Criminal Justice Gallery
Sep 01 2015 - Jul 19 2016
See State of the Art NJ’s feature on “I Might Be Next”
In the midst of recent headlines about unarmed Black individuals killed by white police officers, Newark artists Jerry Gant and Bryant Lebron are investigating the Black experience with criminal justice in modern America.
Newark historian and artist Nell Painter writes:
Wonderful things about being black abound, from the physical to the cultural to the social. Blackness is beautiful in the body, the skin, the vigor that shows in muscle and sinew. (Let us here praise Serena Williams.) Beauty in the music and the poetry and the art. (Let us here praise 2Pac and Duke Ellington and Elizabeth Alexander and Kara Walker and Stanley Whitney.) And the beautifully almost un-American sense of solidarity.
I want to talk about solidarity, as Bryant Lebron depicts it, and solidarity as Jerry Gant depicts the sadness when it is missed.
That sense of community—of solidarity, of being connected over time and space and even clashingly different experiences—distinguishes Americans of African descent from the mainstream loudly proclaiming its individualism, stony, self-reliant individualism. But we who have been so persistently lumped together, discriminated against, even beaten as embodiments of a group, have long embraced our group identity. Solidarity has been our talisman, our key to sanity within an insane system of racial denigration. Where would we be without our peers to reassure us that we were not insane? How to survive as an isolated individual, when individualism would condemn a single person to insanity. No, individualism does not serve us when we are mistreated as part of a group. Solidarity has saved the sanity of most of us, even though legions have fallen victim to racism’s insanity.
In these times, the weekly drumbeat of murder turns solidarity into an endlessly renewed grief, as a person is killed as each week goes by. We may be personally safe. But our solidarity connects us, week by week, to each murdered black person. “That could have been me,” we feel, we say, each time another loses her or his life senselessly. This cruelty stretches back farther than Bryant Lebron says. In my mid-twentieth-century generation, it was the vicious torture-murder-drowning of Emmett Till in 1955. Then it was the three young men in Freedom Summer of 1964. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense began in 1966 to combat anti-black police brutality. Each of the urban uprisings of the twentieth-century began with the fact or rumor of police brutality. In each instance, we mourn the victims in racial solidarity and in the knowledge that it could have been me. It could have been me, walking down the street in a hoodie with Skittles in my hand. It could have been me avoiding the overgrown sidewalk. It could have been me in the dark stairway or in the street selling loose cigarettes. It even could have been me inviting the stranger into our prayer meeting. It could have been me changing lanes without signaling and smoking in my car. Yes. In solidarity, I know it could have been me.
Nell Painter, Newark, New Jersey, July 2015
Apr 04 2016 - Apr 04 2017
This exhibition is located in the Department of African American and African Studies & History at Rutgers University-Newark, Conklin Hall 3rd floor, 175 University Ave, Newark NJ 07102
Seed Galleries – A New Initiative
The purpose of the Seed Galleries is integration: of spaces, of voices, and of intellectual/aesthetic disciplines. Each for the five year-long pop-up exhibitions will appear in a non-art space in order to enhance Rutgers’ academic environment by expanding on the ways in which knowledge can be acquired outside the classroom. Seed Galleries will be established through the collaborative efforts of those within and without the University context, will highlight the relevance of visual literacy in understanding our intellectual landscape, and will provide platforms for voices that historically may have been excluded from the History of Art or recognized academic pursuit.
This exhibition was made possible by funding from Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s Seed Grant Initiative.
Opening reception Tuesday April 12 @ 6pm
324 Conklin Hall, 175 University Ave, Newark NJ
Free and open to everyone.
Curated by Adrienne Wheeler
Ade Bunmi Gbadebo writes: “Historically, the dominant legacy of paint has not been inclusive of people who look like me, so I in return excluded paint from my practice. This decision to abandon paint forced me to adopt a material that was connected to my culture, history, and identity. This material was human Black hair. My material is my people. Not only is Black hair dripping with cultural and historical content, but also human hair is DNA, which makes it tangible information. I purposely do not solely address women’s issues within the Black hair community, such as the perm and weave epidemic, because the historical issues involving hair impact men as much as they do women. I aim for my work to be genderless, so that men too can see themselves in my work.
“Before the Atlantic slave trade, many African cultures believed that a person’s spirit resided in his or her hair because hair was the closest part of the body to God. ‘One of the first things slave traders did to their human cargo was shave their head…which to the African was tantamount to erasing one’s identity”’ (Tharps).
“Informed by this heritage, I enact very little manipulation into my material. Instead I organize the hair, letting the material speak for itself. I am more interested in manipulating and conducting small acts of vandalism to Western materials. In Black Gold, the hair does not share with the white canvas, instead it overwhelms it. In this piece I replace my paintbrush with a needle stabbing the canvas, and interjecting my own medium, establishing a new definition of ‘a painting”’ In Dada I puncture ‘white walls’ and insert erect locks at heights that force the viewer to look up to Black hair, both physically and metaphorically. The hair invades not only the wall’s surface, but also the physical space.
“Ironically, my decision to let the hair speak for itself, has put my work in direct conversation with the very history I am trying to reject. I am in dialogue between my work and Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist, and color field painting, and I have embraced this reality. How the Abstract Expressionists used scale, the proportions of the rectangle, how they emphasized the viewer’s experience of the painting, are all devices I incorporate in my work.
“David Hammons is an artist I am influenced by, not only because he uses Black hair– but how he uses materials intrinsic to Black culture, and how he pushes the viewer to reconsider art with a big ‘A’. El Anatsui’s work has also been a major influence. That he takes a single item and proliferates it to produce majestic works is my analogous to taking a single strand of hair from one person and uniting that hair with thousands of other strands.
“I have to relinquish control in my process. I do not know from whom or what type of hair I will receive. I cannot force the hair to do what it will not. I have to listen and submit to the hair and allow it to speak and through this ongoing Ade Series I aim to have it speak to viewers through the canon of art.”
Ade Bunmi has been a featured artist in Glocally Newark’s website and has exhibited at Newark Open Doors, the Jacob Javits Center, and other venues in New York and New Jersey. In addition to her artistic practice, she is involved in volunteer and activist work on subjects such as literacy, race, and inhumane conditions in prisons.