Aminah Robinson, “People of the Book: Prophet Street” from “Politi Oso” at B2 Fine Art. B2 Fine Art Courtesy
Aminah Robinson, “People of the Book: Prophet Street” from “Politi Oso” at B2 Fine Art. B2 Fine Art Courtesy

Arts & Culture

Review: B2 gallery talks race and politics with Ringgold and Robinson

By Rosemary Ponnekanti

rponnekanti@thenewstribune.com

March 02, 2016 03:12 AM

If there was ever a time for art to talk about race — with Donald Trump on a roll and the Black Lives Matter movement growing — now would be a crucial time. With that backdrop, Tacoma’s B2 Fine Art Gallery speaks with the voices of two elder stateswomen of African American art: Aminah Robinson and Faith Ringgold. With a poetic language of fabric, paint, feminism and activism, these two luminaries combine in “Politi Oso,” a show that’s not only rare in Tacoma, but vital.

Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, who died last year at 75, and Faith Ringgold, 85 and still making art, voice their experiences as a meaningful part of the spectrum of civil rights history. Robinson is the far-seeing poet: a Columbus, Ohio, native who grew up with family stories of slavery and a community that loved and inspired her. Her canvases, melding vividly patterned fabric and thick brush lines into one medium, sing with love of humanity and deep sorrow. In the B2 gallery, her “People of the Book: Prophet Street” surges with life, a crowd of fabric figures with painted faces struggling forward, peaceful yet determined in an earthy palette of browns and reds. Two more in the “People of the Book” series — large portraits of Bedouin and Ethiopian women — face each other in the middle gallery. There’s a bench in between, and you’ll want to sit awhile with these meditations: the Bedouin masked, almost gagged, with a headscarf of men’s neckties, her eyebrow in a giant arch; the Ethiopian freer, her soft brown face given an ancient quality in the brushed watercolor.

There are other Robinsons around the gallery, including a collage from 2010-12 linking March on Washington protesters with Occupy Wall Street. But the most striking are tucked in a corner: two portraits of poor folks in the “People Get Ready” series, a comment on the demolition of public housing. The man and woman, decked in faded plaid skirt or pants, weighed down with layers of buttons or puffy trash bags, hold ineffable sadness in their sketched, Rembrandt-like faces. Robinson, who grew up in public housing, used art as homage and elegy — a quiet, poetic activism.

Faith Ringgold, though, isn’t quiet. The Harlem-born artist has combined art and activism since her 1960s protests against the lack of women in New York museums and her arrest for desecrating the American flag in 1970. B2 has Ringgold’s flags — “#7,” a fierce diatribe against the 9/11 terrorists inscribed in silver script between blood-red stripes, or an eloquent 1971 lithograph from the People’s Flag Show — and her story quilts, stunning in their size and emotion. “Tar Beach” paints a startling beautiful night scene of Manhattan in gray, gold and olive, while young protagonists dream of flying out of poverty. “Declaration of Freedom and Independence,” nestled inside stars-and-stripes borders and leafy-tendril frames, contrasts scenes of white settler power and black slavery.

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It’s a treat to see two such renowned artists in one space in Tacoma. It’s even better to see our own issues of race through their work.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

Politi Oso

When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. third Thursdays through April 16; artist reception, 5-8 p.m. April 9; gallery tours, noon Saturday, 1 p.m. March 17 and April 10.

Where: B2 Fine Art Gallery, 711 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma.

Cost: Free.

Information: 253-238-5065, b2finearts.com.