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Tephra Institute in Reston celebrates 50th anniversary with exhibit on legacy

The “Choosing to Portage” exhibit features the work of five artists (courtesy Ashley M. Freeby)

A new exhibit at the Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art in Reston delves into the metaphor of portage — the act of carrying a boat or goods over land between two bodies of water.

Created by five artists — Ashley Freeby, Noella Garcia, Jeff Huckleberry, Jackie Milad and Michael Rakowitz — the exhibit “Choosing to Portage” will open on Sept. 8 with an artist talk from 6-8 p.m. It’s the second in a series of three exhibitions that mark the institute’s 50th anniversary.

According to Tephra, the included artworks investigate issues like the “absurdities of white masculinity, the erasure of indigenous cultures, police killings of Black men, the visibility of Iraqi culture in the US, the ravages of war, and the need for public acts of grieving.”

“The featured artists wield agency as they navigate the turbulent waters of contemporary identity,” Tephra wrote in a press release. “In doing so, they forge paths for us to embrace the complexity of cultural heritage and embody our collective inheritance as simultaneously burden, responsibility, and empowerment.”

Here’s more from the institute on what’s in the exhibit:

In material and imagery, the artworks index the lived experience of cultural heritage. Gallery visitors will first encounter a meticulously made quilt of bold pink, black, white, and blue squares made by Ashley M. Freeby’s grandmother; and around the corner is Freeby’ Attempt #1 to Remake Grandma’s Square Quilt in which the squares do not quite line up. Imported jars of date syrup – some full some empty – and a glass cutting board emblazoned with a logo using the colors of the Iraqi flag are among the objects set on a table as part of Michael Rakowitz’s Enemies and Kitchens installation.

Other objects are in vitrines, such as Noelle Garcia’s Revolver (Cowboy Gun), a beaded recreation of the classic gun in sparkly silver and lavender glass beads, drawing critical attention to how Western museums, in the legacy of colonization, have represented indigenous cultures.

Photo documentation selected from Jeff Huckleberry’s performances over the last 20 years, show the artist toiling with the “tools of the trade”: lumber, power tools, cheap beer, coffee grounds, and paint.

With jewel tones, bright yellows, pinks, and lush greens, and even some rainbows, the vivid colors in Choosing to Portage provide a sense of vitality and persistence to the work of building a better world out of the one we have inherited.

The exhibit is on display through Nov. 18. It will be accompanied by “a diverse set of public lectures and workshops,” including an indigenous beading workshop led by Noelle Garcia and a closing performance by artist Jeff Huckleberry.

Located in Suite 103 at 12001 Market Street in Reston Town Center, the institute is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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