Artists can be society’s shamans, alchemizing darkness, bridging schisms, mending wounds. The more we grapple with the blunt trauma of colonialism, the more artists — and maybe particularly artists of color and queer artists — do that necessary shamanistic work. And lately, as society goes through paroxysms of stress, the art world is embracing art unabashedly aimed at healing.
That’s what 21-year-old painter Mithsuca Berry does with their radiant exhibition “The Sun Knows No Impostor” at Boston Center for the Arts’s Mills Gallery, curated by Sienna Kwami as part of the gallery’s 1:1 Curatorial Initiative series.
A buoyant mural on a back wall offers a credo: “The sun sees all the things you try to mask and still thinks you are worth illuminating.” A rootlike system, yellow as sun rays, covers the walls, making a network of paintings and digital illustrations with saturated tones, bold lines, and graphic figures. The muscular style is part street art, part Underground Comix, and the figure-based confrontation with life’s problems echoes that of the Boston Expressionists. But Berry’s open-heartedness is an antidote to the acid satire and knotty neuroses explored by those mid-20th-century illustrators and artists.
This artist sees fear and struggle as a gold mine, an avenue toward tenderness and growth. “Mental Playground” features three versions of a blond figure, one with a threateningly long tongue, and doesn’t flinch from the spin cycle of negative thinking. Then, “Fear Not” depicts a tense person lying on a bed. Grasping hands come from above and below. But a hovering nude may be an angel, heralding transformation.
Berry works in myth and metaphor. In the title piece, an icy blue figure holds a red sun’s ray against their chest, as if to melt their heart. An untitled digital illustration from the “Enlightenment” series depicts a figure with their hand at their throat, where a glowing eye hints at an activated chakra. A fluid specter springs from their mouth. Text reads, “I refuse to silence my soul for your comfort.”
“The Sun Knows No Impostor” has an enlivening and fortifying effect, like medicine. Berry, for all their youth, demonstrates gravity and wisdom in bold, compassionate art. They’re an artist to keep track of.
MITHSUCA BERRY: THE SUN KNOWS NO IMPOSTOR
At Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 551 Tremont St., through Dec. 19. 617-426-5000, www.bostonarts.org