, Newburyport, MA


June 20, 2013

'Visual conversations'

PEM exhibit connects art, race and American culture


Benny Andrew’s painting “The Long Rows,” for example, one of several images of farm work, depicts someone facing away from the viewer, bent over so the bottom, legs and back — and the back of one arm — are all we see. The painting depicts how “stoop work” gets its name, as a type of field work that forces people to bend at the waist, reducing this farmer to an anonymous servant of the hoe he or she is using. Nevertheless, we get a sense of the farmer’s durability, and as viewers, focused down the row, we cannot help but follow and sympathize with the farmer.

It is difficult not to think of this painting when looking at the photograph “Horse-drawn Cultivator, Mississippi, 1974” by Roland Freeman, in which the handles of a plowlike device fork into the sky above a muddy field. Taking the same furrow’s-eye view as “Long Rows,” the photograph also draws us into the world of farm work. But the horse that pulls this cultivator and the man who controls it are absent, elevating the tool into a monument to the energy, focus and determination that makes it work.

The dialogue between these works is one small example of an enormous number of details that start to resonate and resound in the galleries, until the viewer cannot help but feel part of the conversation.

“I believe these works are also calling to us,” Hartigan said, “inviting us to poignant and challenging conversations about the dynamics of difference, our shared humanity, and how the art of image-making has the power to influence how we think, how we talk, how we view one another.”

Tannery Series in Salem

Newburyport’s literary organization, The Tannery Series, will present “IndiVisible: We the People in Black, White and Gray” at the Peabody Essex Museum from 6:30 to 9:30 tonight.

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