In one gallery at the California African American Museum, there is a showcase of one of the biggest fashion trends of the 1990s. In another, a glistening, majestic, horse-like animal is the centerpiece of an exhibit dedicated to the work of a local assemblage legend. Nearby, glistening works of metal highlight African American’s deep connection to metalworking.
The exhibits are just three of the five new exhibits that are on display at the Exposition Park facility. Cross Colours: Black Fashion in the 20th Century, Timothy Washington: Citizen/Ship and LA Blacksmith all opened last month. The other two exhibits at the museum, Making Mammy: A Caricature of Black Womanhood, 1840-1940 and Dust My Broom: Southern Vernacular from the Permanent Collection also opened in September.
CAAM Executive Director George E. Davis said that the new exhibits, which range in theme from fashion, to local and state history, represent not only CAAM’s commitment to new and engaging exhibits, but also their push to bring in new guests.
“We are focused on a younger audiences,” Davis said while at a season opening celebration at the Exposition Park museum last week. “Many museums have a hard time attracting younger audiences. We made a conscious decision to drive those audiences. The food trucks, the logos, the brands, its very intentional and Cross Colours work very well in that regard.”
Perhaps the most intriguing new show, and the one that is likely to draw the biggest audience, Cross Colours: Black Fashion in the 20th Century showcases the impact of one of the first mainstream black-owned clothing companies, Cross Colours. The exhibition runs through March 1.
Founded by Carl Jones and TJ Walker during the rise of hip hop in the late 1980s, Cross Colours’ blend of Afrocentric and geometric aesthetics with themes plucked from hip hop and street culture catapulted the brand to prominence, while helping to signal the importance of urban street wear.
“That whole street vibe from the 80s is what really inspired us to create something for the culture,” Jones said during last week’s celebration. “We were fashion guys prior to Cross Colours, but we were heavily influenced by what was going on in the street. Our thing was, no one was addressing any of this. No one is address the culture. People were trying to ignore the music. ‘Oh, this rap thing, it’s a flash in the pan.’”
The brand became a constant on popular television shows like “Martin,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and “In Living Colour,” and worn by hip hop legends like Biggie Smalls and Tupac. The exhibit traces the history of the clothing brand, showcasing a mix of the brand’s clothing, as well as media clips featuring their clothing and vintage textiles used by the company.
But assistant history curator Taylor Bythewood-Porter said that the exhibit is more than a collection of artifacts, instead, highlighting the brands place in the minds of so many who were raised with the Cross Colours brand on their television screens and in their magazines.
“People may not know who this brand, Cross Colours, is specifically, but when they are going to a 90s-themed party, they are thinking of ‘Fresh Prince’ and they are also thinking about Cross Colours,” Bythewood-Porter said.
Citizenship and Art
For over 50 years, Los Angeles-based artist Timothy Washington has labored in his Leimert Park residence, crafting beautiful displays of mixed-media works. Now the artist is the subject of his first solo exhibit at CAAM, Citizen/Ship.
The show opened on Sept. 25 and closes on March 1.
The exhibit is the first installation project for the artist since he shifted his eye away from dry point drawings and wooden sculptures, instead turning to focus on futuristic and ornate assemblage work in the 1970s.
Visitors first walk through an intricate and colorful gateway that leads into the exhibit. The gateway represents what a visitor would see if they were inside of another piece of art in the center of the exhibit, a large elaborate horse-like creature made of various materials and items that also doubles as a musical instrument.
On the walls of the galleries are various collage works from the artist that touch on the negative and positive nature of American culture, including gun violence, displacement, racism and other societal ills.
The exhibit was curated by Visual Arts Curator and Program Manager Mar Hollingsworth. She said that some of the works in the exhibit serve as a sort of “journal for L.A.”
“Washington represents Los Angeles on so many levels,” Hollingsworth said. “Take those collages for example, they are almost sort of journals for L.A., it exposes gun violence in neighborhoods, talks about the disappearing children, he captures all of those negative forces, but also tries to be positive in balancing those problems by celebrating America in other ways.”
While Citizen/Ship showcases the assemblage works of one artist, in a gallery on the opposite side of the museum, LA Blacksmith takes aim at the metal works made by Los Angeles-based artists and the connection it has to traditional West African metal-smiting aesthetics.
Independent curator Jill Moniz oversaw the exhibit — the first of its kind dedicated to black metal workers. She said that her focus was on highlighting the historical and cultural connection between metalworking, metal material and black artists in Los Angeles.
“The aesthetic that they bring here is uniquely L.A., but comes from a tradition that started in Africa with the invention of iron smelting and blacksmith,” said Moniz. “That is ours, and it was truly important for me to show that those artist know that and understanding that.”
The exhibit features works from various artists, including Betye Saar, John Riddle and Beulah Woodard, whose homages to African mask making help open the exhibit. The show also traces the impact of the Watts Rebellion, where property destruction provided plenty of scraps for local artists to repurpose into some new and worthwhile works.
Moniz said that the Watts Rebellion represented a critical turning point for Los Angeles-based black artists.
“The Watts Rebellion is this moment when black artists start to find material in different ways,” Moniz said. “They start to look into the streets and they start to use that material to build their own black aesthetic. So much of that is in metal and so much of that is what is now finally being recognized as innovative and relevant.”
The exhibit is on display until Feb. 16.
The California African American Museum is at 600 State Dr. or caamuseum.org.
©Los Angeles Downtown News 2019