Its location at Veterans Plaza in the heart of downtown Silver Spring could not be described by the most imaginative reporter as a crossroads. And yet the Betty Mae Kramer Gallery and Music Room, located in the soaring modern edifice known as the Silver Spring Civic Building, is a place that embodies the term. It’s a spot where ideas, if not byways, intersect; a small community situated in its own distinctive zone, and a crucial point where traffic of the mind, the heart and the imagination can safely merge. Not a traffic light or roundabout in sight, though. The gallery serves as a crossroads for art, and art needs no speed limits.
“We’re a gallery and a local art agency,” explained Amina Cooper, gallery manager and curator of “Crossroads: Magic + Matter,” the current exhibit. “Our goal is serving the community, providing a public space for art, engaging the public and also cultivating a community of artists.”
Cooper, herself an accomplished photographer, discovered that many of the prospective artists for this show were members of the Latino Art League of Greater Washington (LALGW), an organization that strives to promote the development of artistic and cultural activities featuring the work of Latin American artists. And once her artists were in place, the exhibit’s theme followed like magic.
“Generally, I don’t have a title for the show until I see all the work together,” Cooper said. “I try to find a common thread—I like when there’s unity—and this seemed to offer either end of a common spectrum.”
That spectrum goes beyond the ethnic origins of the artists, according to Cooper. The “matter + magic” moniker came from her observation that every painting seemed to entertain a combination of material and “magical” elements.
“All of the paintings represent either people or nature,” she noted, “while on the other end of the spectrum, there’s a strong sense of spirituality or magic.”
Huamani’s work might fall into that “spirit and magic” category. An artist and teacher in his native Peru, the Rockville-based artist uses the brilliant colors and textures of ancient Peruvian culture—and the mythology and mysticism that has survived through the centuries. “My artwork and portraits are a combination of my creative imagination based on real life, dreams and legends of my own inspiration,” he said, “with the spirit of ancient Gods to invoke a disturbing modernity.”
An LALGW member, Huamani said the league has opened many doors for him as an artist. Of the works he submitted to the “Crossroads: Matter + Magic” exhibit, he said, “Metamorphosis Paracas” is his favorite, mostly because it represents “mythological beings, the mysticism of supernatural beings that come from afar of the ancient pre-Colombian Peruvian culture.”
“One of the main reasons I paint these themes—zoomorphic and anthropomorphic human beings from the mythological history combined with my own imagination plus colors and life—is to make an exceptional artistic representation of the ancient Peruvian inhabitants.” He also seeks to bring a taste of the exotic world of mysticism and wonder—“my colors and brush strokes saturated with legends and hopes”—to people who might otherwise know nothing about it.
As for the “crossroads” element, interdisciplinary artist, activist and healer Nicole Oxendine sees the word as a euphemism for many of life’s diverging and connecting experiences.
“We are all individually moving through this archetype ourselves,” said the artist, whose ancestry is a crossroads in and of itself: Cuban on her father’s side, she is also Native American, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. “The roots of people, the investigation of identity and belonging—these are very much a part of what I’m exploring in my work.”
Oxendine described her own work as “physical and energetic”—deeply informed by the streams of identity—as an artist, as a mother, as a member of the LGBT community, as a Native American. She is the founder of her own artists group, Rivershe Collective Arts. Rivershe provides “a catalytic spark, collaborative community and nurturing incubator to support new works by women artists, especially women artists of color.” Still, this exhibit and the public exposure it brings is provides fresh audiences for Oxendine and her fellow artists.
“As an artist, it’s a gift to have a place where art can be shown in a civic space,” she said. “As a mother of daughters, I’m thrilled that art is being reflected back at them. This ‘crossroads’ has been a place to grow as an artist, to open into new opportunities and to share my work. It’s fabulous.”
She added that curator Amina Cooper “has done a beautiful job. The way the works speak to each other visually and contextually, with color and line—there’s a real conversation happening as she saw it.”
Cooper, too, is happy with the outcome.
“I love combinations,” she said. “And this exhibit is like an artistic gumbo: Everything works together, but still has flavor on its own.”
Crossroads: Magic + Matter is on view through Aug. 26 at The Betty Mae Kramer Gallery & Music Room, Silver Spring Civic Building, 1 Veterans Plaza, Silver Spring. For more information, call 301-565-3805 or visit http://kramergallery.squarespace.com.