By Tia Lynn Ivey
As part of the ongoing Black Heritage and Brotherhood of Men, The Steffen Thomas Museum of Art (STMA) hosted a symposium “Crossing Color Lines, Past and Present” last Saturday with participating artists to discuss the black experience in America and those experiences have shaped their artwork.
Debuting on Feb. 1, the “Black Heritage and the Brotherhood of Man is the Steffen Thomas Museum of Art’s annual exhibition showcasing contemporary African American artists in Georgia. The legacy of Steffen Thomas is both as an artist and advocate of equality and unity. Participating artists will exhibit work that both celebrates the African American experience and creates thoughtful dialog concerning social and political themes.”
Hosts of the Podcast Studio Noize Jamaal Barber and Jasmine Nichole Williams moderated the panel comprised of Kevin Cole, Grace Kisa, Michael Boyd Roman, Don Roman, STMA Board President and collector, Tatiana Veneruso, education curator for the STMA and Jamele Wright Sr.
“We are truly pleased and amazed that we have such a wonderful turnout today,” said Don Roman at the opening of the event. “You are certainly the manifestation of what my vision was in terms of the work as we as museum and board have before us to really help illuminate the legacy of Steffen Thomas but also the work he was about during his lifetime.”
Don Roman described Steffen Thomas as a “champion of equality and the brotherhood of man…Today, we would call it diversity and inclusion.”
“He used his power and privilege to help artists of color,” said Veneruso, the education curator at the STMA. “He believed in the rights of all people and representation of all people. We honor that.”
The artists on the panel discussed a variety of topics on what it means to be black in America and across the world and how various cultures influenced their art.
Kevin Cole draws from the tragic experiences of Sept. 11 Terrorist Attacks and Hurricane Katrina when creating some of his art. He discovered art as a language originally.
“I got into the arts because of my speech impediment, when something went wrong I’d make a piece of artwork…That became my platform for speaking. If I made art I wouldn’t have to say anything,” said Cole.
Michael Boyd Roman draws from the experiences of his own life and, as an educator, the experiences of his students.
“I have come to better understand myself through the experiences of my students. My work is a reflection of something that I needed to say or not say to one of my students–it’s a way of trying to make art relevant to and through my students,” said Michael Boyd Roman.
Grace Kisa, who was born in Kenya and lived in multiple African countries and cities across America throughout her life, uses all the rich cultural influences she’s experienced to create her sculptures and art pieces.
This expansion of the definition of blackness,” said Kisa of being exposed to black culture in multiple countries. “My experience is from my background as a third culture kid living in all of these communities.”
Kisa said when she moved to the South, it was a “culture” shock, flattening all the diversity she knew into just black or white.
“Everything was defined in terms of black and white…distilling all those cultures down to black and white,” said Kisa.
Jamele Wright Sr. looks to the past in order to create something in as a means of hope.
“As African-Americans, sometimes we like to speak from a space of what we don’t have but I work hard to speak about the gifts that I have had,” said Wright.
This event and the Black Heritage and the Brotherhood of Man exhibition are sponsored by Art Associates Atlanta. Charles Bonner, CPA, STAR of Georgia, LP Steven and Kathy Whitworth.
The exhibit will be on display through March 28. The STMA will hold more special events in conjunction with the exhibit. Next up is “Standing Together, An Evening of Performance” on Saturday, March 14 at 4 p.m. This family-friendly event will feature hip-hop dancing performed by Linqua Franqa, also known as Mariah Parker, a University of Georgia Linguistic Doctoral Student and a Clarke County Commissioner. Poetry will be read by Jamele Wright Sr., whose art is also featured in the exhibit. A formal Tea Ceremony will be conducted by Tea Master Brandon Sadler, another one of the artists, who is an African-American-Asian man, famous for creating the murals and posters for the movie “Black Panther.”