On September 20th, world renowned artist Derrick Adam opened his solo show at Baltimore City Hall, entitled Where I’m From... The exhibition displayed “ten new large scale paintings taken from scenes of his childhood in Baltimore City.” The paintings only slightly strayed away from his style of figurative painting we’re accustomed to seeing and they were just as profound and beautiful. Each painting had a gleeful, faintly child-like, loose sketch charm to it (speaking to the history in-which these family pictures were based on).
But to me, the show’s opening event itself was the most beautiful part of the entire exhibition. He brought the city out and displayed the Black heartbeat that is the Baltimore Black art scene...
Let me set the scene:
My intern and I walked into City Hall greeted by security and metal detectors. We were then told that the exhibition was taking place on either side of the large lobby we had just entered... We walked to the left, into the first gallery of the exhibition and who was I greeted by? Two friends of mine that are both prolific painters (one abstract, one portrait). After a quick exchange we walked around the packed gallery and waited for our chance to view the artwork. As we were walking around I continued running into curators, artists, directors, and other people within my field I consider friends. We were all catching up and giving our thoughts on the exhibition.
As I exited the first gallery and re-entered the lobby I was met with another crowd of people that I began chatting and politicking with. This group included: amazing, nationally-recognized painters, sculptors, photographers, gallery owners, curators, journalists, educators, department chairs at different universities and colleges, etc... and they were all dressed up, drippin’, looking as good as they wanted to. Everyone was laughing, networking, and having a great time. There were numerous, “nah, I’m tryna be like YOU!” battles, conversations about what we were plotting on for the future, which activities we were currently working on, and our recent accomplishments that had us saying “[...] so yeah, I’m tired, but I’m glad to be here!” I talked with everyone for so long in that lobby I didn’t even get to see the second gallery that night 😅.
Afterwards, we exited City Hall and were met by a warm, calm, end-of-summer night. We hopped into my car to go to another exhibition opening and my intern turned to me and said, “so, what exactly is this “Black excellence, Black empowerment thing?” I responded, “you just witnessed it.” It’s Black people doing what we’ve always done - positively interacting with one another in our own way. Celebrating each other’s accomplishments, encouraging each other when we see that someone needs a pick-me-up... Talking about the future and how we can support one another. Introducing each other to people we can potentially collaborate with, etc... All while following the unspoken “dress to impress” law.
...And I think that’s what Derrick’s exhibition spoke to... His experience as a Black man growing up in Baltimore and the United States at-large. Yes, that experience comes with many “not-so-great” portions, but a lot of it includes people and places that brighten up our lives and create positive results. The work of the Black professionals in attendance at the opening event are doing is a testament to the Black Excellence and Black Empowerment sentiments.
From celebrating life, to weddings, to kids playing in the park... The accumulation of these positive experiences create a person that is determined to do good and make the world a better place.
For example, I looked back at a photo of some friends and I from 10 years ago - it turns out that in that photo we now have a political activist, a well-known DJ, an Aerospace Engineer, and a curator 😊. We lived many of these Black experiences Derrick portrayed and look how we turned out.
All this to say...
“Black Excellence” is a term used to change the narrative and perception of Black accomplishments. It is meant to break mental bondage and showcase the amazing things Black people are doing in this world collectively. Derrick’s show did a great job of celebrating relatable, positive moments during his upbringing that are directly linked to how he became the person that he is today - that which led him to his “Black Excellence”. And it is this type of celebration and investment in one’s self that allows for Black people to create and become innovative to the point that there can be an exhibition all about Black abstraction since the 1940s.
Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art, currently up at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), displays work from Black artists that used abstraction as a political statement. Artists such as Norman Lewis, who mentored some of the biggest names in history like Jack Whitten, are on display here. During their time, these artists were not afraid to step out of what was traditional for Black artists and now, years later, they are being recognized for it.
The exhibition also features younger artists like Mark Bradford (whom I’ve written about in the past). The vast scope of artists is something only seen in a few other exhibitions. Colorful works of Alma W. Thomas, fiery displays from Gary Simmons, the dark figurative work of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, among others are quite a treat for us to be able to view all in one place.
Having these two exhibitions on display at the same time (and right after we closed No Play Fighting at Creative Alliance) seemed poetic - celebration of the past that will continue to lead us into a future we can look forward to. I encourage everyone to see these exhibitions before they close (Where I’m From - November 22, 2019 | Generations - January 19, 2020). And on a daily basis please enjoy and appreciate the Black Excellence that these exhibitions represent.
Until next time... Peace.