Howardena Pindell

Liz Harris Gallery

Howardena Pindell’s art is both formally elegant and politically savvy. The works here span a variety of mediums: tough and dramatic photo-based pieces; text-laden paintings; and small-format collages created primarily from photographs and postcards. Most of the works have hard-hitting racial messages and the raw power of convictions deeply felt.

Autobiography: Air/CS560, 1988, is a moving example of the power of Pindell’s commitment to social protest. The work combines a number of media (acrylic, tempera, oilstick, paper, polymer photo transfer, and vinyl tape) on an irregularly shaped, cut-and-sewn canvas. Its title is taken from the name of a tear gas that is manufactured in Salzburg, Pennsylvania. In the work, four silhouettes resembling police demarcations of corpses, one each in black, brown, flesh, and gold, spring from the center of the composition. The ragged areas around these bodies suggest tearing and fragmentation, as well as barbed wire. In the work’s center, a newspaper photograph taken from the New York Times depicts a beaten Palestinian man whose head is wrapped in a bandage. (This image of the bandage harks back to one of Pindell’s video pieces, in which she wraps her own head in bandages.) Myriad word messages—“Plastic Coated Bullets,” “Iron Fist,” “Deportation,” “Spirit of Cooperation with South Africa,” “Censorship,” “Banned Funerals,” etc.—combine with the delicate painted demarcations to indict Israel, South Africa, and the United States press for whitewashing certain facts. The symbolic and esthetic spirit of Carlo Carrà’s feisty free-word paintings of the early part of this century is rekindled here. The lower portion of the canvas repeats the words “beaten” at least ten times, in a manner recalling Carrà’s repetition of the “HU-HU-HU-HU” sounds of rifles in his interventionist collages.

Autobiography: Kanazawa, Japan (1981), 1988, offers a spiritual counterpoint to the more activist-oriented art. In this small meditative work, Pindell incorporates three different photographic images taken in the isolated village of Kanazawa. She creates a louvered effect by combining slivers of C-prints with painterly extensions. The work depicts watery reflections of a talisman-maker’s hands, a Buddhist temple gate, and a mural of Chinese horses painted within the shrine. The black museum-board ground is cut in a manner that evokes a floating rendition of a scroll. By investing her feelings, prejudices, and experiences into her beautifully crafted oeuvre, Pindell creates exciting, gutsy work.

Francine A. Koslow