Racial tension in our society is nothing new. Today we see the rise of Black Lives Matter in response to violence against black Americans, the removal of statues considered racially insensitive and charged demonstrations for and against racial equality.
How are artists affected by these issues?
At “Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future,” a Black History Month art exhibit in Margate, a diverse collection of local black American artists sheds light on that question.
Abstract and conceptual portraits are on display next to murals and sculptures, some brightly colored, some in muted tones. Each work of art conveys a message that speaks to the black experience. The messages run the spectrum from anger and despair to love and rebirth.
Some of the artists featured in the Holtzman Gallery at the Milton and Betty Katz Jewish Community Center talked about their work and how it reflects today’s world.
“I use my art as a vehicle for social justice and change,” said Kelley Prevard, an Atlantic City artist who draws her inspiration from Jacob Lawrence and Carol Walker. Prevard’s paintings are bold and tackle issues such as gender, race and beauty standards in society.
“In the world that we live in, the racial tension that we sometimes see does deeply affect the work that I do,” Prevard said. “As a person of color, I think the heaviness of race is a very heavy load to bear, so it can’t help but come through the art that we create.”
John Morris, a mixed-media artist, is presenting a collection of engaging portraits, some abstract, some Andy Warhol-esque. His fascination with faces of pop figures and sports legends, along with some of his own creation, often comes from music, he said. Morris’ favorite portrait on display is a painting of Kendrick Lamar, a work that developed after playing his music for hours.
“His music moved me to create,” Morris said.
And that’s where he is content to explore his craft.
“The recent tension that we see in the media, I don’t let it affect my art at all,” Morris said. Although he said he believes all artists should follow the voice that’s important to them, “My art comes from a different place.”
Nastassia Davis, a fine-art conceptual photographer also from Atlantic City, uses herself as the subject. The influences of some of her favorite artists, Carrie Mae Weems and Cindy Sherman, is apparent in her photographs.
Using herself as a model was out of necessity at first, but struck the right chord in her visual storytelling.
“I did not have a model to work with immediately,” she said. “I know myself the best and I knew I would be the best subject to get the idea out. It’s not about me. I no longer see Nastassia Davis anymore. I just see the concept that I’m trying to portray.”
Davis said she is deeply affected by racism seen today. While themes stemming from racial unrest can be seen in some of her work, she does not incorporate societal issues in all of her work. But it is a force that has deep meaning for her as an artist and a woman of color.
“A true artist who is in tune to things that are going on around them should talk about these things in their artwork,” she contends.
The show at the the Katz JCC runs through March 4 and also features South Jersey artists Kimberly Camp and Valeria J. Marcus. A meet-and-greet reception with the artists will be held 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday with remarks by Rabbi David Weis, of Congregation Beth Israel, and Atlantic City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz. There will also be live music featuring the Eddie Morgan Trio.
“It not only pays respect to black history but also celebrates the creative innovations of the future,” David Holtzman, the art gallery’s owner, said of the exhibit.