Group exhibition features artists inspired and given opportunities by “Black Panther”

Bryan Moss hadn't realized it at the time, but every time he went to see “Black Panther” in the theater, he was with white males.

“It's funny to think about now, but then you realize that, with the crowds who were seeing it and the dialogues you would have about it, that everyone was celebrating it,” Moss said. “When that happens, you know it's bigger than one thing, that the movie has been impactful for everyone.”

Of course, the comic book character on which the film is based has been around for more than 50 years, and has been an inspiration to comic book fans and would-be artists since well before this year's blockbuster film.

So the King Arts Complex, with Moss' help, is taking the opportunity provided by the film's success to point out this history. “The Black Panther: Celebrating 50+ Years of Black Superheroes” is a bit of fan art, for sure, but it's more than that. The exhibition is also a representation of the kind of work that happens when doors are opened.

“I guess it's a kind of post-‘Black Panther' exhibition, from the impact that the film has had as a cultural phenomenon,” said Moss, who co-curated the exhibition with King Arts Complex Cultural Arts Director Lyn Logan-Grimes. “There's a lot of talent here in Columbus and nationally that I wanted to shine a light on — creatives who work through narrative. If you can leverage ‘Black Panther' to your advantage in the art community, why wouldn't you? It's capitalizing in a positive way. It's saying, ‘Yeah, this is awesome. Let me show you a bunch of other awesome artists as well.' Or, ‘You like “Black Panther?” Well check this out.'”

The exhibition will feature art both directly and indirectly inspired by “Black Panther,” and will include a wide variety of work, from book covers to paintings to prints to animation made by creatives who, like comic book artists, work in narrative forms.

“The goal is to show the range that happens when you're looking at who's doing quality work,” Moss said. “A lot of people don't know these [artists] do this other stuff, because sometimes it's hiding under their bed and they don't show anyone.”

“I think when people hear ‘comic book art,' they just assume comic book panels, but that doesn't include all of it,” said local artist Hakim Callwood, who's helping Moss organize the exhibition. “It's just natural that this show would include more than just panels and sketches. There are comic book artists who are also painters. There are people who write comic books who also write novels and plays.”

“I can just pull their comic art, but I wanted to show that comic creators do all this other stuff, to basically be like a bridge between the fine art world and comic art,” Moss said.

The exhibition is also “post-‘Black Panther'” in that it recognizes the representation and empowerment that come with that kind of attention.

“There were black comic book artists out there doing their thing that I didn't know were black until I met them,” said Columbus artist Uko Smith, who contributed work to the exhibition. “So it's important that people see you working and trying to make your way. You realize how important it is that you do help others, especially when it comes to young black artists.”

The notion of representation extends beyond race, Moss said, when considering the history of comic book art is largely that of male artists. So Moss made sure to include artists such as Ketura Bobo, Gabby Metzler and Raeghan Barron in the exhibition.

“Comics are notorious for being made by males. I wanted that representation,” Moss said. He then added, “The good news is, in the Columbus art scene, that just kind of happens.”

“Celebrating 50+ Years of Black Superheroes” opens with a reception Thursday evening, April 19, at the King Arts Complex. The show will remain on view through August 4 in the Elijah Pierce Gallery.

Other artists featured include Annie Burley, Victor Dandridge, Sophie Harpo, Kaycee Nwakudu, Alissa Sallah, Ronald Wimberly, Okelle Lee and more.

“I hope people don't think it's only a retrospective of ‘Black Panther,'” Moss said. “It's definitely about celebrating these artists.”