Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Marla McLeod’s “Perla Mabel” at Gallery 263 – you need to see it in person. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Since it’s hard to go see art in a gallery, go see it at a gallery. In the window of Gallery 263 in Cambridgeport (which aims for a Sept. 17 reopening) are two works by Marla McLeod – stunning portraits of black women done in oil on canvas that must be seen in person to be appreciated. Photographs only hint at the works’ power and nuance; images online, including on a web page devoted to McLeod, show how hard it is to do justice electronically to these image of black women wearing black against a lustrous black background. “The bold, isolated figures convey a sense of exposure or vulnerability through their bare skin, like that historically found in reclining nudes, which is ultimately defied by the lack of frailty in the figures’ direct gazes,” McLeod says. These are women who need to be stared in the face, and you can’t absorb the depth the artist brings to the work when the act of photography steals it away.

The point of the portraits, which in other venues are paired with quilts and other textiles, is to engage in art in which “black women have largely been excluded as makers and in which they are even more infrequently found as subjects,” McLeod says. “The large-scale realistic paintings deny the expectations of submission, anonymity, and invisibility typically associated with this group of women.” (One of the paintings is of Perla Mabel Ledesma, an artist that like McLeod is associated with Tufts’ School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts.)

The art is up as part of Area Code, a monthlong art fair, as facilitated by Spaceus, which specializes in temporary installations. Its Storefront Project has put up six more works through Cambridge and Somerville of a total 11 that can be tracked down through the organization’s website. (There’s even more McLeod in Boston’s Downtown Crossing.)

Gallery 263 is at 263 Pearl St., Cambridgeport. The storefront window art is, of course, free.