This Week in Black Art and Culture : Zambia’s first Contemporary Art Center, Derek Adams, and more

1/15/2023 – Zambia’s first contemporary art center opens. The Brooklyn Museum presents Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter‘s Ain’t I aWoman, marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Derrick Adams’ new solo exhibition, I Can Show You Better Than I Can Tell You, opens this weekend. A wealthy donor gifts Beaverbrook Art Gallery a Willie O’Ree portrait; the gallery announces it will host a public portrait unveiling in honor of the 65th anniversary of Willie O’Ree’s debut in the National Hockey League, the first Black NHL player. Read more in This Week in Black Art and Culture. 

Zambia’s First Contemporary Art Center Opens

Victor Mutelekesha, an artist, has established a new private organization called the Lusaka Contemporary Art Center (LuCAC) to promote modern Zambian art. The Center, in New Chamba Valley, houses an artists’ residence, a gallery, and a library. With regard to decolonization, pertinent histories, contemporaneity, etc., the LuCAC seeks to enable and support the creation of new arts and cultural knowledge in Zambia, the surrounding area and beyond. The first exhibition, ProspiceKwacha!, curated by Karen Reini, will run from Jan. 6 to Dec. 17, 2023. 

The center will be accessible to contemporary artists of all ages and practice types whose interests align with those of LuCAC. A particular emphasis will be on developing young talent through fostering self-awareness, respect, tolerance, critical thought, and persistent inquiry into shared histories. By documenting and curating its activities, the center will support artistic literature (writing and publication) and create a resource archive for future generations. 

At LuCAC, the gallery will serve as a testing ground for creative experimentation, while the library will offer a location for study, research, and the evaluation of both new and ancient knowledge and documentation. Talks and recordings informally and formally will be accommodated in a social space. Finally, the center will feature two private rooms set aside for receiving guests who are invited to the center to take part in events that relate to the center’s basic ideals, including national and worldwide artists. 

A Zambian artist named Victor Mutelekesha resides and works in Oslo, Norway. He co-founded the Livingstone office for Contemporary Art and founded the Lusaka Contemporary Art Center. Since 2004, Victor’s work has appeared in numerous regional, national, and international group and solo exhibitions, such as those at the Dakar Biennale, Havana Biennial, OpenART international art symposium in Sweden, NSK State Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, Stavanger Museum, Kunstnerforbundet Gallery for Contemporary Art in Oslo, Gallery Palazio Tito in Venice, Italy, and the Akershuskunstsenter in Lillestrom, Norway. 

Victor deals with persistent problems that impact people’s well-being, such as conflict brought on by our own self-created identity-divisive mechanisms and unjustified, unscientific prejudice towards any of those identities. In order to diffuse tension, his attention also focuses on broadening the definitions of what diaspora, hybridity and identity itself would entail. 

Ain’t I a Woman Addresses Reproductive Justice on 50thAnniversary of Roe v. Wade

Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter, Ain’t I a Woman addresses the long history of reproductive injustice in the U.S. from an activist perspective on the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and one year after its repeal. The exhibition broadens the dialogue on abortion access into a more nuanced one by emphasizing Black childrenand Black women who are in prison. Baxter demonstrates how the battle for the right to an abortion is not a stand-alone issue by relating it to other crucial human rights problems, the need for compassion, and the desire for emancipation. 

The Brooklyn Museum will host the exhibition from Jan. 20 to Aug. 13, 2023. Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter (born 1981), a Philadelphia-based artist and prison abolitionist, uses autobiography as a tool to promote reform in the criminal justice system. She also founded the Dignity Act Now Collective with other Black activists and artists who have seen the effects of incarceration firsthand. 

The show includes Baxter’s 2018 movie, Ain’t I a Woman, which makes a connection between the oppressive circumstances that jailed women experience and the national struggle for reproductive rights. The movie, which functions as both a documentary and a rap video, chronicles Baxter’s life from her difficult childhood in Philadelphia through her pregnancy, arrest, incarceration and motherhood, concluding with her development as a supporter and jail abolitionist. 

Baxter discusses her terrifying experience of giving birth while being chained for 43 hours, posing the question of who is deemed deserving of human rights by society and the law and who is deemed to be a “woman” by society and the law. The musical documentary argues that ensuring Black women in prison have access to safe healthcare is a crucial first step in building a societal structure that truly respects everyone’s right to bodily autonomy. 

Consecration to Mary, a collection of seven pieces, is shown in conjunction with the movie. It links Black children’s history of abuse to the societal reality known as “adultification bias,” in which Black children are routinely perceived as adults. In the work, Thomas Eakins, a white American artist, exposed a young Black girl in nude photos that were sexually predatory in 1882. Baxter covers the other five paintings, hiding them from view, and places herself into two of the images to defend the wronged. Consecration to Mary emphasizes how, for Black women, the struggle for physical autonomy begins in childhood when coupled with Baxter’s documentary. 

