Enthusiasts of this blog who live in the Boston area should head over to the National Center for Afro-American Artists, an underappreciated museum in Roxbury. Hurry, over, in fact, because the beautiful objects on display in the current exhibition, “Inmate Ingenutiy: The Cell Solace Collection” are scheduled to depart the museum at the end of January 2019.
The twenty or so exquisitely crafted handbags, boxes, and other vaguely utilitarian objects are on loan from Roxbury collector, Antonio Inniss who first saw one of these creations as a boy when family members received two bags as gifts from an incarcerated friend.
His enthusiasm for these objects encouraged more gifts of bags to Antoinio Inniss. Eventually his appreciation evolved into a passion and his passion evolved into a collection. The works shown here span from the 1930’s to the 1970’s.
Look closely at the lyrical abstract patterns to discover the source of the materials:
Cigarette wrappers and cartons!
When smoking was banned in prisons, stamps found their way into the craft:
There’s more to see–but I’m telling you–just GO!
OK, now in the “ya never know when you’ll meet someone interesting” department:
As we were oohing and aahing over the weaves and patterns, into the gallery popped a man with a sparkle in his eye who offered up some insight into the collection. I could tell he knew a thing or two not just about the about the museum, but about LIFE. It was Ras Ben Tau, who has been Artist in Residence (and museum caretaker) at the Center for Afro-American Artists for over 30 years! I asked if we could see his work and he happily brought us downstairs to see several of his creations which ranged from metal work:
to abstract painting:
to this magnificent portrait of Haile Selassie:
We learned many things from Ras Ben Tau, including the existence of PurBlack, which I assumed, when peering into his little jar, was a paint pigment. True to its name I had never seen a blacker black! I thought I was being shown the richest black known to man, a wonderous, light absorbing material to coat a canvas or sculpture. But no! Ben scooped out about a 1/4 teaspoon and swirled it into his teacup to drink. And as he sipped he recounted the most amazing stories of PurBlack’s restorative powers along with his own story of near death experiences and rebirths. One sniff of PurBlack (a rare mineral pitch found on trees in the Himalayas!) was enough to convince me of its powers.
thus nicely cementing our feeling that we had stumbled onto magic at the Center for Afro-American Art on what had started out as a dreary day in January.