African American artists shine in new gallery exhibit

August 24, 2010

PLAINVIEW – Art as an imitation of life is a tradition as old as art itself. For many cultures, art has been a way to express their experiences, emotions and struggles.

The newest exhibit to grace the walls of the Abraham Art Gallery at Wayland Baptist University is testament to the unique experiences of African Americans in the South. Southern Journeys features the work of 52 artists in a variety of mediums as they examine their ties to the south. Open to the public during September and October, the show is free.

According to the promotional guide, artists in Southern Journeys span three generations, those whose careers developed and matured between the 1930s and 1950s; those who came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Power decades; and those who have emerged in the postmodernism period.

Show curators liken the artists to griots, or storytellers in Western Africa who keep alive the oral traditions and history of a village, as they tell multilayered stories through their drawings, paintings, sculptures and prints. The artists represent the academically trained and the self-taught ends of the art spectrum though they share their culture and the “black experience.”

While African Americans primarily lived in the south until the early twentieth century, the migration into other parts of the country resulted in a blending of their culture and art forms such as music, literature, art and dance with the art of the region. Some of the work represents commissioned art by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and 40s, designed for the masses. The Civil Rights movement, focused heavily in the south, fueled African American artists to examine the politics of race in their work.

The Black Power movement that followed added a sense of empowerment and pride that brought about a new consideration of African American art and identity. The south still inspires contemporary artists, and the distinctive regional identity, multicultural heritage and vibrant folk culture of the South align with postmodernism cultural values.

“Southern Journeys features works by internationally recognized African American artists such as Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, Dean Mitchell, and Richmond Barthé, allowing students to experience their artwork up close and personally, which is always a better way to experience art than in art history textbook reproduction. The American experience of these black artists across three generations presents a fascinating visual narrative, and provides insights into our rich and complex history,” said Dr. Candace Keller, curator of the gallery and professor of art at Wayland.

From the advent of slavery to the Harlem Renaissance, the Black arts movement to the post-modern era, the exhibition is sure to stimulate discussion on culture and inclusion of the multiple voices and visions of American art history. A generous grant from the Mid America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts helped us to bring this exhibition to the Abraham Gallery, and we hope our regional schools will be able to take advantage of it, as well as our patrons and friends.” 

According to Keller, the gallery welcomes tour groups from schools and other organizations, especially those who want to get a more in-depth look into the history and culture featured in the 55 works. Trained docents will be available for groups with advance notice. Interested parties may call the gallery at 291-3710 to make reservations for group visits or for more information.

The gallery is open during regular hours of the Mabee Learning Resources Center, which houses the gallery in its lower level: 10-5 Monday through Thursday, 10-4 Friday and 2-5 Saturday.