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Black Art Matters (Juried Exhibition Review)

Recently, I was asked to jury Maryland Federation of Art's (MFA) Black Art Matters exhibition. My task was to review the entire exhibition and choose my top three pieces. So, that is what I decided to write about this month. If you would like to see the entire show, you can view it here (scroll down to “Black Art Matters”): After seeing the full exhibition and reviewing these three special pieces I have written about below, I hope you'll be able to come to your own conclusions about the works.

1st Place

The Lengths I've Gone To Be Like You, Victoria Walton

I chose this piece for the first place winner for two reasons:

1. Concept: Seeing this piece reminded me of the futile need for "White acceptance" and assimilation into White society. This is done through traumatizing acts such changing your hair, accent, choice of dress, code switching and more, just to appease members of the dominant White society. These are very tiring actions that deny self-acceptance. The way the body stretches and arches, paired with distortion within the figure, communicates how painful it is to spend so much time and effort into being someone other than yourself (because of your race).

2. Technical execution: This is a gorgeous ceramic piece. It is very imaginative and also gives a lot of narrative and context for the viewer to examine.

2nd Place

Untitled #50, Ron Beckham

When I saw this piece I immediately thought of Jasper Johns, Flags. His 1945 painting was a commentary on war, patriotism, and what it means to be an American. Beckham's piece comments on the same... It reimagines the American Flag and redirects questions from a Black lens: Why is there a war on Black lives? What does it mean to be Black in America?

By printing the names of Black lives that have been lost to police violence and replacing stars with cop badges, this flag is communicating that much like stars, when it comes to penetrating that "Blue Wall of Silence", there is an impossible or unreachable element to these cops. So, where as stars represent hope to many, police badges represent hopelessness to many Black Americans.

3rd Place

See no Evil Hear no Evil, Qrky

This piece is very dark - it takes you to a different place. It's very graphic and gruesome.

The stitching on the mouth, shows that this person cannot speak nor respond to anyone. They also have stitching on their eyes, which to me communicated that this person has no choice as to what they see or do not see (I wasn't able to tell whether or not the eyelids were closed). BUT you will notice that the person's ears are not stitched in any way, so we can assume that they are aware of some stimuli, but they just cannot respond to it. This expresses a unequivocal powerlessness. This person's being is so severely hindered to the point where it would be extremely difficult for them to affect any change in their environment at all.

The facial expression shows me fear, frustration, but also this odd content that can only come from someone who has accepted the things they cannot change.

The turquoise marks on the face make this piece look rustic. It reminds me of something that has been forget or hasn't been tended to. I believe the artist hit the nail on the head with this piece. It is something that draws viewers in and is able to captivate them for one reason or another OR completely turns that off. Either way, you get a reaction out of people, which is what good art does.

My exhibition statement is below, what are your thoughts?:

"It is an honor to serve as the juror for MFA’s Black Art Matters exhibition. As you walk up and down the Annapolis downtown area you see plaques and other historic markers chronicling Black history throughout the city; but unfortunately, there are no spaces dedicated to displaying predominately Black artists. So, with MFA being a staple arts establishment in the Annapolis community, their commitment to making space for Black artists through this exhibition is an important step towards racial equity in the arts realm – one that I hope other arts organizations in the area follow.

Due to the nature of MFA’s juried exhibitions structure, any piece of art has a chance to find a home here, and this exhibition is no different. Black Art Matters has an open-ended theme of “Black art is American art”, thus providing Black artists with the autonomy to interpret that in any way they choose. This resulted in artists submitting artwork showcasing a wide variety of mediums and conceptual interests. Additionally, the artists are all in different stages in their careers, thereby encompassing the diversity MFA prides itself on. On display are paintings depicting heroes in the Black community such as Maya Angelou, abstract paintings and collages, Black figurative sculptures and cut outs, Black sci-fi images, and photographs and paintings depicting everyday life.

From the difficulties of finding shows with themes relevant to the work they are creating, to being taken seriously as an artist, it can be challenging for Black artists to find their place in this world. Having organizations specifically seek out these artists is a powerful notion in itself. I would encourage more organizations to do the same. Black Art Matters."


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