Shining a Powerful Light On Black Artists

0:00 As institutions and businesses across the U.S. celebrate Black History Month, for the 49th year, so does the dazzling new exhibit in the Rye […]

Published February 8, 2024 5:52 PM
6 min read

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As institutions and businesses across the U.S. celebrate Black History Month, for the 49th year, so does the dazzling new exhibit in the Rye Arts Center, “Black Artists in the Spotlight: Currents of Creativity.”

“There is a high caliber of art in this gallery,” said Kicki Storm, who curated the show. “Some of the artists have had museum shows and public installations; most only do solo shows. I’m honored to have gathered all of them for a group show, and the Rye Arts Center is lucky to have them and share their work with the community.” 

The exhibit, which runs through Feb. 29, features pieces by 20 Black artists and is to be accompanied by an artist talk on Feb. 10 at 3. The works vary across mediums and styles and address being Black in America, with its implications, benefits, and consequences. They touch on police brutality, famous Black figures making strides in pop culture, mental health, Black pride, and the importance of representation, both in and outside the African American community.

In Emlyn Taveras’ “Tears of Injustice” (2023), a bright yellow canvas provides the backdrop for the face of a crying, dark-complexioned boy. There is melancholy in his eyes and trepidation in what looks like a quivering lip — mouth slightly ajar and askew. 

Taveras, an Afro-Caribbean woman by way of the Dominican Republic, said that while she “did not share the same lived experience as a Black person,” her experience is Black adjacent. 

As a mother and educator, Taveras grappled with the rash of killings of Black people by police in 2020, most notably George Floyd. 

“The trauma of that and the grief that I saw within my students and my own children, I tried to capture that in a way that was connecting to their own identity — my son, specifically as a young black man,” Taveras said of the artwork, which is part of series called “Facets of Identity.” Different pieces of colored, hand-textured paper are layered to form portraits, and what at first looks like a painting reveals itself to be a three-dimensional work composed of individual parts. The multi-facets represent the complexity and intricacies of human emotion. 

Artist Demarcus McGaughey has life coached every single person he has painted. While receiving coaching, many of McGaughey’s clients have moments of clarity that inspire him, “and I feel so compelled by that breakthrough that I’m like, ‘Do you mind if I paint you?” he said. 

For McGaughey, his portraits are superseded by the stories attached to them, and his hope is that people realize that no matter their plight, they are not alone. 

From the graphic T-shirt to the blazer to the fedora to the inviting gaze, the figure in “Ambassador of Harlem” drinking from a red cup is a stand in for the Black “everyman.” 

“It just reminds me of that person, like if you’re at the park — reminds you like the cool uncle, you know, not necessarily mysterious, but it’s like, I’m watching you,” said McGaughey. 

Sandra White’s, “Afro Lady” (2023) is a picture of Black pride. A bust of a woman composed of indigo, mustard, and fuchsia, sensually gazes down her nose at the viewer with clenched teeth. She is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe” (1967), painted in the same Pop Art style where bright and bold colors are a stand-in for complexion. She wears her halo of loose coils like a crown.

A Black woman’s hair has long been a source of contention in American society. In 2016, the internet went into a frenzy when a Google image search for “unprofessional hairstyles for work” resulted in photos of black women with natural hair. Conversely, a search for “professional styles” turned up photos of white, blonde women with their natural hair, as reported by The Guardian. The Google search has since been “corrected” — kind of. A search for each will still show predominantly black and white women for unprofessional and professional hairstyles, respectively. 

“I’m stepping boldly,” said White of “Afro Lady” and of her career as an artist. 

Starting late in the game, White didn’t begin painting until she was in her 60s and was relentless in getting her foot in the door. After a self-promoted art reception in her apartment went gangbusters, she gained the confidence to bring her work to the public eye. White has shown at other venues before, but this is the first time she has shown at the Rye Arts Center. It wasn’t the first time she had tried. However, her persistence paid off as she gained the attention of Kicki Storm via Instagram. 

White added, “The art community should not just show color — it’s about talent.”

“Black Artists in the Spotlight” is not just about Black identity, but about making representation ubiquitous. At the opening, Feb. 1, the RAC Gallery was packed with a diverse crowd of art lovers. (Rye has a population of just over 16,000 of which fewer than 2 percent are Black.) 

Exhibits like this create a hub for artists to meet and forge a community while bonding over shared experiences and speaking with others who have similar perspectives. 

Be sure to stop by the Rye Arts Center this month to see the show. Many of the works are still available for sale.

Image:

Sandra White’s “Afro Lady” is one of many dramatic works on display at the Rye Arts Center. Turn to B2 for coverage of the exhibit.

– Photo by E.T. Rodriguez

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