We like art, and we like to see people doing good things, making a difference. We’ve been glad this holiday month to read about artists who manage to do both at once.
Several area artists, some connected to Stockton University, use their creations to provoke awareness of social-justice issues.
Kelley Prevard, of Atlantic City, says she tries “to challenge longstanding beliefs of gender, beauty and race.” Her painting “Patterns of Oppression” placed first at October’s “Focus on Economic Inequality” exhibit at the Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University in Atlantic City. The work combines an arresting depiction of a black woman staring with a mix of concern, anger and disturbed care bordering on horror, set against a background pattern of a 19th century racial caricature.
Ahkil Katyal, a professor in India and a visiting poet at Stockton, says his writing can’t help but respond to his homeland’s “deeply misogynist, homophobic and Islamophobic government.” Poetry can capture “the malaise, the disease of the times,” he says.
Nick Rayment’s very personal photographs of his brother’s battle with cystic fibrosis try to balance art and advocacy. The goal, he says, is to heal himself and help others heal.
Tyrone Hart’s art appeared on the cover of an important historic work about his city, “The Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City,” by Nelson Johnson. Hart uses his art to engage his audience on race relations, social justice in America and the black experience.
Prevard says activist artists have to “be unafraid to make people too uncomfortable.” Another local artist takes an opposite approach, providing homeless and disadvantaged women with a comfortable, safe place to re-engage the world themselves.
Dorrie Papademetriou’s nonprofit MudGirls Studio shows art itself can be the change for the better. Working a few times a week in a space provided by St. Michael’s Church in Atlantic City, the women design and create lovely pottery — transforming clay into a source of pride and a little income.
Papademetriou’s art has often had an element of social benefit. In 2009, she and patients at the Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation created an art-therapy work, “Hope Takes Flight,” a large bird soaring toward the sun. In 2014, she helped design an 88-foot mural for an Atlantic City community garden. She met many of the MudGirls women teaching ceramics at a day shelter for the homeless in Atlantic City, Adelaide’s Place.
One of the women said the work on bowls, ornaments, plates and vases gives them motivation and lifts their spirits. Another teared up at the impressive display of the group’s work at the recent fair-trade gift show at Stockton, where pieces sold briskly.
There are so many ways to be generous, charitable, helpful and move society forward. We think it’s especially wonderful when it’s done with artistic beauty.