New at LACMA: Charles White and Central Asian Ikats

ian-white-at-lacma.jpgIan White, son of Charles White, at the opening of his father's exhibition at LACMA. Photo by Judy Graeme. Below: 'Sojourner Truth and Booker T. Washington,' Charles White 1943.

Two exhibits featuring art from separate but equally captivating worlds have taken up residence side by side in LACMA's Resnick Pavilion.

charles-white-vert.jpgCharles White: A Retrospective is the first major exhibition of the iconic artist, teacher, and activist in over 30 years. Los Angeles is the final destination for the exhibit which originated at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Born in 1918, White lived in all three cities. He moved to Los Angeles in 1956 and joined the faculty of Otis Art Institute in 1965. He taught and influenced an entire generation of younger artists, including Judithe Hernandez, Kent Twitchell, and David Hammons. The elementary school now on the Wilshire Boulevard site where Otis stood is named for White. An accompanying exhibit, "Life Model: Charles White and His Students," is on view there.

According to LACMA, White "created powerful interpretations from African American history and culture throughout his 40 year career. A gifted draftsman and printmaker as well as a talented mural and easel painter, White almost exclusively portrayed black subjects." The activism that began in previous cities continued in Los Angeles. He mingled with Hollywood figures like Sidney Poitier and Dalton Trumbo and was a prominent player in the cultural politics of Los Angeles. By the time of his death in 1979, he had become, in LACMA's words, "a cult hero of California art circles and a significant international figure."

A few steps from the Charles White exhibit at the museum is Power of Pattern: Central Asian Ikats from the David and Elizabeth Reisbord Collection. Museum goers can immerse themselves in the vibrant colors and patterns of 19th century robes and wall hangings made in the region that was once at the center of the Silk Road. Producing the resist-dyed fabrics is an "incredibly labor intensive process," says curator Clarissa Esguerra. "It was always done with silk warp and only the most wealthy could afford them."

ikat-ensemble.jpgAlthough an ancient textile tradition, ikat went through a renaissance thanks to 19th century artisans in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. "In Central Asia this technique is called abrbandi, which translates to 'cloud binding'- a slight mis-alignment and blurring of the edges of the pattern, like the fuzzy and blurred edges of a cloud," Esguerra says. "There are still families who do this process and the Uzbek government has declared this textile a national dress. There's a lot of investment in continuing the artform."

Viewers will no doubt be intrigued by the technique used to produce the fabric, as well as the cultural symbols in the patterns, but Esguerra is clearly passionate about another aspect of the exhibit. "The most interesting thing to me is how they (the symbols) were drawn upon to create these and once they were made into ikat patterns, the symbolism was no longer there. I thought that was a new way to look at this. It's just a pattern, which in Western terms is a very modern art concept. There was this fashion to have a beautiful, exuberant colorful pattern and it's just like our concept of fashion today."

ikat-lacma.jpgRobe (Chapan), Central Asia, 19th century. Above right, woman's ensemble, Central Asia, late 19th or early 20th century.

The ikat process in modern Uzbekistan:

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