Tree of Life
September 30, 2023 — January 6, 2024
Fall Exhibitions Reception
Friday, September 29, 5:30 – 7:30 PM
The evening will celebrate the fall exhibitions and feature open studios by the current resident artists.
Local Lens: Jamal Cyrus on Tree of Life
Saturday, October 28, 3:00 – 4:00 PM
Local artist Jamal Cyrus and HCCC Curatorial Fellow Cydney Pickens discuss the exhibition.
Tree of Life Concert
Thursday, November 9, 5:30 – 7:30 PM
HCCC and DACAMERA present a chamber music concert inspired by the exhibition.
Tree of Life showcases sculptural objects made from the African blackwood tree, also known as mpingo or Dalbergia melanoxylon. Native to Tanzania and the territory surrounding Mt. Kilimanjaro, this tree has a naturally dark, nearly black, colored core and other unique properties that make it a preferred choice of material for ornamental turning, carving, and use in woodwind instruments. This exhibition features figural sculptures carved in the Makonde tradition by Tanzania-based artists, Joseph Singombe and Pius Mtembe; ornamental turning by the late Texas-based artist James Harris; and woodwind instruments that explore the different methods artists are using when approaching this material.
Mpingo, a swahili term referring to the blackwood tree, is a culturally significant species for the Makonde people in East Africa. A popular style of Makonde sculpture is called ujamaa, which speaks to the interconnectedness of each individual with a larger economy and social network. These sculptures are carved from a single piece of wood and depict a tower of interdependent figures relying on one another for stability and strength. This metaphor for community can be applied to other craftspeople working in this medium. The planting, cultivation, harvest, transport, drying, and subsequent carving of African blackwood are all collective efforts, wherein each role is equally important to the process. Tree of Life focuses not only on the skill of these makers, but the conservation, preservation, and scholarship that keeps the tree, and the craft practices surrounding it, alive.
Tree of Life was curated by HCCC Curatorial Fellow, Cydney Pickens.
- James Harris, “Lidded Hollow Vessel, No. 4 (LHV04),” 2005. Maple Burl, African Blackwood, Holly, Bloodwood, bamboo, mother-of-pearl, gold filled bead. 5.5 x 5.5 x 5.75 inches. Photo by James Harris. Photo courtesy of Bette Harris.
- James Harris, “Wave Series Box, No. 19,” 2007. African Blackwood with acrylic, colored plastic laminate veneers, mother-of-pearl cabochon. 1.625 x 1.625 x 2.5 inches. Photo by James Harris. Photo courtesy of Bette Harris.
- James Harris, “Wave Series Box, No. 18,” 2007. African Blackwood with acrylic, colored plastic laminate veneers, yellow quartzite. 1.825 x 1.825 x 2.625 inches. Photo by James Harris. Photo courtesy of Bette Harris.
- James Harris, “Perfume Atomizer, No. 3 (PA03),” 2008. Ebony, African Blackwood, Amboyna burl, turquoise cabochon. 2.75 x 1.25 x 3.75 inches. Photo by James Harris. Photo courtesy of Bette Harris.
- James Harris, “Clock Tower, No. 4.” African Blackwood, mother-of-pearl, brass inlay. 3.5 x 3.5 x 10.25 inches. Photo by James Harris. Photo courtesy of Bette Harris.