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Bell Gallery hosts Melvin Edwards exhibition
Edwards' 'Homage to Sony Labou Tansi Poet' uses materials that call industrial labor to mind.

PROVIDENCE, RI.- The David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University is presenting an exhibition by pioneering contemporary artist Melvin Edwards, who has explored black nationalism and the African diaspora over the course of his career.

Melvin Edwards, an artist considered a pioneer in the history of contemporary sculpture, shows historic and rarely exhibited works spanning four decades in “Festivals, Funerals and New Life.” Including sculptures, prints and installations created over four decades, the exhibition will run through Feb. 11, 2018.

Ian Alden Russell, the Bell Gallery curator, described Edwards as “an important and consistent presence in American art from the Civil Rights Movement through today” whose work is “broadly concerned with European neocolonialism, histories of race, labor, violence and African diaspora.”

Among the works exhibited are installations created from industrial steel, chain and machine parts including a new sculpture fabricated at The Steel Yard in Providence for this exhibition. While earlier works explore themes of industrial material and exploited labor, newer works, Russell said, continue this commitment to those materials while also turning inward and exploring the genre of modern still-life.

The work “Steel Life,” Russell noted, is a play on words as well as materials. The steel tools included are from Edwards’ own art-making practice. In the artist’s words: “My interest in all of those configurations are ultimately personal references rather than what people have labeled as movements. ‘Steel Life’ is my life.”

The exhibition’s title is an elaboration on the title of the book “Festivals and Funerals” by poet and activist Jayne Cortez, Edwards’s late wife. Cortez, who died in 2012, was a central figure of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and 70s.

Collaborative works, such as an abstract monoprint by Edwards overwritten with poetry by Cortez entitled “Untitled (For the brave young students in Soweto)” are included in the exhibition, along with a dramatic, hanging barbed-wire installation by Edwards, named after a line of poetry by Cortez.

Melvin Edwards (b.1937) is a pioneer in the history of contemporary sculpture. Born in Houston, Texas, he began his artistic career at the University of Southern California, where he met and was mentored by Hungarian painter Francis de Erdely, Hal Gebhardt, Keith Crown and Hans Berkardt. In 1965 the Santa Barbara Museum of Art organized Edwards’s first solo exhibition, which launched his professional career. He moved to New York City in 1967, where shortly after his arrival, his work was exhibited at the then newly created Studio Museum, and in 1970 he became the first African American sculptor to have works presented in a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Edwards is represented in New York by Alexander Gray Associates.

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