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Colorful abstracts at Museum of the African Diaspora

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Eritrean-American artist Ficre Ghebreyesus’ vivid “City With a River Running Through” is on view at the Museum of the African Diaspora. (Courtesy Estate of Ficre Ghebreyesus)

Paintings by Eritrean-American artist Ficre Ghebreyesus, whose colorful landscapes reflect life in his East African homeland, and prints by 15 top contemporary artists of African descent are on view in a pair of visually striking and socially relevant exhibits at the Museum of the African Diaspora.

Both shows continue through Dec. 16.

“Ficre Ghebreyesus: City With a River Running Through” contains more than a dozen acrylic paintings by Ghebreyesus (1962-2012), who was born in Eritrea a year after its 30-year independence war with Ethiopia began. Ghebreyesus left Eritrea as a political refugee in 1978 and eventually settled in the United States.

His work contains abstract and representational imagery and depicts the land, cultures and social realties of the Horn of Africa. His influences also include classical European and abstract American art.

A highlight is “City With a River Running Through” (2011), a large four-panel abstract mosaic-like cityscape. Filled with oranges and blues, the painting vividly suggests urban waterways and human elements.

“Fish” (2004), a fetching work exemplifying Ghebreyesus’ use of aquatic imagery (other paintings feature boats, representing, among other things, migration), contains dozens of differently shaped and colored fish accompanied by a Coptic angel.

A female figure stands by a tree on a landscape that also includes a Yoruba rider and sea life in “Nude With Bottle Tree” (2008).

A young man reading a book advances toward a foreground of seaweed in “Mangia Libro” (2006), another colorful work with a surreal quality.

The other exhibition “Second Look, Twice: Selections From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation” features work by 15 major black artists exploring abstraction and the expressiveness of color, and addressing social concerns, through printmaking.

Setting the tone is “Sunday Afternoon” (2000), an etching by African-American printmaker Robert Blackburn, whose New York workshop was an important resource for artists of color.

Sam Gilliam Jr.’s “Snow Lane #33” (Courtesy Collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer)

Sam Gilliam Jr., associated with the color-field and abstract-expressionist movements, considers racial injustice through abstraction in “Snow Lane #33” (1996), a multi-layered, collaged relief print containing acrylic gel applied and raked by Gilliam.

Also featured is Kara Walker, known for her cut-paper silhouettes and themes of race and gender. Her intaglio print of curved black lines, from the series “An Unpeopled Land in Unchartered Waters” (2010), suggests a whip.

Lithography by Ellen Gallagher explores racial stereotypes.

Glenn Ligon’s “Warm Broad Glow (Reversed)” (1988), which reads “negro sunshine,” is a photogravure aquatint print of a text-based neon work.

Also on view are multidisciplinary artist Mickalene Thomas’ “Interior: Zebra With Two Chairs and Funky Fur,” aquatint etchings by Gee’s Bend quilters Louisiana Bendolph and Loretta Bennett, woodblock prints by Martin Puryear, and works by Mark Bradford, Willie Cole, Leonardo Drew, Julie Mehretu, Gary Simmons, and Lorna Simpson.

IF YOU GO
Ficre Ghebreyesus: City With a River Running Through
Second Look, Twice: Selections From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation
Where: Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays; through Dec. 16
Admission: $5 to $10; free for children 12 and under
Contact: (415) 358-7200, www.moadsf.org

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