Rodney Ewing's two impressive collections deal heavily with race, ritual, trauma, and injustice. The first series is called "Port Chicago," named for the infamous Bay Area facility, the Port Chicago Naval Magazine. Located on Suisun Bay between Martinez and Bay Point, it was where munitions were loaded in World War II. In July 1944 a shipment exploded, injuring and killing hundreds of mostly black enlisted men. The Navy blamed the men for the explosion and later imprisoned some 50 who refused to work because of unsafe conditions. Most of the Port Chicago 50 were released but not exonerated for decades. The second series is called "Rituals of Water," which is "an exploration of the allegory of water in the context of the African Diaspora," according to Ewing. The work is divided into four thematic sections: Transition (Middle Passage), Transformation (Baptism), Resistance (Civil Rights), and Dispersal (Hurricane Katrina). Ewing says it shows how one element can serve purposes mundane, transcendent, and malevolent. Ewing combines stark detail with watercolor-like washes and repeated forms to create thoughtful works that are at once overt and subtle. His use of color is limited but also stark, underscoring the dual impact of the work. Although most of his subjects are African-American people, Ewing transcends tired political grandstanding or shock value to reach a place that is simultaneously disturbing and meditative, and, in the end, unmistakably human. In his work we are not looking at "the other," but rather at ourselves. Ewing's effects thus invite the viewer to gaze upon a single piece for extended periods of time.
June 1-24, 2011