Like many people who stayed home during a large chunk of 2020, the contributors to Pyramid Atlantic’s show turned to books. Not reading them, though — making them. “Nine Artists | Nine Months | Nine Perspectives: Birth of 2020 Visions” presents handmade tomes in a range of modes, all the work of what the venue’s statement calls mature Black women artists. Seven are local; two live in New York.
The books are mostly individual efforts, yet not entirely. Every month, each participant would add to another one’s book, then forward it to the next person in the chain. The exchange concluded in April 2021, ending a nine-month process that Gail Shaw-Clemons likens to gestation and birth. The most conventionally book-like piece is Pamela Harris Lawton’s “Papa Will’s Miniature Village,” a charming account of her father’s dollhouse-making hobby rendered in woodcut illustrations and letterpress text. The other entries tend toward collage, rely heavily on textile-art skills and frequently incorporate three-dimensional objects. Many are accordion-fold constructions such as Gloria Patton’s “Nexus,” eclectically decorated pockets that hold additional artworks on individual sheets. That’s just one of the ways the books overflow their formats, as if to express feelings that can’t be contained.
The finished objects are too delicate to touch, and are sometimes displayed in glass cases. While “Papa Will” can’t be viewed in its entirety, multiple pages are mounted on the gallery walls. So are other pieces, related to but not part of the books.
Even the flattest entries have multiple layers, suggesting the complexity of the artists’ identities. In impeccable prints by Shaw-Clemons and Michele Godwin, respectively, masks meld with the faces beneath them and women are enclosed by wisps of fabric or vegetation. Adjoa J. Burrowes’s handsome monotypes float crisp red shapes over stormy black-and-white ones, and Julee Dickerson-Thompson’s high-contrast collages integrate human, symbolic and random forms.
Actual depth is crucial to other works. Aziza Claudia Gibson-Hunter’s exuberant assemblages, made of drawn or painted paper that is cut or torn, are mounted on wood so the works stand away from the wall. Squiggled lines of 3-D pigment are among the elements that sweep across Kamala Subramanian’s vivid abstraction, uniting its two panels. The most dramatic dimensional passage is navigated by Francine Haskins’s “Equality,” a patchwork banner that transforms into a nearly life-size rag doll, complete with boots on the ground. Escaping its quilted confines, the figure gives birth to itself.
Nine Artists | Nine Months | Nine Perspectives: Birth of 2020 Visions Through Aug. 29 at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center, 4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville.