Bring on the art: September brings fresh exhibits to the Valley as colleges reopen

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 09-11-2023 10:17 AM

September brings hordes of college students back to the Valley — as well as new art exhibits. Here’s a selected look at what’s on tap at several local campuses, as well as some area galleries.

University Museum of Contemporary Art, University of Massachusetts Amherst — The UMCA, the largest gallery at UMass, is featuring work by Palestinian-Israeli artist, actor and filmmaker Raida Adon, titled “Strangeness,” in its main exhibit space.

“Strangeness” is an immersive video in which Adon explores themes of displacement and multiple identities, evoking refugee crises past and present in the Mideast and Europe, as well as her own background: She was born to a Jewish father and Muslim mother and has some Christian family members.

Scenes in the video draw from a variety of sources, from Catholic rituals and imagery to Shakespeare to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” as well as other classic characters from Western literature who don’t quite fit in.

Literally, in some cases: In one sequence, Adon is crammed in a Victorian-era room with tiny furnishings, a modern-day Alice who’s crawled inside a large dollhouse.

Other images depict Adon outside a crumbling railroad station with worn suitcases and furniture piled nearby, including a large, freestanding mirror. Adon, wearing a long, blue dress, seems to symbolize the endless waiting and sorrow of people forced to flee their homes.

As one reviewer writes, “Strangeness unveils harsh truths about our broken world through the prism of Raida Adon’s unique, unbridled imagination.”

“Strangeness” opens Sept. 22 and runs through Dec. 10 at UMCA alongside two smaller exhibits.

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In one, drawings by Westhampton artist Susan Yard Harris are juxtaposed against work by Mexican-born artist Edda Renouf in UMCA’s longstanding “Dialogue with a Collection” program. And “Artists, Born Elsewhere” showcases work from UMCA’s collection by artists who immigrated to the U.S. and have had a lasting impact on American culture.

Mead Art Museum, Amherst College — “Boundless,” which recently opened at the Mead, features work from 150 Indigenous artists — sculpture, photographs, quillwork, music scores, writing and more — that’s designed to celebrate Indigenous creativity, resistance and persistence.

The exhibit includes items from the Amherst College Collection of Native American Literature and the Mead’s collection, along with key loans from the Northeast and beyond. All told, the work extends back more than three centuries.

In a statement, the show’s curator, the North Dakota-based writer Heid E. Erdrich (Ojibwe), said she felt “ripples of connection” between all the objects, books, and individual artists whose work is featured in the exhibit, connections that “sprang from place, kinship, culture and the living world.”

Work by contemporary Indigenous artists including Andrea Carlson (Anishinaabe) and Sierra Henries (Nipmuc) is featured alongside objects such as pages from the Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God, a 1663 Algonquin-language Bible created by a team that included three Indigenous translators and a Nipmuc printer.

According to exhibit notes, “Boundless” also “incorporates objects by non-Native creators to further its inquiries.”

A second exhibit, “Seeping In,” features work by Elizabeth James-Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag) and opens Sept. 14. James-Perry, a fiber artist who uses traditional materials and practices of her people, is a former artist-in-residence at Amherst; at that time she created the mounded Sea Turtle garden at the college’s Book & Plow Farm.

Both Mead exhibits will run through Jan. 7.

Mount Holyoke College Art Museum — New installations are also on display at MHCAM, including work by a multidisciplinary African contemporary artist, Romuald Hazoumè, a member of the Yoruba people from the Republic of Benin.

Hazoumè’s installation, “I will spatter the sky utterly,” features a specific example of his work: distinctive masks that memorialize people, places and moments.

His masks, made of plastic gasoline containers and discarded materials, reference traditional masks used for African ceremonies while also addressing environmental and energy issues.

According to exhibit notes, the masks also “speak to the fraught life of the Beninese men and women who have to navigate porous Benin-Nigeria borders as part of the illicit fuel trade in order to survive.”

On view as well at MHCAM is “Art of the 20th and 21st centuries Reimagined,” an installation drawn from the museum’s permanent collection and focused on American, European, and international art.

The exhibit takes a close look at modern-era developments and movements such as photography, Surrealism, and abstraction, as well as how contemporary artists “deploy mass-produced and found objects to craft novel responses to living in the 21st century.”

The installations run to late May, 2024.

Gallery A3, Amherst — Two artists who have been shared space before in A3, Marianne Connolly and Rochelle Shicoff, are paired this month in “Piecing, Connecting, and Re-calling.”

Connolly, a photographer, mixed-media artist and writer, explores storytelling, narrative, and the connections between language and image in her mixed-media work and collage.

One example in the new show is “Rapunzel’s Diary (Revised),” in which Connolly pairs an old Olivetti Valentine typewriter, mounted on the wall, with a 20-foot scroll of typed narrative flowing beneath it — the better to imitate the long hair of the fairytale character trapped in a tower.

Shicoff, a painter and mixed-media artist, combines fiber art with painting in her new work; the painted images in pieces such as “Spoke at Length” are enclosed by embroidery hoops and surrounded by pieced fabrics.

Shicoff, who oversaw the community mural painted in Florence this summer along the bike path, says this work connects to her maternal grandparents, who were tailors, and with her late mother, a master knitter and painter.

The exhibit runs through Sept. 30. An art forum takes place online Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.; you can register by visiting gallerya3.com and following the links for the exhibit.

Oxbow Gallery, Easthampton — This month’s featured artist is Cummington painter Chris Bagg, who studied with Robert Sweeney at Amherst College and with Lennart Anderson, among others, in New York City.

Bagg offers a mix of landscapes, small town scenes, and portraits that recall the work of Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper, artists he admires for what he calls their ability to “create an illusion” of light and space on a flat surface.

As he noted in an interview with the Gazette a few years ago, Bagg likes to paint outdoors whenever possible because “painting directly from nature was really the best way to learn about this kind of illusion making.”

The Oxbow’s smaller space this month features work by Margaret Humbert-Droz. An artists’ reception for both exhibits takes place Sept. 8 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

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