As a “junk artist,” Seattle native, and African-American woman, Marita Dingus’ identity is as richly textured as the sculptures and wall-hangings she fashions from fabric, plastic tubes, light bulb bases, and other recycled curiosities. Her vibrant show at Seders Gallery incorporates her various talents—sewing she learned as a child, glass work from a recent residency at the Museum of Glass—and her deep interest in the relics of the African Diaspora. Dingus takes the hateful golliwog image of the past and makes it her own. Her black characters are not mockeries nor pathetic. But many are wounded, with stitching across their troubled faces, zippers for a mouths, and bodies made from hardware scraps and throwaway bits and pieces. Her wall of headless and twisted small figures, “400 Men of African Descent,” in the Seattle Art Museum’s permanent collection, clearly evokes an eerie cargo hold, or tree full of “strange fruit.” Yet Dingus is not out just to proselytize—her work is too artistically interesting for that, and just plain innovative. Twenty fabric babies leap and dance on one wall, a photograph of a child’s face patched onto each. One has dried paintbrushes for hair, another, glittery yarn cornrows. Though covered in discarded items—buttons, picture hooks—these children of color have character and individuality. “Leaf Fence” is perhaps the “prettiest” piece in this show—a rectangular network of silver wire and heavily stitched bright green fabric leaves (although, fences, in Dingus’ lexicon, represent captivity). This is not mournful work, but not exactly joyful, either. Dingus’ very resourcefulness is itself a commentary on how the poor and powerless have always had to make do with little to get along, whether it’s patching up hand-me-downs, or reinventing oneself after society has shackled you with chains or stereotypes. She is clearly exploring physical textures, but also far deeper emotional and historical contexts,
which makes her work fascinating and, at times, powerfully troubling. Francine Seders, 6701 Greenwood Ave. N., 206-782-0355, www.sedersgallery.com. 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat.; 1–5 p.m. Sun. Ends Jan. 15.