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East of the River Art Exhibition Debuts

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The fourth annual East of the River juried exhibit opened last Friday at Anacostia’s Honfleur Gallery. The exhibit features 12 artists from or living in Wards 7 and 8 who were selected from over 20 submissions by three judges. The exhibit is a mix of portraiture, sculpture, oils, drawings, and photography that display the vibrancy of east of the river talent.

Anthologizing, collecting, or organizing a bunch of works under a geographic heading can often be an arbitrary exercise that reveals no real insight into the works collectively or individually. I’m not sure if the pieces in the exhibit speak to any kind of unique “character” found in Wards 7 and 8, although they certainly reflect the diversity, in almost every sense of the term, found east of the river.

For example, Matthew Mann‘s pieces Molotov Side Tackle and Sinking of the Backhuysen darkly humorous fresco-style paintings present a fight over a molotov cocktail and a sinking ship, respectively. However, Mann, who graduated with an MFA from American University, has crafted small, colorful oil paintings that seem cartoonish and dream-like, with figures that have cowboy hats from the shoulders up, instead of a neck. The pieces are an enjoyable mix of Italian art- from Renaissance painting to spaghetti westerns.

Deborah Terry, a District native, was selected for the photograph In the Mist, which depicts a quiet, foggy hill whose sole occupants are a few trees and a small bench. The scene is somewhat captivating in that it feels like you have stumbled upon a hidden park. Terry has worked in Liberia and Darfur, as well as New York where she was a fashion photographer. Her piece in the East of the River show suggests a foreign locale, but the photo is presented less as an awe inspiring National Geographic-style nature shot and more as though someone has invited you up a hill to see the view. In the Mist captures a sense that, as Terry writes in her exhibit bio, “there is often a strong connection between me and my subject that words cannot describe.”

Melani N. Douglass‘s pastel piece Sage, a portrait of Frederick Douglass, is somewhat straightforward, except that the artist’s use of differing shades of gray lends a bit of depth not found in commonly reproduced photographs of the famous statesman that called Anacostia home. Melani lives and works in Anacostia and her piece is perhaps the most overtly local. By choosing a portrait of Frederick Douglass, Honfleur is showing an active engagement with Anacostia’s history. Less stylized and abstract than many of the pieces in the show, Sage gives the East of the River exhibition a good mix of media and style.

The Honfleur Gallery has presented an enjoyable hodgepodge of local art of differing skill levels and subject matter. Aside from the aforementioned artists, pieces by BK.iamArt.Adams, Samuel Mercer, and Marlon Normon also stand out. The artists on display are clearly talented and ambitious and will make any Washingtonian proud. The important thing about a show comprised of artists from Wards 7 and 8 is that it exists. The neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River are too often forgotten when people mention arts in the city (or, generally, anything else). A healthy sampler platter of a show, the fourth annual East of the River juried exhibition highlights the artistic energy taking place in Wards 7 and 8 and suggests a bright future for art in the District.