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Expressions of Human Spirit

| November 18, 2004 11:00 PM

Artist seeks to create connectivity between people

By Brent Shrum Western News Reporter

Like most of the subjects in Rachel Dolezal¹s art, the girl in the painting ³My Place² is black. On the surface, there is little to connect the South African girl with the artist, who grew up outside Troy.

But somewhere in the girl¹s stance and expression, Dolezal saw herself. In the painting the girl from another culture on another continent stands boldly amid the landscape of northwest Montana, challenging the passerby with a direct gaze.

Painted on puzzle pieces on a panel, ³My Place² is in a central way typical of Dolezal¹s art.

³There¹s a human race, and I¹m doing what I can to unify the expression of the human spirit,² she said.

It¹s all about getting people ³to connect with the expression of a human being,² Dolezal said.

³Just because it¹s not your face in the work doesn¹t mean that it¹s not something that you can connect with,² she said.

Dolezal began to feel a connection with black faces after her parents adopted four young black children when she was in her teens. She left Troy for the Deep South, receiving her bachelor¹s degree in art from Belhaven College in Jackson, Miss., in 2000. She continued her studies at traditionally black Howard University in Washington, D.C., and received a master of fine arts degree in 2002. She moved back to the Northwest last July, settling in northern Idaho.

Dolezal¹s work is currently on display at the Naples Gallery along Highway 95, and some of her pieces can be seen at her website,

Dolezal said she draws on a variety of influences and styles from both Western and African cultures. In keeping with African traditions, all her work carries a meaning.

³It¹s not art for art¹s sake, or even for decoration¹s sake,² she said.

Dolezal works with a wide range of media, including found objects and recycled materials. She¹s still using her father¹s elk hides in place of canvas for some of her pieces.

³I just use what I have essentially,² she said. ³Whatever theme I¹m working on I just scour the land and the house for what I need.²

Dolezal¹s work tends to be built around moody, low-light images. Special attention is given to the interplay of light and dark, and all the things associated with those opposite concepts. The black face or figure is often central.

³For all intents and purposes, if someone sees my work they assume I¹m black,² she said. ³And it isn¹t always an advantage.²

Dolezal said her work has been pigeonholed as ³black art,² and she¹s been criticized for mixing European techniques with African subjects.

³Why don¹t you paint a white face?² she said, imitating her critics. ³Why don¹t you take up the plight of the Irish? What¹s your problem with fruit?²

Dolezal¹s work has been represented in 18 shows across eleven states. In addition to her exhibit at the Naples Gallery, she was recently featured in a one-woman show at Belhaven College.

Her work can also be seen in the December issue of ³The Artist¹s Magazine,² where she received second place in the Experimental Professional category in the magazine¹s 21st annual art competition. The contest included more than 13,000 submissions this year.

The Naples Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and by appointment. For more information or to schedule an appointment, the gallery can be reached at (208) 267-6575.