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Black Eyed Peas & Coal Black Blues

Sharon Kerry-Harlan & Alison Saar

Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to announce its fall exhibition, “Black Eyed Peas and Coal Black Blues: Textiles and works on paper by Sharon Kerry-Harlan and Alison Saar,” opening on Friday, September 14 and running through November 16, 2018. 


The opening reception is from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday, September 14. It is free and open to the public. 


This marks the first time Portrait Society has shown the work of Sharon Kerry-Harlan. Although the artist shows her work nationally, it has not been exhibited as frequently in her own city. PSG owner/director Debra Brehmer had initially seen her work in a Current Tendencies exhibition at the Haggerty Museum of Art in 2011 and never forgot it. 


Sharon Kerry-Harlan was born in Miami, Florida and currently resides in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and Hollywood, Florida. She received a BA from Marquette University and studied art at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Sharon worked at Marquette University as an Academic Coordinator.  She also taught textile courses as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 


Kerry-Harlan’s work includes textiles, mixed media, and photography. Her work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian/Renwick Gallery, the American Craft Museum, the Harn Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum. Her work has been published in books and art catalogues. In 2017, her work was included in three South African exhibitions. It is also part of the US Department of State Art in Embassies Permanent Collection. Most recently, Kerry-Halan had a solo exhibition at the Erie Art Museum in Pennsylvania.


The PSG exhibition will feature two new bodies of work as well as her large textiles. Kerry-Harlan, over the past year, created 100 fabric collage dolls which will fill a gallery wall. These Black Eyed Peas combine intricate stitching, word fragments and abstraction to assert a black female empowered stance. Maintaining a delicacy in the stitching and bright patterns, the dolls are both formidable and playful. 


A new series of colorful, painted and collaged textiles will also be presented. On a backdrop of pieced together, multi-patterned African cloth, Kerry-Hanlan has stitched and painted bold faces. These compositions fuse art histories, bringing the exclusive domain of European Modernism into reconfigured relationship with African and African American imprints. This body of work visualizes the languages and cultures that need to rise to the surface in a long-overdue revision of the art historical text.  


Kerry-Harlan’s best known series, Urban Chatter, will also be on view with several large collaged textiles. This body of work references the roots of jazz in the black and rust palette of traditional mud cloth. The figures and faces seem to meld contemporary cartooning, abstraction, African sculptures, and ritual masks. 


The second part of “Black Eyed Peas and Coal Black Blues,” presents new work on vintage textiles by the internationally known artist Alison Saar. 


Alison Saar (1956) is a Los Angeles, California based sculptor, mixed-media, and installation artist. Her artwork focuses on the African diaspora and black female identity and is influenced by African, Caribbean, and Latin American folk art and spirituality. Themes of cultural and social identity, history, and religion recur in her work. 


Portrait Society will feature work created at Tandem Press, Madison, in 2016 and 2017. Coal Black Blues is an image of a black male printed on a stained cotton shop rag. The text says, “Stay Alert Stay Alive,” and responds to the history of black males working on the railroads. Breach and Staunch are woodcut prints on found vintage seed and grain sacks. They depict the African American men and women conscripted to work on levees or evacuating families when the Mississippi River flooded in 1926-27. 

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