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The Art of Kamal Al Mansour at Joyce Gordon Gallery

By Wanda Sabir

Grief is a really hard emotion to shake. Have you seen the film with Don Cheadle—“Reign Over Me”? His friend “Charlie Fineman” lost his entire family in the 9/11 crash. The guy is rich and well, crazy—okay, functionally insane, and I’m not saying that I’m rich, perhaps if I was I could indulge in life on the edge. Maybe if I was a white man with money society would look at me a little more sympathetically? But am neither rich or white or a man-white or otherwise, so I have to keep functioning as my heart heals. I was reading the Laney College Tower at work and saw a story about a colleague who just died April 2, Debra Green. She was an assistant to the college president’s secretary. She was only 46.

I met Debra when we both worked at the Volunteer Center of Alameda County. She ran the court diversion program. I ran the AIDS Volunteer Clearinghouse. Wonderful woman, she’ll be missed at Laney and elsewhere her spirit blessed.

Okay, so last week I’m running around as usual and my itinerary takes me to Joyce Gordon Gallery where I meet the wonderful artist whose reception I missed while in New Orleans, Kamal Al Mansour. The brother’s work is even more impressive in the gallery, although his website is pretty terrific too. Completely aware of African history and its impact on how we choose to manifest whether that is his “Somebody SCREAM!!! The Bifurcation of Hip Hop Consciousness,” a pastel/mixed media work which has the red, black and green as a backdrop, the foreground a young man with his mouth open, fist in a black power salute, holding a microphone. He’s wearing a fez, the red—a collage of African heroes and heroines who shed blood for African freedoms, juxtaposed with a green collage filled with no, not freedom fighters, but symbols of wealth translate “bling bling.”

Al Mansour uses mixed media via digital prints and a layering technique which makes an image such as “Sistren,” seem to jump out of its frames. His poetry is almost a distraction—his visual vocabulary almost clairvoyant. Al Mansour’s work is a commentary on African culture, African concerns, African life. For those literate in the African vernacular translation is easy, and I believe we are that audience. Erudite and extremely pleasant, I almost wished I had an extra few thousand dollars to spare, I might have purchased something from him.

Al Mansour said he was working on creating work depicting the 135 black characters in the Bible. He also has a series on women artists like the piece “Nina” on view at Joyce Gordon Gallery Annex, 406 14th Street at Broadway, Oakland. In the main gallery Louis Desarte and Ntozake Shange: Paintings and Poetry are also beautiful. The work contrasts with Al Mansour’s stylistically. Several piece such as “Viverias el Memoria,” “Blue Horizons,” “The Chameleon,” and “Dance of Coretta & Martin” invoke stories also, some more apparent than others. Bright, full of movement, the artist used lots of paint to build up his surfaces creating a landscape of textures, almost settings for the characters depicted there with their stories. I wondered if Shange has an accompanying text for each canvas.

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