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Looking into the darkness, at Mills Gallery

In the Words, In the Bones at BCA Mills Gallery through July 21
Melissa Blackall
Nyugen E. Smith’s “Letter Home (Hoping to Reach You Soon) Partial Poem Sculpture”

‘In the Words, In the Bones,” a sobering and strangely hopeful exhibition curated by Magdalena Moskalewicz at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Mills Gallery, considers the content and consequences of cultural silence.

Marina Leybishkis was raised a Jew in Uzbekistan, outside the dominant Muslim culture. Members of her mother’s family are buried in unmarked graves in Soviet labor camps. Burning into black paper with a laser to leave ashy images (“Black Album”), and fixing shadowy prints into the thinnest porcelain, which she displays in light boxes (“Album”), Leybishkis re-creates family photos and documents in materials nearly as ephemeral as memory itself.

Hungarian-born Zsuzsanna Varga-Szegedi grapples with the strictures of communist and post-communist Eastern Europe. She challenges Hungary’s recent erasure of Marxist philosopher György Lukács from the public sphere. A Lukács statue was removed from a Budapest park in 2017. Varga-Szegedi has made a dour model of the statue’s head, “Memorial for Absence (Lukács),” and, in an effort to get to know the visage and perhaps the man, mapped it with 3-D scans. She projects an image of the lost statue onto the Mills Gallery’s façade, as if conjuring a ghost. (The next projection is scheduled for 8:30-10 p.m. on July 18.)

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Although Nyugen E. Smith is of Haitian descent, he never learned Haitian Creole. He examines the hierarchies and omissions of language in “Letter Home (Hoping to Reach You Soon) Partial Poem Sculpture.” The poem laments his distance from home: “I see your hand in all that I do. All that I make./ Your son is afraid,” he writes.

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He cuts the poem’s text from rubber and piles it like spaghetti in a bowl, then collages the snipped bits of the letters’ negative spaces — denoting absence or background — into the series “Masta My Language,” creating an inscrutable hieroglyphic text. All of these artists caution that authorities rarely tell the whole story, and to know ourselves, whatever our culture, we must look into the negative spaces.

IN THE WORDS, IN THE BONES

At Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 551 Tremont St., through July 21. 617-426-5000, www.bcaonline.org

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.