Exhibit: Aminah Robinson

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Aminah Robinson's stories about the Near East Side and Mt. Vernon Avenue go back generations, before the time when her mother, aunt and uncle grew up in the area known as the Blackberry Patch. That neighborhood would later hold Poindexter Village, the early housing development where Robinson was raised.

"There's a lot to this community," she said. "You have to lift up the layers. People don't see what came before."

From the age of three, the now 71-year-old artist has made work inspired by her neighborhood using methods learned from her parents. The history of that part of town lives on colorfully in her work, as seen in the focused retrospective at the Columbus Museum of Art, "Street Talk and Spiritual Matters: Aminah's Mt. Vernon Avenue."

Starting big, the show makes centerpieces of Robinson's extraordinarily detailed "Memory Maps." The cloth panels, measuring up to 50 feet long, offer a painstaking, heavily populated street view of Mt. Vernon Avenue in paint and a kaleidoscope of fabric scraps and embroidery thread. Images conjured from research, family stories and the artist's memories represent the first half of the 20th century.

Robinson highlights individuals found within the maps in drawings, prints and a section devoted to her children's pop-up book, "A Street Called Home." Historic moments are relived in her "Unwritten Love Letters," rendered on the inside of disassembled, flattened envelopes.

The "spiritual" element of the exhibition arises in work fueled by songs the artist heard coming out of neighborhood churches during her youth. There are spirituals personified on paper as women whose bodies are hugged by the lyrics they represent , and the epic sculpture "My Lord, What a Morning" contains 10 towering, working music boxes made from the pipes of an organ.

Also in the show is Robinson's latest body of work, "The Millennium," in which she applies thick shields of buttons on drawn portraits of homeless subjects. It responds to news that Poindexter Village will be demolished soon and reflects the artist's concern over losing the history attached to that piece of land.

Robinson is optimistic about the neighborhood's future, but wary of what awaits longtime residents. She explained that her new series will develop "depending on what happens and how people respond in that area."

Explore the neighborhood:

Columbus Museum of Art

Through Sept. 4

480 E. Broad St., Discovery District