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Black Artists on Art

The Legacy Exhibit

March 29, 2016

The Black Arts movement of the 1960s sought to expose the work of black artists that explored the distinct culture and experience of African American life. In 1969, Dr. Samella Lewis published the first anthology of black art, which had previously been rejected or ignored by museums and fine art galleries in America. Over forty years later, Lewis’s work has been resurrected by her grandson, Unity Lewis. The Black Artists on Art exhibit seeks to preserve and to continue commemorating this multiple-generation legacy with a display of 36 artists in a number of different mediums.

   The exhibit begins with a brief overview from Unity Lewis about the importance of the movement for the black community.

  “We are still a marginalized people whose historical contribution is not properly taught in  schools,” wrote Lewis. “Our accomplishments are undermined, while our creative genius is routinely plagiarized.”   The exhibit is divided into sections to symbolize each generation of black art. The first section is “The Legacy”; it displays art and anthologies from the earliest generation of black artists. These artists were prolific during the Black Power movement, and their works reflect the harrowing conditions of that time — graphite sketches, lithograph illustrations and pen and ink depictions of black lives in poverty and distress. Each piece is accompanied by the artist’s explanation or reflection of their work.

  The second section is devoted to the artists instrumental in producing the past and upcoming volumes of Black Artists on Art. Whereas the art from The Legacy was predominantly lithographic (printing using oil and water), “The Lineage” section is expressed through a variety of art mediums. Oil paintings and pastel colors express the strength and endurance of family, question the white-washed definition of beauty in today’s society, and illustrate both the struggles and the achievements that artists of color went through.

  The final section is dedicated to “The Longevity” of the movement, and features the work of artists who will appear in up and coming black anthologies. There is the collage piece that pays tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.; three starkly colored abstract paintings that make a statement about a lifetime of violence and oppression; and perhaps the most chilling piece of the show, a sculpture of a man crouched over the ground, head bent, arms stretched out and clasped as if in prayer.

   The Black Artists on Art exhibit encompasses the depth and breadth of the Black Artists movement, despite displaying work from only a fraction of the black artists. There is power in every piece with deep roots in African American culture, history, and hardship. One may return to the précis (summary) of the show, written by the artistic curator Unity Lewis, for a final takeaway of the exhibit.

   “It is now, as it has always been, up to us to protect and preserve our legacy, culture, and story,” wrote Lewis. “We take on this responsibility so that future generations will understand, with accuracy, the heritage that so many of our heroes have sacrificed their lives to bequeath to us.”

   The Black Artists on Art exhibit will be featured at the Petaluma Art Center, located on 230 Lakeville Street, through November 22.

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