Art springs from personal and sometimes political sources, with results as unique and varied as the artists who produce them.

Two new shows at McLean Project for the Arts (MPA) demonstrate human consciousness and political sensibilities, while a third exhibit depicts a distinctive, book-themed vision of the natural world.  All the exhibits are on display through March 5.

MPA’s main exhibition space, the Emerson Gallery, is featuring “Absence and Presence: Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here,” showcasing scores of works by Middle Eastern artists.

The project began in San Francisco after a March 5, 2007, car bomb killed 30 people on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, Iraq. The winding, 1,000-foot-long street was a centuries-old literary and book-selling center in the city, said Nancy Sausser, MPA’s exhibitions director.

“The project includes prints and broadsides, poetry and performance, all [in] solidarity with the loss and in celebration of freedom of expression,” she said.”We choose works that were immediately striking, and for the variety of styles and approaches.  It’s significant, I think, for viewers to see so many artists approach the same subject matter in so many different ways.”

The exhibit is part of a larger regional one that’s also being shown at the George Mason University School of Art Gallery, the Gelman Library and Corcoran School of Art and Design at George Washington University, Brentwood Arts Exchange, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, Olly Olly Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum American Art/National Portrait Gallery Library.

MPA board member Helen Frederick, a printmaking professor at George Mason University, headed the project in the Washington area and brought some of the works to MPA’s galleries.

The exhibit is a vivid reminder of art’s wide-ranging variety and depth of personal expression. Many of the works are small and consist of drawings or prints with messages.

British artist Anita Klein’s linocut, “Reading Under the Covers,” shows a girl with a flashlight and book under her bedspread.

“Shadows Walking Around in the House of Memories,” an etching with spots of color by Spanish artist Anne Moreno, shows a grid of silhouetted figures representing humans’ need to create and the impermanence of their efforts.

American artist Ronni Komarow’s colorful block print “We Who Once Were” shows a bright red tree taking sustenance from the ground, even when leafless and in winter. The artist incorporated pieces of burned book pages into the work.

MPA’s Atrium Gallery contains “Hushed Revolt,” a series of artworks by Iranian-American sisters Nasrin and Nahid Navab, who also are involved with the Al-Mutanabbi Street project.

“The work deals with personal freedom as well and memory,” Sausser said. “The exhibit offered them the opportunity to work together to mine and interpret and process their shared and individual memories.”

The sisters have different artistic styles. In “Anthology,” Nahid Navab painted groups of scenes and portraits on paper and placed them inside half-cylinders, which resemble split bamboo shoots.

By contrast, Nasrin Navab’s “Broken Umbrella” is a black-and-white, pen-and-ink drawing of a cluster of faces and draped with a black veil. The artwork is based on a 1979 photo of Iranian women who protesting being forced to wear a hijab, traditional headwear for Muslim women.

MPA’s Ramp Gallery now is showcasing “Les Fleurs du Livre: New Paintings by Carol Barsha.” A pun on the French heraldic symbol “fleur-de-lis,” the works depict brightly colored flowers and open books in natural settings. Sometimes the books are set on the ground and surrounded by pine cones and egg-filled birds’ nests. Other times, they’re placed beneath flowers with reed-like stems reaching toward the sky.

Several of Barsha’s paintings have liquid-like, flowing skies that give viewers the impression the scene actually is set underwater.

The vibrant, colorful paintings are a refreshing palate cleanser after the politically charged works gracing the other two galleries.

“I chose Carol Barsha’s work to complement the other two exhibits because it celebrates both the landscape and the book as way into other worlds, both interior and exterior,” Sausser said.

MPA is located upstairs at the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave. For more information and gallery hours, visit www.mpaart.org or call (703) 790-1953.

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