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Monday, August 07, 2006



The Second Annual Exhibition of the Black Artists of DC

BY: Claudia Gibson-Hunter and Winston Kennedy

Much of our contemporary [Black] art is rightly the art of social analysis and criticism, touching the vital problems of religion, labor, housing, lynching, unemployment, social reconstruction and the like. For today's beauty cannot afford to be merely pretty with sentiment and local color; it must be solid and instructive with an enlightening truth" Alain Leroy Locke 1940.[i]

The Black Artists of the District of Columbia are advantaged by our direct ancestral and cultural relationship to the African continent. We are able to build upon settled and innovative principles of the traditional African visual signs, symbols and images woven into our universal creative productivity in American modernism.

More importantly, as artists we break and establish new foundations for the visionary purposes of our art in the contemporary world of Black visual culture. We see our creativity as a universal and humanistic expression of our journey in the African Diaspora. We further see ourselves as the descendents of those African artists and artisans who significantly affected the direction of European visual modernism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in France.

In July 2005, approximately one hundred Black Artists of DC came together and produced an exhibit titled "Hidden Treasures." We as an Artist collective committed to fund, hang, advertise, and lend works of art for the event. We found that Washington, DC was teeming with excellent, uncelebrated works of African American artists. The Hidden Treasure exhibition excavated those works from the shadows of the neglect of the general Washington, DC art community and city art councils. The final exhibition list of "Hidden Treasures" included the works of 64 artists. That exhibition was a catalyst for many of the artists to become more pro-active in the advancement of our careers as artists. We have continued the hard task of pushing our works out through the DC community and beyond. As a result many others than normally have experienced and appreciated our creations. BADC members have been invited to exhibit their creative works in Los Angeles, Pittsburg, Chicago, Philadelphia, Maryland, New York, Virginia, and London- just to name a few sites. Through camaraderie, sharing of education, inspiration, workshops, and competitive venues, many artists in this group have "fast-forwarded" their art careers. BADC was a fundamental accelerant. We function as a syncretic element in encouraging and faciltating the synergy of the African American visual experience through the works of individual artists.

This year with the use of the verb "to find" we celebrate the process of self-discovery. In this visual application of self-discovery we have built a foundational structure that becomes the sound basis for further building the structures of our individual artworks. "FOUND!, FOUND!" is the title for our second annual BADC exhibit.

FOUND! For the individual BADC artist has layers of meaning. One of which is to lay the most significant course of a structure on a firm base or ground. Indeed, BADC, through this exhibition, has laid a foundation on which our membership can confidently create and share artworks with an extended community. A part of this foundation is our being unapologetically Black and like the universe, understanding Blackness to be infinite in its possibilities. A term we are using as definition is "Deep Black:”;, evolving, expanding, limitless. boundless Blackness. Our initial visual cultural markers are the Minkisi sculptures of the Congo, the bottle brush trees of the South, the grave sculpture and plates of our Old and New World ancestors, the knick knack filled homes of our elders. We look in amazement at the post modern integration of the old and new in totemic and shrine-like installations artworks of Renee Stout. She moves back and forth imbuing her work with visual evidence of Kongo art. She integrates the rituals of the old world into her blues installations and self-portrait sculpture, - these powerful integration of cultural spirits in her new world totems in African Diaspora art. Further, some of these efforts to create and evoke memory, - to memorialize, are found in the works of young African American men who construct totemic memorials to the dead. We look in sadness on these shrines created at sites of human carnage. The young create at these totems at highway crossroads, alley walls and street corners to honor those young people so violently killed.

We have learned from the traditions of our quilting grandmothers who knew how to make something from nothing. We see those traditions of "FOUND" exhibited in the artworks of Betty Saar, Allison Saar, Edgar H. Sorrells-Adewale, Arminah Brenda, Lynn Robinson, Romare Bearden, Augusta Savage, Meta Warwick Fuller, Elizabeth Prophet, Chakia Booker, Frank Smith, Akili Ron Anderson, Gordon Parks, John Biggers, Samella Lewis, Ed Love and a host of others. Many of these artists worked for many years with little recognition however, they persevered in the African American visual continuum and they prevailed.

The ability of the artist to conquer difficulty of the lost and found in life is manifested, we believe, in Valerie Maynard's screen-print series entitled Lost and Found. Her screen prints are visual signifiers of the direction the BADC is taking with this exhibition. Her work is profound in content and visually transformative. She reflects in this work a self-building, a self-authorizing process. Valerie Maynard lost something through violence and oppression in the West, then found and reclaimed those missing self-elements through the creative process, thereby. forever encouraging and inspiring others. In a recent brief article she is quoted as saying, "My vision is inspired by everything that I experience. It flows from a mélange of sights & sounds and comes out in a visual message that I try to interpret -a message that I hope will hold the eyes' intelligence, engage the senses of the viewer and nourish the spirit and consciousness in the transmission."[ii]

The word FOUND! celebrates this creativity within our group. BADC consists of Continental African, African Caribbean, African Native American, African Cuban, African Latin Americans, African Asians, and African Americans having found a common bond in our deep Black images. Our creative works ranges from: abstract to figurative abstraction; from realism to photorealism; from conceptual to other discrete modes of time and performance art. Reflecting an internal cultural gumbo, our artists' studio production stretches across all art modalities. BADC reflects the talents of well over 200 artists. All of us are developing at different rates for we are seeking modes of visual encounters in order to better share and grow our creativity. We will to live dynamically as creative people.

There is a spiritual reason why we are drawn to these art objects. The spiritual reason surrounds us, - it lives within us and reveals itself through the engagement of the artist with the creative process and the physical materials. Spirit can be contained in the objects and in the artworks and it communicates a message to the viewer. From the artworks (Minkisi) those spirits enlighten, instruct, confound, give solace, warn and inspire new visions and new ideas.

The membership of BADC has been outstanding in their mutual support and sharing with one another. Elder to youth, youth to elder: a refreshing and inspiring exchange has taken place. Therefore, we believe that you will discover something beyond, "…the merely pretty with sentiment and local color…"[iii] On the contrary, you will critically excavate, "…something solid and instructive with an enlightening truth."[iv] Finally, in your findings from the FOUND! Exhibition, we believe that you will re-discover some of yourself.

[i] Alain Leroy Locke, The Negro in Art, (Washington, DC: The Associates in Negro Folk Education, 1940), p. 10.

[ii] Quote taken from quarterly Baltimore, MD publication In the Arts, Art Towles, ed., No. 3, 2006, p.9. Also see Valerie Maynards "Lost and Found" Screenprint series in: Forbes, Dennis, Contemporary African American Printmakers, Washington, DC 2004, pp. 92-95.

[iii] Locke, The Negro in Art, p. 10.

[iv] Ibid, p.10


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