Derrick Adams New Solo Exhibition To Open This Weekend

Derrick Adams’ solo exhibition, I Can Show You Better Than I Can Tell You, has a cycle of 16 large-scale paintings from his new series, Motion Picture Paintings (2020–2022), which take the deconstructed cubist portraits that are the artist’s trademark in a new cinematic direction. It is open from Jan. 13 to March 11. If I Wasn’t Saved… (2022) has a church choir in white robes lifting their hands while holding red boxing gloves, ready to shout the gospel or support a prize fight. The banner-style lettering above the image reads, “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!” Church meetings continue in SWA (2021), with the caption “SISTER ACT” hovering above a happy attendee wearing her Sunday best. The phrase is a reference to the 1992 comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg. 

A flight attendant is seen in Barkley Hendricks’ pastel-inspired painting All With a Soft Touch (2021), as she takes in the peace of an aircraft full of passengers asleep. The title of a 1977 song by the American funk and R&B group Brainstorm hovers above their heads in a puffy, cloud-style font: “THIS MUST BE HEAVEN.” The lengthy, horizontal composition of Onward and Upward (2021), which depicts people walking by a Soul Planemovie poster, was inspired by the film’s advertising poster, Alex Katz’s Ada’s Garden (2000), and Adams’ views of his Brooklyn neighborhood. The Horse You Rode in On (2022) has a stylish man dressed in a feathered hat against the backdrop of the grounds of an opulent country home, all overlaid with the slogan “TOWN & COUNTRY.” 

In the artwork, So Much to Celebrate (2021), party supplies set the scene with a “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. SOUL!” banner, honoring America’s first Black variety program, the enduring PBS television series Soul! In relation to Soul!, host and producer Ellis Haizlip’s legacy centered on illuminating the vitality and diversity of Black life, art, culture and community. 

Adams’s work frequently addresses the various ways in which Black communities are represented in and refracted by American history, entertainment commerce and iconography, as well as the dynamic link between a person’s identity and their cultural milieu. Adams broadens his iconography in this new series, adding a ton of color and doing away with predetermined forms, which allows the compositions to freely develop and convey their own moods and dramas. 

Derrick Adams makes parallels to a variety of filmmaking elements through composition and imagery, such as movie trailers, billboards, lobby cards and subtitles, as well as cinematic cliches like the close-up shot and theatrical stances. “Black life is a movie,” said Adams, “a psychological thriller, situational comedy, romance, adventure drama, suspense and horror all rolled into one.” The paintings in I Can Show You Better Than I Can Tell You vary in scale and color, yet they all work together to form a whole, much like the panels of a storyboard. Scenes influenced by everyday life, family photos, African sculpture, songs and movies show moments of delight, leisure and imagination. 

Beaverbrook Art Gallery to Celebrate 65th Anniversary of Willie O’Ree’s NHL Debut

A wealthy anonymous donor has gifted a portrait of Willie O’Ree to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in New Brunswick, Canada. The artwork features O’Ree sporting his Hockey Hall of Fame ring and proudly donning his Boston Bruins sweater. O’Ree’s recent book, Willie: The Game-Changing Story of the NHL’s First Black Player, and the film documentary he just directed, both used the photo as their poster art. 

On Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m., the Beaverbrook Art Gallery will host the public unveiling in honor of the 65th anniversary of Willie O’Ree’s debut in the National Hockey League. He played for the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens on that date in 1958, becoming the first Black player in the NHL. U.S.President Joe Biden announced in 2022 that O’Ree would receive a Congressional Gold Medal for his achievements in “hockey, inclusivity and recreational opportunity.” O’Ree was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018. 

Tim Okamura (born in Alberta, Canada) is the portrait artist, a modern painter who explores metaphor, cultural iconography, the urban environment, and identity. Okamura, an Edmonton native, graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with distinction before relocating to New York City to enroll at the School of Visual Arts in 1991. Okamura relocated to Brooklyn after receiving his Master of Fine Arts in 1993, where he now resides and works. 

Okamura is renowned for combining graffiti with realism in his paintings of BIPOC characters in urban environments. His art has appeared in a number of significant movie pictures at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The 2006 shortlist of painters for a potential portrait of Queen Elizabeth II included Okamura. He was invited in 2015 to the White House, which recognized artists whose work dealt with social justice concerns, and while there, he received a letter of praise from Joe Biden, the vice president at the time. 

This public unveiling event at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery is open to everyone. Tim Okamura, the artist, will be there, and Willie O’Ree intends to attend virtually from his home in California, speaking to the crowd live through zoom.

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