On view until May 26, the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) in Seattle showcases the work of local artist Marita Dingus in the museum's Paccar Gallery. "Marita Dingus at Home" is an intimate excursion into the artist's daily life, her artistic creations, and the intricate web of cultural and historical connections that inspire her.
For this exhibition, Dingus has contributed dozens of artifacts from her home, many of them originally shown at Francine Seders Gallery and now redesigned and re-purposed for use in her daily life. For example, fabric wall hangings that she converted into suspended shelves that now hold the materials of her artistic trade: thread, fabric, scissors, drill bits, etc.
One display, Dolls with African and Caribbean Figures, recreates the arrangement of these pieces that sits on Dingus' fireplace mantle, where Jamaican and African statues intermingle with dolls designed by the artist--all of it constituting a dialogue between various black cultures. Personal history is here too in a photo showing her mother's tea cup collection.
Photos by Spike Mafford of these creations as they reside in the artist's home add another dimension to the show, not only revealing art's role in Dingus' daily life but also underlining her penchant to interweave "the useful, the beautiful, and the spiritual." She routinely incorporates re-purposed fabrics, found objects and so-called junk (such as pull-tabs from soda cans, twisted wire, bits of film negatives) into her work.
Dingus began making paper dolls when she was eight and graduated to cloth dolls at ten. Four of those early dolls are here along with a string of "found" dolls. Nearby are photos of her woodsheds and fencing for her goats, all of them overlaid with her art.
Dingus started making quilts while temporarily living in the South and researching the history of enslaved Africans. At NAAM, you can see some of her quilts, including one composed of colorful zippers and bounded by black leather. Exhibition notes explain that the crosshatch "fence" patterns in her quilts also refer to the wooden enclosures that kept captured Africans from escaping.
Another inspiration/cultural connection comes from the sweetgrass baskets woven by Gullah people, American descendants of enslaved Africans. In Dingus' hands, these baskets become woven celebrations of wire, wine corks, and fabric.
The exhibit's sneak peek into Dingus' work and daily life is a riot of color and joy, while also reminding us of suffering and the efforts of oppressed people to use and re-use in order to survive.
Marita Dingus is currently represented by the Traver Gallery http://www.travergallery.com/
For more information on and directions to the Northwest African American Museum http://www.naamnw.org/