Richard Duarte Brown revisits ‘Brothers’ 30 years later

The group show, first hosted at the King Arts Complex in 1990, returns to All People Arts for a second edition opening on Saturday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Richard Duarte Brown, a mixed-media artist, poses for a portrait on Monday, May 3, 2021 at Transit Art Studio in Columbus, Ohio.

When Richard Duarte Brown participated in the first “Brothers” show at the King Arts Complex in 1990, he was one of the youngest artists involved, and he had an entirely different understanding of the term brotherhood.

“Back then, when they said ‘Brothers,’ I just thought ‘Brothers’ like, yeah, I’m Black and I’m proud. Say it loud, brothers. Hey, brother, what’s up? Can you spare a dime, brother? It was Stevie Wonder singing about brothers, things like that,” Brown said in a recent interview at All People Arts on the South Side, where the second iteration of “Brothers” is set to open with a 2 p.m. reception on Saturday, May 15

Over the past 30-plus years, though, the meaning of the word has evolved, taking on the weight of Brown’s experiences. 

“As time went on, and life and age, what ‘brother’ meant was the depth of forgiveness, the depth of coming together, the depth of overcoming obstacles, the depth of leaving and coming back into a person’s life, the depth of understanding and being empathetic,” said Brown, who, along with Joel Cross, curated the new exhibit, which features more than a dozen young artists of color. 

In conversation, Brown positioned the exhibit as a way of linking the artists who will help shape the future of the Black art scene in Columbus with those who defined its past, many of whom were part of the 1990 “Brothers” show, including Smokey Brown, Kojo Kamau, Walt Neil and Pheoris West, among others. (Works connected with Neil and West are also featured in the show opening Saturday at All People Arts, alongside an intricate drawing by famed artist and muralist Jeff Abraxas Dade, these additions further strengthening these historic ties.)

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Brown said the first “Brothers” show in many ways ignited the sense of connection he felt with the Columbus art scene, which offered him the family he had sought for much of his life, and part of his hope is that the young artists featured here, many of whom are either still in high school or recently graduated, will emerge instilled with a similar sense of belonging and purpose.

“The show at the King Arts Complex was really my first group show, my first show in a setting like that, so it was very, very meaningful for me, being in this room with all of these artists, especially not having uncles or fathers in my life,” Brown said. “But the other guys in the show and Robert Stull, Bettye Stull’s husband, which he’s gone now, from Earth, but he said, ‘We need to support this brother.’ And I felt this gush of emotion because these professional artists, these people like Pheoris West, they were looking out for me, this self-taught artist.”

The links to the past in “Brothers 2021” are both obvious (a portrait of Neil by co-curator Cross) and intangible, with the influence of artists like Kamau and Smokey Brown revealing themselves subtly in the ways the new generation approaches the canvas. Brown also recalled how Cross was able to meet West before the artist died in January following four years in which the elder was bedridden following a massive stroke.

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“Joe [Cross] went to Pheoris’ studio space, but the work was turned to face the wall, and Joe asked if he could turn it around so he could see it,” Brown said. “And meanwhile, he communicated with Pheoris, even though Pheoris couldn’t talk the way you and I talk, and Pheoris lit up when Joe looked at the work, and Joe was immensely touched.”

At the time, Cross wasn’t aware that West had been part of the original “Brothers” show, a realization that Brown said sparked enthusiasm in the young artist once the link became known.

“And he got all excited, and said, ‘I just met him, and I talked to him without words. His work is phenomenal. When I turned it around, it was filled with so much energy, and he got so animated,’” Brown said. “And even talking about it now, it gives me chills that he got to meet Pheoris before he left us, and I told Joe that’s the transference of a mantle. When these guys get older and leave the scene, they drop their mantle, and it’s the younger guys who kind of pick it up.”