Saturday, April 24, 2010

American Visionary Art Museum - Baltimore

BALTIMORE, MD. - What are the threads that connect Sadaam Hussein’s reluctant personal physician, a 1919 Japanese immigrant, and the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy? The answers reside within the American Visionary Art Museum exhibit running through September 2010, in Baltimore, Maryland.

This is where the creative work of more than 50 visionary and self taught artists come together to display the intimacies of their cultural quest for human rights, civil rights, freedom and happiness. While the American Declaration of Independence is the thread for this monumental exhibit, the underlying concept is the human struggle, throughout the world, for freedom, equal dignity and basic rights. Contemporary and historical artists from disparate backgrounds use a variety of media to tell the stories of their experience and heritage.

Doctor Ala Bashir, renown plastic surgeon and Iraq's most famous painter, has three paintings on canvas and a terra cotta sculpture on display. His sculpture, The Cry, was the model for the 32 foot bronze monument erected in Iraq to commemorate where 400 women and children were killed in the first Gulf War. Basher was the personal physician and artist for former Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein until his overthrow in April 2003. When his vivid, twisted images of human suffering are compared to surreal painters, based upon his style, he is quoted as saying "My duty was to compete with death, the surrealists artists were dreaming dreams, I am painting what I saw."

Henry Sugimoto, a Japanese immigrant to the United States in 1919, captured his pursuit of the American dream experiences through a paint brush. His impressionistic paintings took on new meaning after his forced internment in the Fresno detention center in central California and Jerome and Rohwer concentration camps in Arkansas . His poignant style documents the experiences of Japanese Americans held behind barbed wire on American soil.

Early Native American art sheds light on the historical significance of the Iroquois nations that influenced the U.S. Constitution. Early natives had a democratic process in place generations before the Declaration of Independence. In fact George Washington and Benjamin Franklin invited representatives of the Iroquois Confederacy to Philadelphia in 1776, which likely served as an opportunity for them to learn about the Iroquois very successful form of government.

The struggle for America's civil rights, by African Americans, is creatively captured in thirteen letters sent to Charles Morgan Jr. in 1963. This is a collection of letters: hate mail and encouraging letters, juxtaposed against the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four young black girls. He spoke the day after the bombing to white leaders and businessmen whom he blamed for creating an atmosphere of racial hatred. After leaving Birmingham, he led a successful life as a civil rights lawyer.

The quest for freedom is also immortalized by Pedro Martin Declet, a former inmate who found his voice through art. He depicts his personal struggles and those of society through collage and assemblages, like his collage "Portrait de Genocide".

Experiencing the exhibit:

The entire exhibit combines history and art in a very unique and interactive manner. For teachers or students, the American Visionary Art Museum is a fascinating land of discovery with permanent exhibits that complement the traveling shows. Lesson plans for grades 5 through 12 are available on the AVAM website. Even if you are not a student these plans will help to navigate, focus, and get more out of your visit to an extraordinary spot.

Spend the day and plan on staying for lunch or dinner (or both) at Mr. Rains Funhouse, located in the museum.

The American Visionary Art Museum is located at the base of Federal Hill, south of Baltimore's Inner Harbor at 800 Key Highway, Baltimore, MD 21230-3940. The museum is open 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday-Sunday, except Christmas and Thanksgiving day. Cost is $14 for adults, $8 for students and there are discounts for seniors and groups of ten or more.

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