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          Cleveland MOCA displays accessible, provocative works of art

          Noah Shwartz

          Issue date: 4/9/10 Section: Focus
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          The Cleveland MOCA is currently featuring an exhibit on artist Iona Rozeal Brown, whose
          The Cleveland MOCA is currently featuring an exhibit on artist Iona Rozeal Brown, whose "Blackface" series, one of which is shown above, blurs the line between African and Asiatic traditions.
          [Click to enlarge]
          Cleveland can constantly surprise us with its little gems of culture that hide between the empty warehouses or in the holes formed by the ever-expanding Cleveland Clinic. One such jewel is the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art, which, attached to Playhouse Square, lies right at the end of a row of hospital buildings along Carnegie.

          Currently MOCA is housing two exhibits. The first is a collection of work by Iona Rozeal Brown, depicting a fantasy world that depicts the strains of African American teenage life through mixed media paintings in the style of Japanese woodblock prints. The central figure of this folklore is the E.I.N., which stands for "Everything I'm Not." Represented by oni-shaped spirits, they attempt to lead the children of this world away from their principals and toward a focus on materialism and promiscuous sex. Many of these works were commissioned by MOCA, asking Brown to paint based on direct inspiration from authentic Japanese woodblock prints available through the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College.

          One of the more striking works from this series is entitled a3 (standing for afro-asiatic allegory) or "Blackface," and depicts a geisha whose body is painted brown rather than the ghostly white that we accustomed to seeing. This theme of exploring the similarities between Afro and Asiatic culture is the central focus of this exhibition and of Brown's art as a whole.

          Brown's work combines luscious use of textures and shading with the flat color style reminiscent of contemporary Japanese animation. Furthermore, much of her work is painted onto wooden boards, which work their way into her paintings as stereo paneling, walls or floorboards. These stunningly stylized images catch the eye in a way unlike most pieces that reside in museums and draw viewers into her world with little effort. Brown's paintings combine historic framing with contemporary art and an enchanting mythos so deftly that it would be a mistake not to take a trip down to MOCA before this exhibit ends on May 9.
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