Mary Ann Peters: the edge becomes the center
Mary Ann Peters, this trembling turf (the hollow), 2021, white ink on black clayboard. Collection of the Seattle Convention Center. Photo: Rafael Soldi. Courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

Mary Ann Peters: the edge becomes the center

Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA - Jun 15, 2024 – Jan 5, 2025

by Matthew Kangas

Veteran Seattle artist Mary Ann Peters brings a raft of awards, residencies and fellowships to her debut at the Frye Art Museum. A monthlong stay in Beirut in 2016, to connect with her Lebanese heritage, resulted in two bodies of work, one of which, this trembling turf, was seen earlier at James Harris Gallery. At the Frye, these 10 drawings are joined by a site-specific installation, impossible monuments, which examines in various media the fates of refugees lost at sea during the Mediterranean migrations—forgotten, marginalized and ignored in the long run. Their submerged status is also symbolized in the exhibition title, the edge becomes the center.

As Peters noted in an interview with Preview: “Displacement is the major theme in both bodies of work, first the confirmation of disputed, unverified mass graves under a golf course in Beirut. I drew upon results of forensic archaeology when I imagined them underground, using white pigment on black clayboard. Next, I learned of the inquiries of Yemeni fishermen in the Mediterranean discovering the remains of thwarted refugees. I created a twelve-by-two-foot panel covered in gold-foil survival blankets, placing marks that symbolize the bodies. These are the ‘impossible monuments.’ ”

The darkened clouds and subterranean landmass imagery in this trembling turf were influenced by her research at the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut, a repository of over 600,000 photo-documents, some of which were infrared illuminations below the golf course revealing the mass burial. Much of the power of Peters’ art is in what is omitted or implied, in this case the thousands of corpses concealed from international attention. By drawing attention to such crimes, she is both artist and activist.

Her art of the past decade continues from the original black, white and gray abstract paintings that first brought her acclaim. Now the deep recesses and voids are inhabited by today’s dead—ghosts seeking recognition by Peters.

Guided exhibition tour each Sunday, 1–1:45pm, June 16 – Oct 6

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