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Two Third Ward Exhibitions Show the Importance of Perspective

Third Ward history plays major role in two shows.

The installations in "Monuments" also focus on iconic Third Ward institutions. A house dedicated to the Reverend Ray Martin's Progressive Amateur Boxing Association is filled with white boxing bags that make it highly interactive. Founded in 1968, the PABA has an educational, juvenile crime-prevention and self-defense focus. Martin was dubbed "Houston's First Fighting Preacher"; his slogan: "You can't open a knife or fire a gun with a boxing glove on."

Next door, a row house looks at the Blue Triangle Branch YWCA that has served the community since 1918. Archival photos of women and young ladies in a gym or painting china hang on the walls, and educational books are gathered on shelves. The photos are interesting, but it's one of the weaker installations. The guys of Otabenga Jones seem a little at a loss for inspiration when dealing with the ladies' organization.

Another house is dedicated to Unity National Bank. Opened in 1963, it served customers in black neighborhoods redlined by other banks. Today, in 2014, it is the only black-owned bank in Texas. The Unity National Bank row house contains what has to be the world's largest boli figure.

Eroding Witness by Jamal Cyrus
Eroding Witness by Jamal Cyrus

Details

"Jamal Cyrus: Melizmatik"

Through May 24. Inman Gallery, 3901 Main, 713-526-7800.

"Round 40: Monuments: Right Beyond the Site"

Through June 22. Project Row Houses, 2521 Holman, 713-526-7662.

Eroding Witness by Jamal Cyrus

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Traditionally, a boli is crafted from a ritual accretion of various organic materials around a wood and white-cloth armature over time. The boli is a complex spiritual object in the Bamana culture of Mali. It's a power object linked to the secret men's associations that create them, and its viewing is usually restricted to inducted members. OJ&A's bison-size object has the abstracted bovine form of many boli. There is an opening at the top of their sculpture that makes it appear almost like a giant, Afrocentric version of a piggy bank. It's placed at the back of the all-white room, and the viewer approaches it by walking through the kind of stanchions and ropes you see in bank lines, while audio track intones various synonyms and slang for money. There is a sense of approaching a shrine.

But visually the papier-mâché object looks sort of like a stage prop; that can work conceptually, but I wonder if a patina that was less painted and aspired to more of the lumpy earthen gravitas of a real boli object would work better?

The visual culture of the Third Ward is commemorated in a row house that honors the work of prolific sign painters Israel McCloud, Bobby Ray and Walter Stanciell. Inside, building facades and their signs and imagery are reproduced — the Sportsmans' Lodge is next to the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, while across the way are Nolan's Lodge and Miss Bessie's. These kinds of hand-painted signs are disappearing, as are many of the neighborhood places they identified.

Back at his Inman Gallery show, Cyrus pays homage to these signs as well. Using panels covered with faux brick and painted white to look like the walls of buildings, Cyrus had Walter Stanciell paint text from a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting (I Won't Even Mention Gold) and the title of a Blind Lemon Jefferson song ("Lemon's New World Blues") on the panels. Stanciell's block letters use a radiant gold aura in the center of the former and lemon yellow in the latter. His lettering is off just enough to give the text ­personality.

These shows focusing on the history and culture of the Third Ward are particularly timely. Freedman's Town in the Fourth Ward, the neighborhood settled by freed slaves, its streets paved with their own handmade bricks, was ­essentially razed and replaced with synthetic stucco "Tuscan" townhomes. The Third Ward is differently situated, much larger and more populous. Maybe it can avoid a similar fate. ­Anderson, Cyrus, Evans and Pruitt hope so.

"Monuments" includes a variety of related events. The installations opened with a community market and talent showcase. The next event is a May 24 workshop led by Jamal Cyrus and M'kina Tapscott in which participants will create their own neighborhood monuments. See ­projectrowhouses.org for ­details.

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