Explorations of Identity and Cultural Memory: The Art and Life of Evangeline Juliet Montgomery

Article excerpt

Evangeline Juliet Montgomery, or "EJ" as she is now fondly known to artists, curators and scholars, has an enviable record of achievement as an arts administrator in the museum world and in arts and cultural agencies across the United States and throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. For more than 35 years Montgomery has worked tirelessly to support and promote artists through ]curating their work and supporting artists' exhibitions and their travel abroad. She has curated more than 200 exhibitions, has supervised the organization of numerous others and has recognized and extolled the pluralistic nature of American civilization and its indebtedness to Native Americans, Africans, Asians and Europeans.

In 1983, EJ brought over 20 years of experience in curating exhibitions and supporting the arts to her position as program development officer for the Arts America Program, United States Information Agency (USIA, now the Cultural Program Office in the U. S. Department of State). In the conservative 1980s and early 1990s, she worked to ensure a place for women, African American artists and other artists of color in USIA-sponsored programs in keeping with its creed-to present cultural programs that reflect the creativity and diversity of American society She has received numerous awards over the past 25 years. However, as testimony to her standing as a national figure in the arts, EJ was honored in 1999 by the Women's Caucus for Art for her contributions to American art and to women's lives. The important work that Montgomery has done in supporting the arts is not known to the general public, especially to African Americans, but what she is most proud of is her long career as a creative artist.

EJ not only worked extensively to foster the arts and promote the work of others, but also, for most of those years, continued to think about and create works of art. Her extensive training in the studio arts-metalsmithing, ceramics, fiber, photography, printmaking, drawing and painting-has given her the skills to work in virtually any medium; however, her signature works are her bronze and sterling silver lost-wax cast ancestral boxes and incense burners. Art historian and philosopher Nkiru Nzegwu says that EJ's work has been influenced by her stay in Nigeria; the civil rights struggle in the United States; engaging discussions of African creative traditions with fellow California artists Arthur Monroe and Arthur Carraway (now deceased); and, I would add, her long and continuous friendship and collaboration with Samella Lewis. EJ"s Red, Black and Green Ancestral Box-Garvey Box (1973) reflects her superb skills, extraordinary artistic vision and social consciousness. A casted sterling silver with enamel, the box has abstracting elements, and its red, black and green colors evoke the memory of Marcus Garvey and his desire to unite the Black world. Similarly, with Ancestral Box L Justice for Angela (1971), EJ is able to prick our social awareness by linking the West African Akan symbol for justice to the contemporary Black American struggle for freedom and equality using the expressive visual traditions of the African diaspora-exploring issues of identity and cultural memory. …