Where to See Art Gallery Exhibits in the Washington, DC Area

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Laurel Nakadate’s last name is Japanese, but the photographer and filmmaker has few ties to Japan among her known relatives. Undertaking a project based on her own DNA, Nakadate discovered that only three of the approximately 1,500 genetic connections she was able to locate were on her Japanese American father’s side. That’s one of the reasons the Boston and New York-based artist show at the Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art is called “Mother Line.”

The exhibition mainly includes photos from two series, “Relations” and “The Kingdom”. The first includes large DNA-reported portraits of relatives – mostly strangers, chromosomes aside – photographed outdoors at night in open territory when lit only by a flashlight. “The Kingdom” consists of snapshots of Nakadate’s late mother in which images of the artist’s son, born too late to be held by his grandmother, have been inserted into the grandmother’s embrace. These intentionally awkward pasted images have more emotional than visual power.

The reverse is true for “Relations” images, which are large, uniform in size, and dramatically lit. The subject may be a family of three, a woman holding a dog, or a baby in a crib, but all are targeted by harsh white light and framed by a deep-hued night sky. The photos are not titled after the people depicted in them, but for their locations – places such as Tyler, Texas, and Akron, Ohio.

“I realized at a certain point that it was not just about the people, but about these landscapes,” notes the artist in the press release from the gallery. Nakadate found people she has something in common with and gave them something completely different to share: the experience of being commemorated in epic and somewhat disturbing isolation.

Two of Nakadate’s “Mother Line” photos are also featured in “Mother,” a group show she co-curated for Mason Exhibitions Arlington. The selection is mainly made up of photographic prints, but includes several artists‘ books and a video of a performance.

Many paintings represent scenes of women, sometimes with a child; several depict nude women breastfeeding. Among these are Catherine Opie’s self-portrait, which reveals elaborate arm tattoos, and Justine Kurland’s study of six women with children in a shallow, bucolic stream. More ironic are Lisa Kereszi’s found object study, “Pregnancy Test Stick by the Side of the Road, Connecticut”, and Pao Houa Her’s image of a woman facing a child but looking at her own face in a hand mirror. Las Hermanas Iglesias’ (Janelle and Lisa Iglesias) photos of themselves are also playful, with one sister cradling her pregnant belly while the other similarly hugs rounded objects like a mirrored disco ball.

In several photos, a woman shares the frame with, but is separated from, a child (hers, presumably). A shadowy figure stands in the doorway of Tommy Kha’s photo, a child sits behind a curtain at Nzingah Oyo, and a naked man is behind a glass shower door at Malerie Marder. Perhaps the loneliest figure is Katie Gilmore in her video, stubbornly placing white cubes in drawers that ooze blood-like paint. This performance seems to be about being a woman more than a mother, but as a vision of loneliness it is as striking as Nakadate’s portraits of her distant cousins.

Laurel Nakadate: maternal line Until May 29 at Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art12001 Market St., Reston.

Mother Until May 29 at Mason Arlington Exhibits3601 Fairfax Drive, Arlington.

Motherhood is one of the themes of Isabel Manalo’s exhibition at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, although the overriding concern seems to be fertility. Some of the exuberant, expressionistic paintings in “To Grow a Life” contain depictions of the artist’s two teenage daughters from Maryland, but nearly all of them are filled with flowers. The vibe is tropical, connecting American-born Manalo to her Filipino heritage.

The centerpiece of the show is “What Remains Becomes Ravenous,” a five-foot-tall floral image dominated by a large white flower and a bold crimson background. As in the other paintings, the plants are depicted literally, but the realism is contrasted by touches such as random drips, loose brushstrokes, and decorative patterns. The effect is to give the impression that the flowers have sprouted as much from the artist’s efforts as from the earth. The abstract gestures also indicate “a kind of distrust” of contemporary society, according to Manalo’s statement.

The exhibition includes sketchy painting-drawings on boards, which are more pointed and more urban, and a commemorative portrait of the artist’s late father. It is embedded in a screen-like frame, surrounded by vegetation and framed by pre-colonial Philippine script, a motif in Manalo’s work. Likewise, the artist’s daughters appear in nature, and not outside of it. The flowers and drops separate the girls from the viewer, keeping them safely within the confines of the paintings. These lavishly flowered portraits seem destined to nurture and protect.

Isabel Manalo: To make a life grow Until May 29 at Addison/Ripley Fine Art1670 Wisconsin Ave NW.

The main subject of Trisha Gupta’s Neurodiversity: Biodiversity is the human brain, but that’s not the only thing the Maryland-based artist depicts in her prints, drawings and sculptures. The sprawling spectacle, across most of the Sandy Spring Museum, illustrates the structural affinities between brains, fungi and aquatic life. Among the stars is a collograph, “Ocean Luminescence,” in which parts of jellyfish are highlighted in yellow or white that appear to glow.

The term “neurodiversity” was originally coined to describe people on the autism spectrum, although it was later applied to other conditions. Gupta’s statement describes herself as a “neurodivergent immigrant woman,” and some of these works seem partly autobiographical. But her art encompasses other psychological and physiological circumstances: it includes covid-themed lung sculptures and a barely 3D fabric rendering of a refugee woman whose body is reduced to “a breath and a heartbeat.” as she is separated from her children.

Most of Gupta’s prints feature artful color contrasts, and some are part of a series that offers the same compositions in different hue arrangements. But “Portrait” shows a face all splashed in indigo, a reference to the blue-skinned gods of Hindu tradition. The image reminds us that identity comes from collective culture as well as individual synapses.

Trisha Gupta: Neurodiversity: biodiversity Until May 30 at Sandy Spring Museum17901 Bentley Road, Sandy Springs, Maryland.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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