Exhibition takes inspiration from 100th anniversary of start of the Harlem Renaissance
There's a feeling growing inside the Vanderelli Room, the Franklinton gallery/performing art space operated by AJ Vanderelli. Most of the work for “The Renegades of Renaissance X,” a Harlem Renaissance-inspired exhibition that opens with a reception during Franklinton Friday on June 8, has been delivered, if not yet hung, and Vanderelli gushes with admiration for the art and the artists who made it.
There's a mixed-media assemblage by Queen Brooks that's going to challenge some world views. There are cut-out panel portraits by Richard Duarte Brown, like Brooks, a legend in the Columbus art community and its black art community in particular. Ronald Anderson offers a misty paean to Harlem Renaissance-era life and culture. Lisa McLymont bridges eras with a portrait of Harlem Renaissance artist Lois Mailou Jones in a #MeToo T-shirt. Marcus Blackwell shows his Afrofuturism-inspired work. Then there are intense portrayals of human grandeur from Na'ye Perez and David Butler. A late addition to the exhibition arrives courtesy of a piece live-painted by young artist Keian Hochradel during last weekend's African-American Festival.
That aforementioned feeling comes from, Vanderelli said, “a collective voice, an emotion poured into this show,” and “art that not only represents black culture but that is immediately identifiable as black culture.”
“The pieces are all different, but that thread that unites them exists in every piece,” she said.
And so “Renegades” is not a literal homage to the rich cultural explosion of the early-to-mid 1900s found, of course, in Harlem, but also in numerous burgeoning African-American communities across the country, including Columbus' Bronzeville, now the King-Lincoln District. Vanderelli said she didn't want the exhibition to be a “history lesson.”
“I thought back to the Harlem Renaissance, to those beautiful creative people, who for the first time in their lives, had the chance to breathe and look around and look at their identity and examine and express what's important to them through their art,” Blackwell said. “I initially thought to make work that mimicked the style of an artist from that time — I really love Jacob Lawrence and his work with gouache — but that didn't feel right. So I started to think socially, politically and culturally. And I ended up at Afrofuturism. It's that look to the future as seen through the black gaze.”
“There's a history that's happening now, that's being created,” McLymont said. “I was trying to link the past to our current times. So I was looking at who created that history [during the Harlem Renaissance]. Artists like Lois Jones, they captured all of the blackness of the Harlem Renaissance. But I wanted to have new territory to consider. I was thinking about movements, and I felt like Tarana Burke and the #MeToo, that is a Renaissance of personal power, it's just not arts-based.”
While it's unfair to compare Columbus in 2018 to Harlem in 1918, there are some parallels, McLymont said.
“I see young black artists, people 20 years younger than I am, making black-focused art but also building bridges,” she said. “That's different from when I was their age and there was a complete detachment.”
“I can only speak to my immediate circles, but the enthusiasm is there, the camaraderie and community is there, and the need for expression is there,” Blackwell said. “It feels very good to be able to look around and see people of color examining and thinking about, ‘What's my identity?' and ‘What do I want to say about myself through my art?'”
Vanderelli said the idea of doing a Harlem Renaissance-themed exhibition at its 100-year anniversary was “a no-brainer to me.”
Additional visual artists participating in the show include: Eric Murphy, Gaye Reissland, Leni D. Anderson, Michael Hodges, Nushu Wilks, Neisha Holloway and Simone Clayborn. In addition to Friday's reception, Vanderelli has a pre-Columbus Arts Festival preview set for Thursday, June 7, featuring spoken word artists Queen Jami, Matthew Vaugh and B: The Poet. Music for Friday's reception will be provided courtesy of LA Jenkins, Funk Infusion with Aaron Putman and John Ray, and DJ Kevin Brugger.