The Frist unveiled two new exhibits this fall. American Art Deco and Mary Sibande: Blue Purple Red.
The idea of The Roaring 20’s tends to strike thoughts of innovation, devastation, and glamor. This was a time of great optimism for the American people and advancement for both women and African Americans. Women were entering the workforce, the Harlem Renaissance was beginning, technology was advancing. “American Art Deco – Designing for the People, 1918-1939” at The Frist is just the place to see this era visually come back to life.
American Art Deco – Designing for the People, 1918-1939
Because the country, as well as the people, were financially struggling after the first world war, resources were scarce. To combat this, many artists would create items out of cheap materials and then coat them to look like a more expensive material. Plastics were painted to look like ivory and wood was painted to look like ebony. This clock, created by Paul T. Frankl, is made of metal and was brushed with silver to give it a chrome finish and add an air of importance to the piece. Its shape mimics that of a skyscraper and is there to inspire the American spirits to soar upwards.
As the exhibit continues, it highlights the contributions of African Americans during the 1920’s and 30’s. Artists like Aaron Douglas bring to life some information that others usually shy away from. Douglas’ “Building More Stately Mansions” is a reminder of how essential black people have been to the creation of civilization. Oftentimes it is erased or downplayed just how much they contributed, and Douglas put in plain art that “we were vital then and now.”
The Harlem Renaissance (highlighted in the exhibit) was also beginning, paving a way for the emergence of black artists. Entertainers like Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, and others began breaking barriers, gaining fame, and making a name for themselves. They are some of the many reasons that artists like Mary Sibande had the power and visibility to create their art today.
Mary Sibande: Blue Purple Red
The second exhibit on display at the Frist is “Mary Sibande: Blue Purple Red”. Sibande is a Johannesburg-based artist who focuses on a character named Sophie. This woman has dark skin and she wears vibrant and emotional colors of blue, purple, and red. Sibande designed Sophie to be based on herself, her mother, and grandmother with her eyes always closed to reject the physical world and dream of a better reality. Sibande even goes so far as to pose as Sophie in the photographs of her work.
The blue area of this exhibit shows Sophie in a uniform with the white apron of a domestic worker. Both the Purple and Red stage show a very different Sophie. The Purple Sophie in “A Terrible Beauty is Born” is shedding her uniform as the roots and vines take away the apron and headscarf to reveal an immaculately powerful woman. Her arms are outstretched in “Right Now” to invoke direct action as if to say “Don’t passively wait. Do something!”
As Sophie reaches her final form in Red, she is passionate, protective, and angry. This version of Sophie exists to shield and protect from the injustices inflicted on her people due to social inequalities.
Both the Roaring 20’s and the 2020s were a time of change. From hemlines shortening and transportation getting quicker to political unrest and a call for change, all of these ideas and more can be seen at The Frist in “American Art Deco – Designing For the People, 1918-1939” and “Mary Sibande: Blue Purple Red” now until January 2, 2022. Be sure to tag @FristArtMuseum and @Urbaanite when you visit.
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