos Verdes Art Center is at 5504 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. The exhibit is open Monday through Saturday, 1-4 p.m.; (213) 541-2479.
LIZARDI/HARP GALLERY Celebrating the Black Perspective, the Lizardi/Harp Gallery presents mixed-media works by Alonzo Davis and La Monte Westmoreland in an exhibit that continues through next Saturday. Describing the tone of the show as one of "exhilaration," gallery co-director and co-owner Grady Harp sees both artists as taking a positive--and sometimes humorous--approach when confronting the often painful aspects of their black heritage.
"I'm taking the old stereotypes dealing with black imagery--blacks eating watermelon, the black chef on the Cream of Wheat package--that have been around for a long time, and in a humorous way I'm making a social statement with a subtle overtone," said Westmoreland. "After people see the humor, they start to look into the picture, and the social statements are then not as threatening."
Perhaps best known for his large murals in Los Angeles, Davis, originally from Alabama, has made his home in California. Included in his 15 works at Lizardi/Harp are serigraphs, acrylic paintings from his Blanket and Celebration Series and a lithograph.
Lizardi/Harp Gallery is at 290 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and by appointment; (818) 792-8336.
WILLIAM GRANT STILL ART CENTER More than 50 black puppets from around the world are on display at the William Grant Still Art Center through Feb. 28, in an exhibit titled "African and American Puppets, Stock Types, Imagery and Favorites."
Curated by Beverly J. Robinson, theater historian and folklorist at UCLA, the show brings together contemporary and turn-of-the-century mannequins (ventriloquist dummies) and hand, string and rod puppets.
On loan from collectors, museums and puppeteers, the puppets in the show include a 1940 female cotton picker by artist Harry Burnett, which was used in the famous Turnabout Theatre; a 1940s male puppet by Chicago artist George (Pinxy) Larsen, which was used in Punch and Judy shows; and a 1940s Mr. Bojangles puppet, inspired by Bill Robinson, from Bob Baker Marionettes.
The exhibit traces the changing images of blacks in this theater tradition since the early 1800s. Said James Burks, director of the art center, "Puppetry has been a means of portraying the reality of black life instead of crude stereotypes."
Today at 1 p.m., puppeteer Bob Baker will host a free discussion and demonstration with his marionettes at the art center.
\o7 The William Grant Still Art Center, a division of the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, is at 2520 W. View St., Los Angeles. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday, noon-5 p.m.; (213) 734-1163.