If you’re black and an artist, it can be hard to find support. Right now, two different groups are joining together to help black artists reach a wider audience. The Dayton Art Institute and the African American Visual Artists Guild have never collaborated. The exhibition is called Black heritage through visual rhythms.
In the mid-1980s, James Pate, a young black artist from Cincinnati fresh out of high school, completed a portrait. “I did techno-cubism drawings,” Pate recalls, “kind of an illustration where I used multiple images, and I just made up one of Jesse Jackson.”
Dayton artist Bing Davis saw it and had an idea. Jesse Jackson was going to speak at Central State University in Wilberforce. Davis told Pate to come over and he would post the portrait in the lobby. Pate says he had just enough money for gas. Pat tells the story. “And after Jesse Jackson’s speech, he leaves out the back entrance somehow, and Bing says, ‘Get the drawing! Get the drawing! ‘” (laughs) We all went down that hallway and came out the back. Bing was just selling! You know, just talk about it. He [Jesse Jackson] reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope, gave me a hundred dollar bill and then hugged me. And that was my way home.
Black visual artists in Dayton have always faced limited opportunities to show their work. So in the early 90s, they created the Guild to support each other. They held a national juried exhibition at Wilberforce. Over the years they have had six shows there. Then the guild council asked, “Why not the Dayton Art Institute?”
“This beautiful facility on the hill has always been in front of us,” says Cato Mayberry, the current president of the African American Visual Artists Guild. “The Dayton Art Institute, which sits right in the center of a predominantly African-American community, also speaks volumes.”
And so this show at the Dayton Art Institute is open, and it vibrates with vibrant colors and textures. There are forty national artists, fifteen of which come from the Miami Valley.
One of these artists is Gregory Changa Freeman, writer and photographer. In the summer of 2020, he was taking photos of a Black Lives Matter protest when he saw a black postman walking up the street. At that moment, Freeman thought of Juneteenth. This is the day the US government delivered the message of emancipation to enslaved African Americans in Texas. This was two years after Lincoln’s proclamation.
Changa Freeman remembers the postman very well. “He was working and delivering the mail and kind of immersed himself in the protest,” Freeman said. he looks back. And that’s just a reflection of where we came from, where we are, and where we hope to be.
James Pate, who painted the portrait of Jesse Jackson, won Best Show for his charcoal illustration, “Ayo’s Chair.” A young black boy sits in a carved wooden chair twice his size. He is reading a book in an art studio. Art students and their teachers sculpt a bust of Breonna Taylor, another of George Floyd. On an easel in the background, you can barely make out the image of Emmett Till.
On the legs of the chair are male figures – Africans, Asians, Native Americans. The image is reminiscent of African stools that honor ancestors, says Pate. “And so the legs of the chair kind of represent the village and the support of this child. You know, this kid, Ayo, is pretty much any kid in the world. You know, Ayo’s chair is a piece about expectation and hope.
There is a figure on the fourth chair leg. He’s a white policeman. Pate says it’s a call for the police. “Can’t you see that Ayo is also your child? Come on, come on, you have to, you have to. How come you can’t see it as the human race? »
Andrew Scott, sculptor and digital artist, was one of the jurors. He believes that black artists should tap into their identity and creative traditions to be global citizens. “There are a million ways to be an African American artist and you are just as much an African American if you choose one path over another because you are crazy to be an artist in the first place.”
Black Heritage through Visual Rhythms will be at the Dayton Art Institute until May 22.
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