Kay Bourne Arts Report – Issue #60

Contents

IMAGES RICH WITH THE SPIRIT OF DANCE

BLACK WOMANHOOD ON DISPLAY IN WELLESLEY

JOHN SINGER SARGENT’s MALE NUDE AT MFA

HAMLET 2: COMEDY HIGHLIGHTS

NEW LOW BUDGET FILM IS A CLASSIC

NORTH SHORE MUSIC THEATER’S SPELLING B = A

TROPIC THUNDER ROARS

UP-COMING EVENTS


IMAGES RICH WITH THE SPIRIT OF DANCE

by Kay Bourne

1a60997ef024dc65c0c33bdac9618f5d.124.100 Kay Bourne Arts Report   Issue #60The people in the paintings are dancing. You may feel the urge to do so too. The “MERENGUE!” exhibit at the Museum of the National Center of Afro American Artists is, as the saying goes, “salsa gordo!”

Among the people instrumental in bringing the exhibit to Boston is philanthropist and Red Sox player David Ortiz, born in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic and also the very first capital city in the colonial Americas, as well as the site of the oldest university in the Western hemisphere (1558).

After Ortiz toured the show the morning it opened, that night Big Papi hit one of his famous homers. For the quality of its art, “Merengue! hits one out of the park, too, with much the same passion and power.

The joyful “MERENGUE!” art exhibit continues through NOVEMBER 23, Tuesdays through Sundays from 10am – 5pm at the Museum of the NCAA, 300 Walnut Avenue, in Roxbury.

For the Dominican Republic, a nation of 9.7 million people living on two thirds of a Caribbean island (Haiti occupies the remainder), merengue is the national dance and music. It was invented by its poorest people, credited to accordionist and singer Nico Lora, a Dominican of Spanish descent, and promoted by the dictator Trujillo, but as time went on elevated throughout the social strata until its beats have even been played by the country’s symphony orchestra. The irresistible rhythms and sounds of merengue has become this nation’s cultural gift to the world and a solace and intimate expression to its own people what-ever the ups and downs of their national political scene. And, in 2001, for instance, meringue was added to the Grammy awards as a musical category. So it’s little wonder that its premiere artists have celebrated merengue in paintings, sculpture, video installations, and photography, exemplified by the vibrant work in this show.

The expressive “Merengue! Visual Rhythms/Ritmos Visuales”, a major exhibit previously presented in Washington, D. C. and New York, features some 40 works by 28 artists. Presented cooperatively by the museum and a Boston Merengue Committee, the comprehensive look at art from this significant Caribbean land was organized by the Centro Cultural Eduardo Leon Jimenes, an organization in the Dominican Republic committed to the storage and exhibition of important art, and is toured by Art and Artists International.

The three musical instruments at the core of meringue are ubiquitous throughout the art, sometimes realistically, at other times abstracted, but always there at the heart of the canvas. The first of the trio is the guiro, a sheet of metal shaped into a cylinder that’s scraped on its side by a stiff brush and likely was invented by Africans imported to labor in the sugar cane fields. Then there is the tambora, a two sided drum held in the lap and played on one side by hand and the other by a stick, or sometimes a conga, both of African derivation, and, finally, the diatonic accordion of Eastern European derivation possibly coming from the Jewish population on the island.

The mural tradition with its many figures crowded into a painting and pushed forward so they seem to go nose to nose with the viewer, a style favored in Latino countries particularly, is evident in the large realistic works of Jaime Colson and others. In Colson’s powerful “Merengue,” painted in 1938, the musicians and dancers attain an almost mythic status. Jacinto Dominquez‘s abstracted “Perico ripiao,” painted a bit earlier in 1935, is stylistically almost a bridge into the mural form with its wonderful depiction of three musicians in the foreground while behind them hundreds of dancers are caught up in a beat that cannot be denied. A more recent depiction of the musicians and dancers, Plutarco Andujar‘s “Joyful Celebration” done in 1988, recalls the mural style yet veers from it by dropping the strong palette of colors typical in murals for a monochromatic grey as if to say the music and people are so strong they do not need the “flash” that bright colors provide.

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