Alex to honour black activist in Washington

July 2nd, 2020 10:05 PM

By Jackie Keogh

This is what the finished work of art by Alex Pentek will look like in situ

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A SKIBBEREEN artist has been awarded a commission by the Department of General Services in Washington DC to commemorate the achievement of the black activist, Charles Hamilton Houston.

Alex Pentek’s work of art – which was commissioned following an open competition and selection by a jury of mixed ethnicity – will take pride of place at the Charles H Houston Elementary School before the end of the year.

Houston was a black lawyer that has been widely credited with dismantling the infamous Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation.

After researching the black activist’s life, Alex told The Southern Star he arrived at ‘an uplifting image.’

He said: ‘I turned to the field of floriography – the symbolic meaning of plants and flowers – and chose to depict an allium, which is an international symbol for unity and staying true to one’s principles.’

Alex was born in Bantry, but he grew up around Skibbereen, and now lives with his wife and daughter near Grenagh in North Cork.

It was from his home that he did the online presentation which secured for him the commission.

It’s just the latest in a series of successful commission bids, and follows on from his much-lauded Kindred Spirits work in Midleton.

Kindred Spirits honours the 1847 Choctaw donation to Ireland during the famine and features a 6m tall circle of round-tipped eagle feathers that the Choctaw use in ceremonial dress and serve as a symbol of the humanity and generosity shown to the Irish people.

Alex’s latest project was inspired not just by the achievements of Charles Hamilton Houston as a lawyer, but also his fortitude in the face of racism.Charles Hamilton Houston was a soldier in the First World War – and saw fighting in France and Germany – and racism from within the ranks of the American army.

He later wrote: ‘The hate and scorn showered on us negro officers by our fellow Americans convinced me that there was no sense in my dying for a world ruled by them. I made up my mind that if I got through this war I would study law and use my time fighting for men who could not strike back.’

Even in those dark days, Alex said: ‘He must have held the hope of a unified, integrated world with education and justice for all.’

Consequently, the surface of the allium Alex is creating will feature 620 individual flowers, which mathematically divide the flower into interlocking circles.

‘This,’ said Alex, ‘is sacred geometry. Visually, it communicates mathematics in nature and the idea of an integrated world.’

Alex reflected on the fact that his grandfather, Brian Allderidge, was a radio operator in the second world war and trained in the Royal College of Art in London as an illustrator, before becoming head of the Gilford College of Art, and subsequently moving to Ireland in the 1950s.

Alex said his grandfather and his mother, Kathy, who lives in Skibbereen, ‘always encouraged my drawing when I was a child, and, from an early age, I knew my life would be in the arts.’

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