By James Cullum
In her “Spirits in a Bottle” exhibition at the Alexandria Black History Museum, Maryland artist Barbara Hardaway adapted an ancient Congolese tradition. According to legend, evil spirits are so fascinated by the way light dances in colored bottles hanging from trees that they stay inside of the bottles instead of invading homes. Hardaway exhibited 100 Arizona Tea bottles decorated with feathers, fabric, seashells, and beads, with several of the bottles designed to pay homage to prominent black American icons such as W.E.B. DuBois, Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King Jr. The show will run until January 9, 2010.
Hardaway’s medium is collage, but since 2004 she has experimented with installation projects and three-dimensional assemblages. “I am totally into this as an artist. There is no plan in place. I approach each bottle with abandonment and in doing so it’s a creative form of freedom. It creates its own world,” Hardaway said at the show opening last night. “It’s visual music, for sure, for me. It’s without rules, but reveals an organic journey.”
Hardaway’s work is varied. One bottle is adorned with black and red beads. On the long body of the bottle is the face of Marion Anderson, one of the most famous black singers of the 20th century. Nearby are bottles dedicated to the “Queen of Scat”, Ella Fitzgerald and the “Sage of Anacostia”, Frederick Douglass.
“I do an assembly line of bottles so if I get to a point and get stuck, I can move to another bottle and let my subconscious work up some inspiration. At any point I may be working on four to six bottles at once,” Hardaway said.
An English professor at Gallaudet University since 1982, Hardaway received her Ph.D in non-verbal Intercultural Communication from Howard University. She received her M.A. in theatre education from Emerson College in 1977.
“We are so thrilled to have Barbara here,” said museum curator Audrey Davis. “This exhibition honors the museum’s mission to foster tolerance and understanding among all cultures and to stimulate appreciation for the diversity of the African American experience by inspiring the public to explore other cultural traditions.”
Hardaway is moving to Guatemala in two years to focus on her art. She said that her website will be down until then and that the only way to purchase a piece is by contacting the Alexandria Black History Museum. Small bottles cost $275 and large bottles cost $375.