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Review | In the Galleries: Women Artists Explore Global Connections to Italy

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The Maria & Alberto de la Cruz Gallery at Georgetown University was once the Hall of Nations, which hosted a 1979 concert that catalyzed the local hardcore punk scene. There is a curious echo of this story in the gallery’s current exhibition, “Confluences: Intersectional Visions of Italy.” The wordy works of a diverse group of Italian women include pages from Italian music fanzines published from 1978 to 2006 and compiled by Dafne Boggeri into a book. Featured artists include DC punks Government Issue and Henry Rollins.

The names of the Washington musicians aren’t the show’s only global connections. In Muna Mussie’s video, black hands trace exercises in Tigrinya, the ancestral language that she did not master because her family left Eritrea for Italy when she was 2 years old. Maria Adele Del Vecchio sports shawls, mostly from her mother, with phrases from books in Italian and English, including a Toni Morrison novel. Alessandra Ferrini’s scribbled commentary on archival materials on Mussolini-era Italian colonialism, including Italy’s occupation of the land where Mussie was born, is also in English.

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“We break the silence to say the unspeakable,” proclaims a sign in Valeria Cherchi’s installation, which evokes the unsolved murder of a young woman in 2003 in her native Sardinia. One image eclipses the many words in this piece, which presents several versions of the same photo of a young woman, her face framed by a white lace hood traditional to the island. In one version of the image, the woman’s pupils are absent, as if to indicate that the unspeakable is also invisible.

The least textual work is Binta Diaw’s installation, which places a photograph of the Senegalese-Italian artist’s neck and shoulders on top of a mound of earth. Three-dimensional braids emerge from the photo to connect it to the earth, and the image is positioned so that Diaw’s head appears buried in the ground. Diaw was born in Milan but is rooted elsewhere – in a continent that, as “Confluences” demonstrates, has a complex relationship with Italy.

Confluences: Intersectional Visions of Italy Through April 7 at the Maria & Alberto de la Cruz Gallery, Georgetown University, 3535 Prospect St. NW. delacruzgallery.org. 202-687-8039.

Best known as an outdoor muralist, Lisa Marie Thalhammer was instrumental in creating the gallery of wall and door paintings in Washington’s Blagden Alley — most recently seen in Tsai Ming Liang’s “Abiding Nowhere,” a meditative film commissioned by the National Museum of Asian Art. Thalhammer, who now splits her time between DC and her hometown of St. Louis, is an LGBTQ+ activist whose rainbow-colored “Love” mural in Blagden Alley echoes the hues of the Pride flag. The artist taught yoga and references the color system of the chakras (supposed focal points of the body used for meditation). These inspirations can be found throughout “Chromatic Dialogue,” Thalhammer’s exhibition at the University of Maryland Art Gallery.

The selection includes photographs from several of Thalhammer’s outdoor projects, including his “Equilateral Network” of multi-colored interlocking triangles painted on the lawn of the National Building Museum in 2021. There is also a version of the “Love” pattern rendered in glitter pigment. Ever the muralist, Thalhammer painted a rainbow of large vertical stripes directly on two perpendicular walls, with green at the corner where the planes meet.

Less expected and more kinetic are the images in which Thalhammer lets the colors flow randomly. Two paintings were made with ropes dipped in pigment and swirled across the surface. The centerpiece of the show is a triptych which passes as usual from red to yellow then to blue, but the colors are cascades of drips deepened by blacks and brightened by flashes of white. If the procession of colors is abandoned, each gesture lives on spontaneity.

Lisa Marie Thalhammer: Chromatic dialogue Through April 5 at the Art Gallery, Parren J. Mitchell Art-Sociology Building; University of Maryland, College Park. artgallery.umd.edu. 301-405-2763.

Color cycles and ancient Indian teachings are also the basis of Prina Shah’s mixed media paintings, whose intricate details rotate in hundreds of concentric circles. Shah’s Morton Fine Art exhibition, “The Unseen,” includes ink and graphite drawings that use the same format but only one or two hues. All photos were taken by Shah in her native Kenya, where she was born to Indian parents.

The paints come in several colors, but these generally seem to blend into one dominant overall hue. A profusion of delicate gestures are arranged atop a solid black circle, but the bottom layer is barely visible beneath the markings. These include spirals of English text that are mostly unreadable, as words are usually overwritten by others. The writing was done with a pen normally used to make henna designs on the skin.

The result is dense and eventful, while being concealing. “The Invisible” refers to the “energy body” within the human form, an idea closely related to the chakras. But Shah’s depiction of invisible depths also produces lush surfaces, spinning with visible animation.

Prina Shah: the invisible Until April 17 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, #302. mortonfineart.com. 202-628-2787.

In “Champions” by Sandra Dooley, seven swimmers hold flowers, a trophy and a kitten above their heads in gestures of triumph. They are a multiracial group, with skin tones including brown, pink, and navy blue. Naturalistic and artificial colors blend to embody the character of the artist’s homeland, Cuba. It’s a place whose diversity, ingenuity and magical realism are encompassed by “Layers,” the title of the exhibition at Dooley’s Amy Kaslow Gallery.

Dooley has a naive style that is intriguingly complicated by incorporating recycled and repurposed elements. Most often, she depicts women who stare directly at the viewer with prominent eyes. Sometimes their irises are made of buttons, which the artist also uses to represent other body parts, including breasts and a crown of pink curls framing a round, yellow face. Pieces of fabric also feature in many collage paintings, some of which depict costumes from Cuba’s national ballet company.

Dooley uses the money she makes selling her art to feed the community cats and dogs in her seaside neighborhood near Havana. These and other creatures appear in several of his photos, including a collograph in which a cat wraps itself tightly around a woman’s neck. Heavy on metallic pigments, Dooley’s prints feature coppery backgrounds and bronze and silver hair. This is just one of the ways the artist uses unexpected hues and textures to transfigure everyday subjects.

Sandra Dooley: diapers Through April 7 at Amy Kaslow Gallery, 7920 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda. amykaslowgallery.com. (no phone number listed)

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