By Rhiannon Leigh
Cambridge, Mass. – There is still time to enjoy Lesley University’s current exhibition, “Black History Matters 365,” running now through March 5 at the VanderNoot Gallery. This exhibit will have you engaging with the artwork and leave you engaging with the world around you. “Black History Matters 365” is an exhibition you don’t want to miss.
The show features seven artists of color including Paul Goodnight, Lawrence Pierce, Destiny Palmer, Cedric Douglas, L’Merchie Frazier, Shea Justice and a Lesley alumnus, Percy Fortini-Wright, who organized the show.
Each artist has an extensive background in art and a decorated resume, including Destiny Palmer, who co-founded Traditions Remixed, an artist collective who strives to create an encouraging community for young artists and Paul Goodnight, who has traveled throughout the world in order to gain experience and inspiration. Goodnight’s work has also been featured in popular film and television, including Seinfeld, The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air; Fortini-Wright has had his art published in the New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Improper Bostonian and Artscope.
Through various forms of media, such as portraiture, abstract art, graffiti and street art, the exhibition includes a versatile body of art work that focuses on Black History Month and the Black Lives Matter movement that has recently reawakened our nation. The exhibition is comprised of different interpretations of injustices as well as individual presentations of what Black culture means to them and encourages the viewer to question social injustices that are still present in our world today.
The work that these artists created is astonishing, thought provoking and inspiring. Each piece has a story to tell, with many works commemorating the lives of people of color who have been killed. While many works honor the lives of historical, paramount figures that include Martin Luther King Jr., Isaac Hayes, Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells, Cedric Douglas focuses on the more recent deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and John Crawford. One of his exhibited works feature police street memorial signs made from fabricated objects and depicts each man’s full name and preceded by “R.I.P” and states the year of birth and year of death. Below the signs the exhibit displays another work of Douglas’. At first glance the untangled rolls of police tape seem like an obvious statement until the viewer looks closer and realized they have a much darker meaning. Rather than warning “DO NOT CROSS” the tapes state “I CAN’T BREATHE,” “IT’S NOT REAL” and “DON’T SHOOT,” the last words of three of the men mentioned in the work directly above.
“Constitution Traditions” by Shea Justice also has a much darker meaning once the viewer takes a closer look at the piece. Black and white images of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells are featured on top of the preamble of the United States Constitution. Newspaper clippings overlap the text to bring light to the overshadowed rights of people of color in America. The overlapping text brings light to the injustices and inequality in America, including the phrases “Uncovering white privilege,” “the racism of the U.S. justice system” and “Not just Freddie Gray: Others who died in police custody,” bringing attention to recurring police violence.
Paul Goodnight’s “If I Wasn’t Your Daughter Would You Still Love Me?” is one of the most colorful pieces in the show, but again has a darker meaning regarding race and relationships, even the sometimes complicated relationship between parent and child. This work is comprised of acrylic on panel and contrasts bright yellows with darker purples and blues and creates an abstract image of intertwining relationships. Not only visually beautiful, Goodnight’s works encourage the viewer to look deeper at seemingly beautiful images and become aware of darker, more complicated undertones.
L’Merchie Frazier depicts Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an African-American abolitionist, suffragist and poet in her work, “The Bronze Muse: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1912),” which honors the importance of women in the Black history. This image depicts Harper with light shining behind her, reminiscent of artworks of Mary and displaying just how important this woman is to the abolitionist and suffragist movements, as well as an artist in her own medium of poetry.
“Black History Matters 365” features works by seven prestigious artists and gives us personal insight into their lives. Displays of struggles, successes and current struggles are portrayed in each work displayed in the exhibit and encourage the viewer to think about Black history and to acknowledge the injustices that are still taking places today. These works represent Black history and culture, the Black Lives Matter movement and each artist individually.
(“Black History Matters 365” continues through March 5, 2016 at the VanderNoot Gallery at Lesley University, 1815 Massachusetts Ave, Porter Square, Cambridge, Mass. The gallery is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from noon-5 p.m. and Thursday from 3-8 p.m. The gallery is closed on Sunday and Monday. For more information, call (617) 585-6656.)