Rebecca Marimutu’s “Portrait(s),” are huge hanging kraft paper tapestries that dominate the space at Waller Gallery. (courtesy photo)

By J. K. Schmid
Special to the AFRO

Waller Gallery continues its 2021 opening exhibition of “Contextual Exposure,” featuring interdisciplinary and multi-media works from three artists: Ada Pinkston, Noél Puéllo and Rebecca Marimutu.

Dominating the space are Marimutu’s “Portrait(s),” huge hanging kraft paper tapestries.

Pinched, pulled, ripped, warped and wrinkled, the paper is put through strain but it still holds together. Further, the materials are layered with various stains and lacquers and residues that add additional dimension, and still more weight. “Portrait(s)” is delicate, and they won’t last, by design.

“Allowing them to decompose is something that I’m interested in,” Marimutu told the AFRO. “All of the materials I use degrade over time.”

The specifics of the chemistry at play, Marimutu won’t discuss, so whatever acid, bases, water or wax is changing the paper isn’t known. But while the shimmers and shadows play over “Portrait(s)” surfaces, the light of the exhibit lamps is chemically changing the material rapidly over time.

“That’s intentional,” Joy Davis, curator and scholar, told the AFRO. “At least for the artist. Not as much for my curatorial preference, but we definitely wanted to make sure that we were getting shadow and getting light and making sure that the textures were popping in different ways.”

Every visitor will experience “Portrait(s)” in a different way.  

There’s tension in what the lamps bring out and there’s tension everywhere in “Portrait(s).”

“I would say that it’s developing and also-not decomposing-but it is deteriorating,” Marimutu said. “There isn’t a specific timeline, but there is a response to the spaces that they’re in.”

In this space, Waller Gallery, Marimutu work on “Portrait(s)” remains ongoing.

“I do repair it, I don’t change it, but I reinforce, I reattach what I can, but when a piece is gone, it is gone,” Marimutu said.

Marimutu’s thesis as an art student was on the subject of the “ship of Theseus,” the ancient question of whether a ship that has every nail, board, rope and sail replaced is still the original ship.

“They are originals, but they change,” Marimutu said of “Portrait(s).” There is no original in the sense that they never change, the same object as it was when it was created.”

“You are actively stabilizing it at the time in this space, but at the same time, its lifespan is actually longer than the end,” Davis said.

“It’s very dependent on a lot of things, but there isn’t an end,” Marimutu added.

Complementing “Portrait(s)” is Marimutu’s photography.

“I started with expired film, in rotations on the bus ride between home and school,” Marimutu said. “I developed the expired film, then exposed them, and painted with liquid photo emulsion, and then exposed that.”

The photography on display feels simultaneously novel and ancient. It’s layered with patina; heavy, freighted, like a family heirloom.

“I think that adding my brush strokes and using the very personal, intimate photos adds layers for me, because the reason I’ve been taking the bus all of this time is to visit my mother,” Marimutu said. “And balancing the relationship of academics and home life, it’s complicated and takes this other aspect of effort and energy, to move.”

The photos on exhibit are scanned, fixed and framed, but the “originals” like “Portrait(s)” continue to develop.

“Contextual Exposure” will remain on exhibit at Waller Gallery, 2420 North Calvert St., until March 5. Gallery hours are Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m and by appointment.