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“A Thousand Tongues Burn and Sing” and “Tongue-Cut Sparrows,” a mixed-media installation documenting communication between women and their partners — inmates at El Paso County Jail — through an original sign language system, will run through March 9 at the Williams Center for the Arts gallery.

Artist James Drake talked about the exhibition 4-5 p.m. Feb. 12 in room 108 of the Williams Center. A reception followed. Both events were free and open to the public.

A resident of El Paso, Tex., Drake witnessed women standing in sight of prison windows, using their hands and bodies to convey messages. Their partners reciprocated through half-opened blinds and prison bars. Drake introduced the women to passages from Shakespeare, Jorge Borges, and other writers. The women translated the literature, and words became flying arms and swaying bodies, clenched fists and curled fingers. Drake documented this extraordinary communication process with video, still photography, and tableaus of words

“Tongue-Cut Sparrows” is the video installation of the women communicating. “A Thousand Tongues Burn and Sing” is a series of three diptychs — large cibachrome photos of the men’s world — depicting an interior of the prison, an exterior of the prison building, and the men silhouetted at the louvered windows.

About 50 solo exhibitions of Drake’s work have been organized at galleries in Mexico, New York, California, Virginia, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, and Washington, D.C. His art also has been included in more than 100 group exhibitions throughout the country and in Finland, Italy, and Yugoslavia. His creations are part of more than 20 permanent collections, including that of New York Public Library; National Museum of American Art at Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Federal Reserve Banks in Washington, D.C. and Dallas, Tex.; and Museo De Arte Y Historia, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Drake has received three grants from National Endowment for the Arts and an award from Southeast Center for Contemporary Art. He has completed commissions for the El Paso County Courthouse, El Paso, Tex.; Pascagula County Library, Pascagula, Miss.; and Historical Preservation Authority to Commemorate the Civil Rights Marches of 1963, Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Ala.

Born in Lubbock, Tex., Drank earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts at Art Center College of Design, in Los Angeles, Calif.

The exhibition was organized by Pamela Auchincloss Arts Management, New York.

Williams Center gallery hours are noon–5 p.m. Monday; 10-5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Wednesday; 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; and a half-hour before Williams Center performances. It is located at the intersection of Hamilton and High Streets on Lafayette’s main campus.

For more information, call the gallery at 610-330-5361 or email Exhibitions are free and open to the public.

The exhibition series is presented under provisions of the Frederick Knecht Detwiller Endowment. The Williams Center gallery is funded in part through a grant from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and National Endowment for the Arts.

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