On April 1, 2017, 15 guests were treated to a guided tour of the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) with Exhibitions Manager Dominic Clay. Located in the heart of the Museum District, HMAAC offers programming and exhibits featuring African and African-American artists to enrich the cultural landscape of Houston and Texas.
Sculpture by Elizabeth Montgomery Shelton is featured in the small Bert Long, Jr gallery near the entrance. Busts, small figures, and mask assemblages in stone, ceramic, and bronze highlight Shelton’s long career. Also included are a series of shadow boxes featuring family artifacts which together create a moving memorial to Shelton’s ancestry both familial and artistic.
In the main gallery on the first floor is “I found God in Myself,” an exhibit of contemporary art and installation in homage to Dr. Ntozake Shange’s ‘for colored girls…’, a performance known as a choreopoem which won an Obie award in 1977. This 40th anniversary exhibition opens with a short video, “Her pen is a machete,” describing the Shange’s work and influence on poetry and language.
Part of the power of ‘for colored girls…’ is the performance – literally embodying the words on stage. As a reflection of that performance, the works of art in the gallery take on the personas of the characters in the poem. For each piece, there is a corresponding line of poetry and an invocation of one of the colors from the piece.
For example, the Lady in Purple is represented by a Voodoo candle sitting on draped purple fabric, beneath a disco ball made from bright purple acrylic nails. Purple for this woman represents loss, love, and revenge. For one Lady in Red, a storyboard drawn on glass bottles sitting on a wooden shelf tells a story of tragedy. Another work shows a Lady in Red as a figure of passion and rage, created in textiles with an exposed breast and arms reaching into space.
Dominic Clay gave VAA a powerful, in-depth tour with peeks behind the scenes and into the performance work that inspired the stationary art. This is definitely a museum to visit frequently, as exhibitions change on a regular basis. HMAAC is located at 4807 Caroline in the Museum District, and is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 11am-6pm; and Thursdays 11am-8pm.