ancestors · art

daily masks in baltimore and beyond

My visit today to the Baltimore Museum of Art had me up in my feels again. So much of what I saw today (and what I saw far too quickly) brought to mind some key ideas I grapple with in my present book manuscript.

Those ideas concern how the seemingly lowliest soul is fierce and able.IMG_6620.JPG

Whether it was a site-specific performance under a freeway paying homage to the ancestors and those still with us or a mother and daughter’s skills with textiles, what I saw brought to mind our diasporic past. And present.

I left wanting to think. IMG_6619.JPG

Think through it all.

Joyce J. Scott’s textile pieces and ones by the late Elizabeth Talford Scott, her mother, feel like a seriously sacred mediation.

Not speak. Just think.

I was initially drawn there to see Isaac Julien’s “Baltimore,” a three-panel video featuring filmmaker-theatre director-composer-visual artist legend Melvin Van Peebles’ encounters with a baaaad 70s-style sista.

They literally walked through three area museums in those three panels of video and sound.

Isaac Julien’s 2003 “Baltimore” video installation presents the legendary artist-filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles studying his likeness in a wax figure.

The work was both boldly primitive and futuristic.

Senga Nengudi’s “Ceremony” recasts the space below a Los Angeles freeway as sacred ground.
Amy Sherald, a Columbus, Georgia, native, says the figures in her paintings are never passive.

I feel so fortunate to have had this time to rush there from Annapolis and back on an Amtrak and a regional line. Oh, for the chance to slow down and process it all.

The continent beckoned via several pieces of sculpture and masks.


It is hard to translate into words the energy in this museum. One of the guards applauded its new director. The city of Baltimore in this instance has much for which to be proud.

I am a huge fan of Henri Matisse and Amedeo Modigliani. I address the Roaring Twenties in my American Civilization Since 1865 class in less than two weeks and look forward to addressing the modernist art like this 1927 piece by Matisse on both sides of the pond in the first half of the 20th century.