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Art Brutal

Karamu stages a play about race, paintings, and naked ladies.


In Permanent Collection, a white patron of the arts dies and leaves his collection to a black university. Thomas Gibbons’ drama -- which opens at Karamu House tonight -- explores how art and race converge and collide over the collected works.

After controversial businessman Sterling North takes over the Alfred Morris Foundation, he discovers a wealth of black art stored in the basement. He decides to replace the “paintings of naked white women” hanging on the walls with the black art. “There’s a tussle over the idea of the ‘permanent collection,’” says director Terrence Spivey. North’s intentions set off a battle with the foundation’s longtime arts education director. “There’s no underdog,” says Spivey. “In the end, you don’t know who to root for. Who’s right? Who’s wrong?”

Spivey carries this ambiguity to the play’s staging: Instead of showing the artwork in question, it’s described. The frames hanging on the walls are empty. Yes, that’s symbolism at work. “You can’t fit into predetermined spaces with different shapes,” says Spivey. “It’s a matter of allowing people to walk into your space. You need to know what goes on under peoples’ skins.”
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