COLUMBIA, 1/24/12  (Review) -- I like art with a certain majesty, and two pieces at this winter's Columbia Art League exhibit grabbed my attention for this reason.   
Winner of an Honorable Mention in the League's award categories, Yasmeen El-Jayyousi's "Defenseless against Fears" is a starkly colorful portrait of a young woman wearing something akin to a Muslim hijab -- a head scarf -- against a backdrop of tumult that includes accusatory newspaper headlines ("death, police, murder") and the graffiti blues, ghetto greens, and hazy purples of a Jimi Hendrix-inspired re-imagining of sixties turmoil. 
It's a striking, effective piece -- part painting, part newsprint, part Birqa, part Bronx -- that almost sings with the sonorous, chanted tones of an Egyptian night after the Arab Spring and the Fall it catalyzed.   The turmoil of this crazy world is literally pressing itself into the face of the young woman -- surprised, worried, doe-eyed, and lovely -- suggesting that solace is still long off.   If only, if only the craziness would fade, the beauty could and would shine through.

My favorite piece of the entire show was tucked away in a corner and didn't win any prizes, but had gathered around it a sizeable crowd. 
Jamie Daylor's "Rescue Innocence" (pictured above) suggests a young woman in some considered anguish.  It floored me enough when I caught a glimpse of it that I struggled past the crowd, gazed at the three-foot by four-foot portrait (on plywood, no less), and hastily scribbled in my notepad "most striking piece in the gallery."
Look closely at the woman, who towers over the gallery floor staring contemplatively at something distant, and you'll see what appears to be a black handprint, streaked up the front of the portrait.  Pages of a book in the background of this mixed-media piece speak about human trafficking, which may suggest I'm onto something when I see abuse in that handprint.  A slap, a bruise, an angry grab -- I can't quite tell what it means, just that it worked for me, leaving a powerful impression, figuratively and literally. 
And yet, "Rescue Innocence" is not a dark piece.  It's shadowy and lovely and caught me by surprise, perhaps because I'm the father of a teen daughter and worry about the themes -- however distant -- Daylor tackles.  
Regardless, I've never seen plywood look so good -- or say so much about the human condition. 
-- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat