Harriet F. Senie
July/August 2000 Vol. 19Ê No. 6
Nancy Azara at Donahue/Sosinski Gallery
Feminist imagery (and theory) has been embraced, argued, and transformed by the art world since Azara first dealt with themes of the goddess and spirit houses in the early '70s. In a new emphasis on narrative, her work now takes on the quality and resonance of epic poetry, evoking ancient themes and insisting on their contemporary relevance.
Passages, a collaboration with the poet Judith Barrington, combines text, two-dimensional images, and sculptural form. The gold leaf book is a hinged three-dimensional form, mounted on a simple elevated rectangular structure somewhere between a table and an altar. The six text pages, a sequence of poems" beginning with "Wood Becomes Paper Becomes Word" and ending with "What We Say," are interspersed with images of red reaching hands, trees, feet, and columns. Additional images (or icons) cover the back.
In her collaboration with Barrington, Azara's images on hinged wooden blocks seem literally to stretch the narrative element implicit in her earlier work. While the images are specific to the text-"You There.. " begins "Put the palms of your hands together and 'is surrounded by images of hands, while "Feet" is accompanied by the depiction of two feet-they go beyond illustration to provide a note of dramatic urgency.
The use of red throughout gives resonance to the whole, not just the section entitled "Blood." Although the blood specifically refers to menstrual and menopausal rites of passage, both poem and 'images evoke more than a gendered biological life cycle. In this context, Azara's images seem to take on an aural dimension, the pictorial equivalent of a church choir or a Greek chorus.
Heart Wall (measuring 6 by 24 by 3 feet) evokes a different kind of narrative. Freestanding sculpture segments establish a rich rhythm of color, texture, and shape. As the title suggests, the body's structure and the structure of sculpture are presented as parallel, evoking themes of supplication, access and merging, closed doors and spaces to slip through.
The installation at Donahue/ Sosinski, with its carefully modulated lighting, moves from book to wall to reliefs arranged on one wall in a grid and on another in the staccato rhythms of musical notes on a page. There is a welcome absence of 'irony so prevalent 'in contemporary art. Instead, Azara's work is a statement of faith in the power of art and words, separately and together, to communicate something of the primal essence of life, its deeper visceral experiences.