'Contemporary Traditions of Folk Art' fuses traditions at Promega

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tradition on the move
Jennifer A. Smith on Thursday 06/11/2009 9:00 am

Happily, the world is filled with all sorts of art, from bizarro installations that tax your brain to laid-back art that, if it could, would kick back on the beach and party.

You’ll find an example of the latter kind at Promega’s gallery within the Biopharmaceutical Technology Center in Fitchburg. Phoenix artist Joe Ray makes exuberant, colorful paintings that run the gamut from wine-drinking mermaids in the desert to a powerful luchador to motifs from pre-Columbian art.

Born in Mexico and raised on a reservation in the U.S., Ray favors a fusion of cultural influences, something that echoes throughout Promega’s show as a whole.

“Contemporary Traditions of Folk Art” (running through Sept. 1) is a somewhat dry, clunky title for a show that is so heavy on bold color and sparky fusions between traditional cultures and religions and pop culture. But the title does hint at the way that “traditional” is not set in stone, but ever-changing as new influences come into play.

Six artists or traditions are represented here. Along with Ray’s work, you’ll find Mexico City artist David Maculco’s paintings that mix luchadors (Mexican wrestlers) with images of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Maculco’s paintings draw on retablo traditions (a type of devotional painting) but also on universal themes of good versus evil, and they’re done in an appealingly loose, almost expressionist style. (And if you’re really into luchadors, there’s a whole case full of luchador masks nearby.)

Hmong story cloths and other textiles created by members of Madison’s Hmong community offer a local touch.

Molas, another type of textile, are created by Kuna people who live off Panama’s Atlantic Coast. Molas are marked by their rich colors and strong outlines. There are some fun ones on view here, from a creature that looks like a hybrid between a bunny and a butterfly, to Superman with his cape flying as he hoists a bus in the air.

Francis X. Nnaggenda, a Ugandan artist, creates futuristic-looking portraits that fuse painting and computer circuit boards. They’ve got a little of the robotic effect of some of Ed Paschke’s work. One could see them as a commentary on how technology and identity are increasingly fused in contemporary society as we create online identities and interact in mediated ways.

Rounding out the show are small paintings by Tanzanian artist Sayuki Matindiko. His style is an example of what’s known as “Tingatinga” art. The paintings of Sayuki (as he signs them) are filled with colorful, monster-like creatures in intricate compositions.

While this is an eclectic show, it’s tied together by a strong sense of color and geometry, plus an attempt to show the ways in which tradition and new influences connect.


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