The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture will open an exhibition on Saturday that will showcase the works of 25 contemporary artists from North and South Carolina — one of a few exhibitions in the center’s history to feature such a large number of artists.
The exhibition, titled “Visual Vanguard: An Exhibition of Contemporary Black Carolina Artists,” was curated by North Carolina artists Stephen Hayes and David Wilson.
Plans for a show that features an all-Carolinas lineup of contemporary artists was first discussed last year, said Gantt Center President and CEO David Taylor.
The Gantt Center’s timing was no coincidence. A preview of the exhibition revealed a number of works that seem to reflect the messaging and energy that fueled last year’s nationwide protest following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police office.
Three contemporary portraits by North Carolina artist William Paul Thomas, each named to reflect a mother-son relationship, bear witness to the individuality and humanity that Black men in America too often are denied.
“This exhibition gave the Gantt an opportunity to share the breadth of creativity in our region and embrace the full power of the arts to engage the community,” Taylor told QCity Metro in a recent interview.
“It’s important that we lift up some of our emerging artists across the Carolinas who are doing amazing work,” he added. “We want to continue making sure that they are getting introduced to the art world.”
The exhibition also features two works by Charlotte-born artist Marcus Kiser, whose murals, multimedia, and digital illustrations are often infused with Afro-futurism. The works on display in the “Visual Vanguard” exhibition, he said, takes an Afro-futurism approach with a focus on Black mental health.
“They all revolved just around the mental space of young Black men,“ he said. “I draw Black folks in the future. I put Black people in different scenarios, and that future they’re in, I link that to the past.”
Christopher Johnson, who goes by the name KOLPEACE, said he used fire to create one of his featured pieces, which he titled “Brothers and Sisters Sang.” He said the piece gives viewers a glimpse at what he witnessed growing up in Columbia, South Carolina.
“It’s a symbolic meaning of what we saw in the cut,” he said. “There are houses boarded up without windows, clothes hanging from a line…cars on bricks.”
Winston-Salem photographer Endia Beal’s contribution to the exhibition is a large photograph of civil rights activist Rev. William Barber II at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh — an image featured in Time Magazine as one of the “Best Portraits of 2020.”
“When you see this portrait of Rev. Barber, you can’t help but get a sense of his determination and his perseverance,” Beal said.
“Visual Vanguard” will be the first Gantt Center exhibition to operate under a six-day schedule since the start of the Covid pandemic. The center will host its formal unveiling on August 28.
To protect visitors, the center is operating under the North Carolina Covid-19 guidelines. Visitors are asked to practice social distancing, and those not fully vaccinated are asked to wear a mask.
Here’s a list of the artist included in the exhibition:
- Carla Aaron-Lopez
- Endia Beal
- Dare Coulter
- Steven M. Cozart
- de’Angelo Dia
- Janelle Dunlap
- André Leon Gray
- Clarence Heyward
- Percy King
- Marcus Kiser
- Georgie Nakima
- Dimeji Onafuwa
- Jermaine Powell
- Lakeshia T. Reid
- Sheldon Scott
- Beverly Y. Smith
- William Paul Thomas
- Telvin Wallace
- Torreah “Cookie” Washington
- Tony Weaver
- Aniqua Wilkerson
- Antoine Williams
- Jason Woodberry
- Stephanie J. Woods