A provocative and comprehensive exhibit of works by local black artists opened last week in Jamaica and will continue through Sunday.
Entitled “Presenting: Colors in Blacks,” the exhibit is the first large-scale art event sponsored by the non-profit Southern Queens Park Association in a dozen years.
Housed inside the association’s Roy Wilkins Family Life Center, the show features hundreds of photographs, acrylic paintings and handicrafts by two dozen African-American and Caribbean artists from Southeast Queens, Harlem, Nassau County and Brooklyn.
“We have lots of talented artists in the community, but often they are hidden,” said Peter Richards, the curator. “They are doing high quality, but they have not been properly recognized.”
Drawing on much smaller displays that the association has staged over recent months in its board of trustees’ meeting room, Richards pulled the exhibit together over a brief six-week period.
The opening reception on Friday evening attracted scores of local art lovers, as well as Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and her cultural affairs director, Veronique LeMelle, the former executive director of the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.
Several of the works in “Presenting” draw their inspiration from contemporary issues in the black community. In one exceptional print by Barbados-born artist Kolongi, dozens of popular rap and hip-hop musicians are crowded together. Near the center of the crowd are images of Curtis Blow and Run-DMC framed by Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.
The piece has particular import following the murder of Run-DMC disk jockey Jam Master Jay last month. Shakur and B.I.G. were murdered in 1996 and 1997, respectively.
A similar motif of struggle and death plays out in the intense acrylic paintings of Brooklyn-born artist Stephan Davis. One shows a montage of a Harlem rally, Malcolm X and a demonstration where a marcher carries a sign that reads “America is a police state for the Black man.” A second painting shows the evolution of Bob Marley from his African and Caribbean roots to a reggae demigod who inspired the downtrodden and poor.
Davis’ iconic depiction of Amadou Diallo, the West African immigrant killed mistakenly by New York City police in 1998, makes it one of the most powerful pieces in the show. In it, Diallo wears an American flag T-shirt where the fields of red drip blood. The words “41 Shots” loom portentously in red above his head.
Several works in “Presenting” have a distinctly Caribbean feel, like the jubilant five-foot by three-foot panels by Trinidad-born Edwin Mills.
Now a commercial artist and resident of Jamaica, Mills’ four canvases describe street Carnival celebrations in Trinidad at different periods, from the 1920s to the current day.
Perhaps the most interesting and vibrant of the four shows a street festival from 1945, when Trinidad was still a British colony and the participants are celebrating Victory over Europe day amidst the Union Jack and a Soviet flag.
Near the front of the exhibit space is a series of remarkable giclee prints—images that are scanned and then printed by computer onto watercolor paper or canvas—by William West that relate to September 11th.
Part of a series called “Strength, Hope and Healing,” West’s works show how the terrorist attacks brought New Yorkers of various backgrounds together to mourn and rebuild.
Scores of other works on display run the gamut from celebrity photographs by Ken Harris to Africa-inspired quilt panels by Brooklyn-native Dina.
“Presenting: Colors in Blacks” runs through Sunday, November 24th, at the Roy Wilkins Family Life Center at Jamaica’s Roy Wilkins Park, 177th Street and Baisley Boulevard. For information and gallery hours, call 276-4630.