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Visual Edge: Marita Dingus "They Still Hold Us" at Kittredge Gallery

It is a dark, ominous, and yet wondrous exhibition

"Skeleton Fence" detail, mixed media by Marita Dingus, is on display at Kittredge Gallery at University of Puget Sound. Courtesy photo

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Marita Dingus is one of Seattle's most unique and well-known artists, renowned for works made from scrap materials such as bent wire and often depicting and commenting on the African American experience. For years she made art about the institution of slavery including a monumental, room-size figure of a slave and a wall hanging of the galley of a slave ship. Local art lovers should recall her work at Museum of Glass and Francine Seders Gallery in Seattle, and a previous show at Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound.

The show is called "They Still Hold Us," which refers to "the persistence of invisible forces that contain and restrict" people of color from prospering. Dingus says the fences and shackles in this exhibition refer to such things as prisons and biased law enforcement, which disproportionately affect people of color.

It is a dark, ominous, and yet wondrous exhibition.

Along the front wall is a group of wall hangings with titles such as "Fence" and "Fence With Flowers," made of wire and cloth and a variety of discarded materials in repetitive forms with "fences" made of black cloth and things stuck to the fences, such as flowers and leaves in greens and earth tones and in some cases dark red leaves. You might think of leaves and flowers as light and joyful, but these are dark and heavy, wind-blown and jammed uncomfortably into the fences. The metaphor is not obvious, but once realized causes the heart to skip a beat.

On the end wall next to these is a group of three heavy black draped cloths with red teardrops or drops of blood called "As If It Had Rained Blood." And in front of this piece is an installation of groups of chain links or cufflinks of connected cloth and wire that hang from the ceiling, extending the imprisonment metaphor. It is called "Shackles." Aesthetically these two groups work together as a single installation.

On the back wall are more fence pieces and a group of skeletons. Instead of leaves and flowers, black hands are stuck to these fences. One of the skeletons is made of delicately twisted-together white wire that is barely visible against the white wall. One of the more emphatic pieces is a black rag doll with an exterior skeleton of white wire.

Also included are two almost traditional quilts made of old cloth with pieces in an open weave pattern. There is an ancient look to these as if rotted away over time - perhaps remnants of quilts found in a slave shack from the mid-19th century. The open weave also resonates with the fences.

The Marita Dingus show is being held in conjunction with the 2014 Race & Pedagogy National Conference to be held Sept. 25-27. In the back gallery there is an exhibition of blown and engraved glass by Sarah Gilbert.

"THEY STILL HOLD US," 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Sept. 27, Kittredge Gallery, University of Puget Sound, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, 253.879.3701

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