Three exhibitions unveiled on July 18 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Art + Culture reflect the center’s “Art as Activism” programming theme this year.
Michael Harris, an artist, scholar and professor at Emory University, curated exhibits on the AfriCOBRA art collective and Elizabeth Catlett. “This series of exhibitions right now provides a nexus for me that has not happened before, because as a curator and scholar I bring certain things to the table, but I’m also here as an artist,” Harris said.
▪ “AfriCOBRA Now: An Aesthetic Reflection,” which runs through Dec. 31, is a retrospective examining the AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists) art collective founded in Chicago in 1968.
Harris, who joined the collective as an artist in 1979, said AfriCOBRA’s longevity and collaborative style are noteworthy. The exhibit demonstrates the movement’s evolution over more than 40 years: Kool-Aid colors and shine appear in early work by the founders, while new members’ work from the past decade is more abstract.
▪ “Charlotte Collects Elizabeth Catlett: A Centennial Celebration,” through Dec. 31, celebrates the 100th anniversary of Catlett’s birth by compiling pieces from the Gantt’s permanent collection and pieces on loan from local collections.
The artist and sculptor, whose career spans more than 70 years, taught high school in Durham for a short time after graduating from Howard University and before pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts. Catlett’s work reflected her strong political positions, depicting heroic, everyday black women and honoring figures like Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X. The exhibit includes two of Catlett’s sculptures, and viewers can compare the photograph that inspired “Survivor” to the lithograph itself.
▪ “Intergalactic Soul,” through Sept. 27, features Sci-Fi themed art with underlying activist messages from two local artists: Jason Woodberry, 32, and Marcus Kiser, 37. Woodberry and Kiser collaborate – often drawing inspiration from hip-hop lyrics – to create “digestible” art. “You like cheesecake, but you need broccoli,” Woodberry said. “Our idea is to take those nutritious foods and make them taste like cheesecake.”
The collection follows two black youths, Pluto and Astro, traveling through the universe encountering racism in the form of “Jim Crow Robots” and tackling questions about their own potential, power, and responsibility. Woodberry and Kiser are currently working on turning their work into a graphic novel.
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