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In the galleries: Hanging garments symbolize violence against indigenous women

Red is bold and direct, and yet complex. It can express vitality but also violence. Métis artist Jaime Black intended both readings when she hung more than a dozen red dresses along the River Walk that meanders past the north side of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. It’s the U.S. debut of “The REDress Project,” which has been installed in both urban and rustic sites in Black’s native Canada.

Because they’re disembodied, the garments appear ghostly and ominous. That’s also intended. Black derived the image from a painting on the cover of a book about the experiences of a woman who identifies as Métis (descendants of First Nations people and European, mostly French, settlers). The artist uses red dresses to symbolize the estimated 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. Now that a few of the hundreds of donated dresses flutter in Washington, the project can also be seen to represent violence against native women in the United States and the rest of the Americas.

To judge from photographs of previous installations, the dresses are most effective when placed in wooded areas. There, they suggest ghosts of the former residents of North America’s natural landscape, as well as contemporary victims. Some of the garments hung along the River Walk are among trees, but the site is too open to summon that sense of pre-Columbian history. Still, a walk through “The REDress Project” is a powerful experience. Animated by the wind, the empty dresses evoke both presence and absence.

The REDress Project Through March 31 at the National Museum of the American Indian, Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW. At noon on March 21, Black will stage a performance that will engage with the dresses. It will be followed at 2 p.m. by a symposium, “Safety for Our Sisters: Ending Violence Against Native Women.”

To Be a Woman

As “The REDress Project” commemorates Women’s History Month, the Korean Cultural Center’s “To Be a Woman” opened on International Women’s Day. Several works in the show speak to women’s issues, but the essential link is that the participants belong to the Washington area’s Han-Mee Artist Association, whose members are women of Korean heritage.

Included are paintings in both Western and Eastern historical styles, as well as Komelia Hongja Okim’s elegant ceramic tea set and what appear to be fabric collages by Serena Yeo and Eunyoung Lee. (The latter is actually a painting.) Kwangho Kim’s and Myong Won Kwon’s entries are primarily calligraphic, although in different scripts (Chinese and Korean, respectively). Among the portraits are Jihee Kang’s and Jinchul Kim’s, both of Westerners, and Yeong-Hi Paik’s masterly rendering of a woman in traditional Korean dress framed inside the outline of a Korean urn, yet painted in a Western style.

The largest piece, a pretzel-like twist of a lime-green downspout, is by Jean Jinho Kim, perhaps the most prominent contributor. Her “Green Gesture” is one of several assured sculptures that are the show’s standouts. Most are more delicate than Kim’s knotted metal, although that doesn’t mean they lack impact. Joo Kim’s arrangement of red and blue silk thread is intricate and engrossing, and Sookkyung Park’s interlocking folds of blue paper neatly curve into the contour of a wave. It’s origami with the force of a small tsunami.

To Be a Woman Through March 25 at the Korean Cultural Center, 2370 Massachusetts Ave. NW.

Light Liminal & Wayson R. Jones

Regrouped with new members every two years, Sparkplug is the District of Columbia Arts Center’s visual-arts collective. “Light Liminal” introduces the latest lineup, whose 10 members work in almost that many media. Much of the art is in shades of gray, which makes for an ironic contrast with the adjacent show by Wayson R. Jones, a painter who has just moved from black-and-white to sensuous color.

The illumination in “Light Liminal” can be electric, as in Steve Wanna’s LED-outfitted circles of synthetic wax, molded into sculptural coils. It might be captured at an exact moment, as in Alexandra Silverthorne’s chiaroscuro photo of an old house at night. Or it could be implied by the juxtaposition of hard black lines and soft gray washes in Azadeh Sahraeian’s drawings.

Several of these artists work with fabric. Sarah J. Hull aligns rows of silk and cotton to resemble a minimalist drawing, and Madeline A. Stratton arranges lengths of dyed chiffon in a sort of stripe painting. Shana Kohnstamm gives more organic forms to pieces of hand-dyed wool, wired together to suggest fantastic flora and fauna. Her pieces don’t belong on the gray scale.

Jones’s “Lush: Reinvention” is in DCAC’s Nano Gallery, designed for small-scale pieces. The Maryland artist is showing a half-dozen abstractions, each six-inch square. They’re studies in contrast, opposing such pairs as red and black or blue and yellow. Made of paint and pumice gel, the pictures are thickly layered, so that the complementary hues may ride on top, lurk around the edges or peek from below. The hot colors are immediately alluring, but the paintings also reward close, lingering inspection.

Light Liminal and Wayson R. Jones: Lush: Reinvention “Light Liminal” through March 24 and “Lush: Reinvention” through April 7 at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW.

Eric Celarier

Local sculptor Eric Celarier’s work took a great leap when he moved from quilting scraps of computer circuit boards to assembling junk — not just electronic — into fantastic creatures. Among the fabrications in “Wasteland,” Celarier’s Honfleur Gallery show, are ungainly crustaceans and insectoids made from castoffs such as a rusted pot, a saw blade and the tube from a blower or vacuum cleaner. Mounted on poles or hung from the ceiling, these hybrids constitute an engagingly fantastic menagerie.

Most of the show’s pieces, however, put debris to a different use. For his “Biosphere” series, Celarier placed arrangements of discarded objects under silk and patted them with ink to produce a sort of print. These pictures’ stark compositions and chalky textures have a strong visual appeal. But the artist isn’t merely showcasing a novel approach to printmaking. Both the sculptures and prints represent a world in which man-made objects have altered and even melded with the environment. In a sense, humanity’s future has already been constructed, and many of the ingredients are our own trash.

Eric Celarier: Wasteland Through March 23 at Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Rd. SE.

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