Africa-China-Jamaica-America links at the African American Museum

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Many of Albert Chong’s emotionally rich photographs are conversations with his ancestors, some literal, some not. But his personal history is an archetypical story of migration and immigration, intermarriage and cultural roots. A native of Jamaica, his photos of old black-and-white or sepia-toned portraits arranged with hot-colored flowers plus assorted memorabilia are framed with copper mats stamped with stories and poems. Among my favorites was a photo called “Jesus, Mary, and the Perfect White Man,” in which the 3-D Jesus and the 3-D Perfect White Man (the latter a blond-haired, square-jawed head, probably from a store mannequin) can’t compete with the old photos showing the beauty of dark-skinned Mary and the two little dark girls.

By Albert Chong, Self Portrait with marcus Garvey Prison Docket

Chong, who now teaches in Colorado and won a 1998 Guggenheim fellowship in photography and a 1998 Pollock/Krasner grant, as well as regional and national NEA grants, appropriates Jamaican history as his own history, as in “Self-Portrait With Marcus Garvey Prison Docket.” The show is at the African American Museum in Philadelphia until Aug. 13.

Chong’s work, especially the pieces about African-derived rituals, spoke directly to the show two floors up. If you haven’t seen “4 Artists of Distinction,” which has been up since Sept. 24 and was due to come down April 20, lucky for you that it’s still showing–until Aug. 15. You owe it to yourself to get over to AAMP in a hurry.

Painting by Charles Burwell

The works by the four Philadelphia artists–Barbara Bullock, Charles Burwell, James Dupree and Martina Johnson-Allen–practically jump off the wall and talk to each other, with their Africa-inspired use of vivid color and pattern, and their references to African talismans. Among the highlights are Dupree’s installation, “Mask Broom Totem Series,” a commentary on African American labor history and so much more, and Burwell’s wall of sketches and stencils that explain a lot about his paintings, with their intense layers of pattern.

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albert chong, charles burwell, features & interviews, reviews

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