It’s a small but important step toward increasing the visibility of African-American artists who have long lived and worked in the Phoenix area: For Third Friday, the contemporary gallery Modified Arts on Roosevelt Row is hosting the first solo exhibition for Jackie Andre Muhammed, who creates vibrant oil paintings and found-object assemblages rooted in everyday life and spirituality.
Curating the show, called “A Guided Journey of Introspection,” is Clottee Hammons, a longtime member of the Valley arts scene through an organization called Emancipation Arts, which in the past has used the gallery for literary events. The Muhammed show grew out of a conversation between Hammons and Modified Arts owner Kimber Lanning.
On display are 25 richly textured, semi-abstract paintings with intriguing titles and narrative qualities that viewers will want to take in and contemplate. An example is “Reverence the Womb,” in which subtly rendered maternal figures appear and disappear into the composition. A male figure in a corner of the painting is protecting a shape that suggests a womb. During a walk-through of the show, Muhammed explains that reverence for life-giving is a tenet of his Muslim faith, and the painting is one of many examples in which Muslim beliefs underlie the possible narrative interpretations. Asked about the painting’s texture, he says he uses gesso to create swirls and lines, giving it just enough movement without overdoing it.
Nearby is “We Cause & Effect,” a rectangular oil painting with a row of black figures to reflect Islam’s creation story of men rising from primordial mud. Each figure bears either red, white, brown or yellow circles, “to represent the colors of humanity,” Muhammed says. Another remarkable work is “Enter the Flame,” an oil on paper with intense arcs of reds, yellows and other colors, which grew out of Muhammed’s poetry as he thought about the all-consuming, sometimes perilous path to romance. In addition to being a poet, Muhammed is also an accomplished musician.
Muhammed often refers to his art practice as a journey, and that’s especially evident as he relates the story behind the exhibition’s centerpiece assemblage “Circumference of Unseen Minds.” It started with a primitive mask that Muhammed found about 10 years ago in a Seventh Avenue antique store and took on a life of its own as he added various found objects, including rusted wires and an old circular iron sculpture from which to hang the mask. As time passed he added small acorns and citrus fruit castoffs to form the sculpture’s “dreadlocks.” He remarks, “One day everything came together, it just came together.”
As for the sculpture’s title, Muhammed hopes viewers will see how it represents the many times that people aren’t able — through various circumstances — to reach their creative and intellectual potential.
“The lack of appropriate exhibition venues has hampered local Black artists for at least two decades,” Modified Arts’ Connor Descheemaker states in a media release for the show, adding that there’s been a “cultural disconnect” between these artists and the busy Roosevelt Row scene. Be sure to spend some time with the Muhammed show, as you might just come away with different viewpoints about race and religion, while enjoying a show from an artist deserving more exposure in the Phoenix art community.
The Muhammed show continues at Modified Arts (407 E. Roosevelt St.) through May 13.