What does it mean to be black in America? What are the unique lived experiences of African-Americans here and now, who are balancing the weight of the past, the work of the present, and the hope for the future? Those are some of the themes discussed among five Atlanta-based artists last weekend who gathered at the Steffen Thomas Museum of Art (STMA) for a special symposium.
The event was the culmination of the 5 Perspectives exhibit, which featured the diverse artwork of five artists, Kevin Cole, Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier, Kevin Sipp, Shanequa Gay, and Alfred Conteh, at both the STMA and the Morgan County African American Museum. There is still time to see this compelling exhibit, which will be on display at both museums until March 17.
The artists gathered Saturday afternoon ready to discuss the complex tapestry of race, culture, religion, history, and personal experience that colors their artwork.
“All five artists had much to say about social issues, their personal journeys towards success in the art world, how dreams meet reality — and sometimes clash, said Patricia DuBose, of the STMA. “It was an open and lively discussion about so much that is relevant, whether you’re an artist or not. It was wonderful to see such important topics being discussed here at the Museum. Increasingly, museums are being challenged to be more than just a passive purveyor of art and artifacts, but to be a civic anchor and a community gathering place. Saturday’s discussion was an example of exactly that and we look forward to more events on this level.”
“The round table discussion was a wonderful culmination for the 5 Perspectives exhibit. We were able to see who the artist were and hear their stories. We were able to relate the artist to their work,” said Cheryl Bland, Director of the MCAAM. “It was a fantastic community event. We look forward to collaborating to the STMA for many more events to come.”
Lynn Marshall-Linnemeier has built her art around telling the lesser known histories of the rural south.
“History is usually told by the dominant culture,” said Linnemeier during Saturday’s forum. “But I wanted to look on the other side of things and tell those stories.”
“I wanted to show where black folks are now, just as they are, but also show the stresses black folks endure 24-hours a day, every single day of the year—being exposed to systemic pressures on a daily basis.” said Alfred Conteh of his work on display.
Shanequa Gay explained her use of Greek and Roman mythology styles mixed with hip-hop culture to create imagery intended to “collapse hierarchies” in humanity and uplift unconventional notions of beauty in America.
“I wanted to dart away from European standards of beauty and show something else,” said Gay.
Kevin Sipp uses art to explore the common “core” of world religions.
“There is a certain core base to every faith in the world and if you can get beyond the racism, sexism, tribalism, you can find that core,” explained Sipp.
Kevin Cole spoke about transformative moments in his life, including narrowly escaping being in New York City on the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Stories told by his community about lynchings against black people also influenced Cole’s artwork.
“I wanted to show how things have been while moving beyond that,” said Cole.
The exhibit incorporated a myriad of artistic styles, including painting, sculptures, photographs, and textiles.
According to the STMA and MCAAM, all of these artistic styles “boldly embrace universal themes while exploring specific aspects of the human journey—the search for identity, the long for home, the power of spirituality, and the importance of family connections.”
Linnemeier, an Atlanta-based photographer, painter and writer, specializes in documenting people and places of The South since the late 1980s. According to her bio, with numerous prestigious awards under her belt, Linnemeier focuses on “producing prints and documenting dialogue between women from around the world to confront issues in the new millennium. Linnemeier is “a visual mythologist, a memory keeper. She is guided by the idea of the journey, unmapped spaces and the magic that occurs when one goes looking for history and ancestors.”
Kevin Cole, a consultant for the Savannah College of Art and Design who designed a Coca-Cola Centennial Olympic mural for the 1996 Olympics, has earned an impressive amount of awards and grants over a 30-plus year career, as well as landing his artwork in over 470 exhibits across the world. His work is even featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Yale University Art Gallery, and in the Washington Post. “My work has evolved from the use of the necktie as an icon, motif, and symbol of power. The works incorporate patterns and textures from traditional African cloths such as the Kente and Adinkra cloths, cloths that speak to human conditions and behaviors,” wrote Cole. “Throughout all of my work, I continue to investigate the existence of polyrhythmic space and overlapping planes, the raw emotional power of color and texture. In these recent works I have includes scarf shapes that represent the struggles of women. These shapes weave and intertwine around linear painted rods. The rods for me, symbolize strength. After September 11, 2001 I started working on aluminum and (tar) roofing paper as a protest against this American tragedy. In some of the recent small works I utilize the ends of the ties and scarf shapes intergraded with abstract pattern and various kinds of textures. Some critics say these pieces remind them of picket fences which are prevalent in the south with a strong connection to southern plantations.”
Kevin Sipp, a Florida-native, boasts of an impressive 20-year career that has landed many of his works in exhibits across the county and across the globe. He specializes in printmaking, painting, sculpting, and multi-media installation. He is currently the curator at the City of Atlanta’s Gallery 72.
“My work emerges through the layering and remixing of the visual, literary and sonic production of the African Diaspora,” explained Sipp. “It is important to me that I upend the limited box of signifiers that often come to be called black culture. By freely using symbols and signs from various world spiritual traditions, I pay simultaneous homage to the African roots of my heritage and the impact of the world on that heritage.”
Shanequa Gay, an Atlanta native, exhibited her artwork in prestigious museums, colleges, and utilized in film and television.
According to her bio, “Gay has drawn praise and critical acclaim for her depictions of southern life and black women. Her current work, The FAIR GAME Project, is art as advocacy which challenges the unyielding violence and injustices committed in America and across the globe against the black body.”
Alfred Conteh, another Atlanta-based artist uses his platform to focus on justice for the African-American people.
“This body of work is a visual exploration of how African diasporal societies in the south are fighting social, economic, educational and psychological wars from within and without to survive,” wrote Conteh of his “Two Fronts” series. “The honest and false narratives of history embodied in this series are primarily personified in patinated colossuses that commemorate the people, culture, and battles that the populations they tower over have fought and continue to fight. We are at war on two fronts.”
To find out more information about this event or how you can help fund it, contact Patricia Dubose at the STMA at (706) 342-7557 or Cheryl Bland at (706) 342-9191.