“Nu Growth” is giving these up-and-coming female creatives a platform to shine

Art collective BLKMRKTCLT hosts "Nu Growth" series, featuring six Black women, in celebration of four-year anniversary.

Charlotte art collective BLKMRKTCLT celebrates its fourth anniversary with a new series giving six local, Black female artists a space to showcase their work.  

The five-week series, called “Nu Growth,” will rotate exhibitions each Friday, beginning July 9. Carla Aaron-Lopez, an artist who works closely with BLKMRKTCLT, has been working on the project for over a year.  

Aaron-Lopez, who creates under the moniker “King Carla,” said the pandemic put everything on pause, but this summer seemed like the right time to launch.  

“I decided to create it because I really didn’t have any connections to more Black women artists in Charlotte,” she said. “We want to give these six women a chance to voice their opinions, show the world what they see and be celebrated for the work they create.”

The up-and-coming artists include Jessica Dunston, Mara Robbin, Kalin Devone, Jamea Marlowe, Jamila Brown and Wabwila Mugala. Their artwork ranges from charcoal portraits to photography to painting.  

Aaron-Lopez, along with BLKMRKTCLT co-owner Will Jenkins, learned about the artists through word-of-mouth. None had experienced solo exhibitions, which presented an opportunity to support the beginning of the young creatives’ art careers.  

“When you’re an artist, especially an artist of color, it can be difficult to start. You may not know where to start or how to break through those doors,” Aaron-Lopez said. 

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Self-taught photographer Jessica Dunston will be Nu Growth’s first featured artist with her exhibition, “Fluorescent Brown.” The analog photographer focuses on capturing the beauty of brown skin under fluorescent lighting. Growing up, she dealt with issues of colorism and accepting the beauty of her own skin.  

Photographer Jessica Dunston. Credit: Mike Byrd

“Once I got around to loving my skin, it was just the focal point,” she said. “For this show, I’m highlighting a lot of Black subjects of all shades and playing on the name ‘Fluorescent Brown’ because I see Black skin and Brown skin as fluorescent.”

Over the past year, Charlotte has been shifting to create a more equitable cultural sector. Dunston, a production engineer by day, wasn’t tapped into Charlotte’s arts and culture scene until she picked up photography as a side gig last year. She believes the city is increasing its representation.  

“Black art created by Black people gives a different lens. A different lens than what may be popular out there in the art world. I think it’s important for Black people to be able to create art that is for us and by us,” she said.

Jessica Dunston on location during a photoshoot. Credit: Bryant Lindsey

Aaron-Lopez hopes to create a community of strong Black female artists and continue showcasing newcomers.  

“To be able to see their style — and how it differs from others across the city — is what makes creating this future we’re walking toward a reality,” she said.

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“Nu Growth” runs through Aug. 6 at the BLKMRKTCLT studio at Camp North End, 1824 Statesville Ave., Ste. 106. Viewings are from 6 – 9 p.m. Here’s the series lineup:

  • July 9 – “Fluorescent Brown,” Jessica Dunston, analog photography. RSVP  
  • July 16 – “Intimate Chaos,” Mara Robbin, mixed media using collage and photography. RSVP  
  • July 23 – “Local Honey,” Kalin Devone, oil and acrylic paintings. RSVP  
  • July 30 – “Lost, Found & Freed,” Jamea Marlowe, charcoal and acrylic paintings. RSVP  
  • Aug 6 – “Art by Nature,” Jamila Brown and Wabwila Mugala, mixed media using fabrics and textiles. RSVP  

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