The Black Lives Matter-inspired work of 30 Richmond artists will be on display at First Unitarian Universalist Church until March 24. The exhibit opened Feb. 3 and is available to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
“We thought about approaching the Unitarian Church because they have such a strong Black Lives Matter educational program and it was a natural fit,” said Jennifer Yane, one of the event organizers.
Yane, who has been a button-maker since 1984, said she first involved herself in Black Lives Matter when she began making and selling buttons related to the movement. When individuals admire her Black Lives Matter button, “I usually give them a button,” she said.
The exhibit ties in with the church’s own program, Living the Richmond Pledge, which was established to combat racism in the Greater Richmond area, according to church member Evaline Jones. The program offers workshops on recognizing and combatting racism.
Jones helped get the exhibit to the church when approached by two of its organizers, Anne Wrin and Yane, who both included their own work in the exhibit. Jones also has work on display.
Jones said the prompt of “The Power of Three” at an art course inspired her to create small quilts showing the faces of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou and Trayvon Martin.
“This image (of Trayvon Martin) to me was just so haunting that I wanted to use it,” Jones said. “He was the impetus of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Returning to the Unitarian church, which frequently references Rev. King “from the pulpit,” helped Jones understand and be moved by King’s work, in addition to that of Maya Angelou. Jones said that experience inspired her piece in the Black Lives Matter exhibit.
Yane said initially a call was put out on Facebook to recruit artists for the exhibit, but proved ultimately proved unsuccessful. Instead, she began inviting artists to contribute and put an ad in the Richmond Free Press newspaper. All artists who wished to contribute were included.
Shannon Turner said she saw the Richmond Free Press ad and thought of the artwork of her cousin, who is incarcerated. She displayed his work and represented him at the opening of the exhibit.
“A lot of his things he does, he has to use only the tools available there, ink pens, pencils. They use mustard, ketchup for color, things like that,” Turner said.
The drawing in the exhibit, entitled “Black Lives Matter” was done entirely in ink pen and illustrates Black people in a variety of circumstances and interactions. The text in the work, incorporated into the staircase in the center, reads, “Black lives do matter. We are lawyers, doctors, businessmen, scientist(s), teachers, architects, musicians, artists, we are more than just sports and criminals.”
Larry Davis, whose art career is based entirely in Richmond, has layers of religious symbolism in his work.
“My art is basically a testimony of how God has been in my life, what he’s meant to me in my life,” Davis said.
Two of his pieces are included in the show, entitled “Dimensions of Royal Beauty” and “Chicago (CHI-RAQ),” — a tribute to the violence in Chicago.
“The reason why the violence is going on is because someone looks at another person, or in particular a Black person for (the purposes of) this exhibit and doesn’t feel like that other person has a purpose,” Davis said.
Self-taught artist Shantell Lewis created a pair of collages entitled “A Lesson in History.” Each one has a figure dressed in 1800s clothing sitting on either side of a tree while reading a newspaper.
The papers show headlines with information about important figures and events in African American history, which is significant considering most slaves couldn’t read, Lewis said.
“The use of the tree is very important, just in art and history in itself, especially in African American paintings and pictures. Usually if you see a family and a tree, the tree just means togetherness,” Lewis said, adding that she placed the two collages close to one another for that reason.
Yane, one of the organizers, says the exhibit will be beneficial to the church.
“Look at all the people (the exhibit) is bringing in and all these people didn’t know about their classes and taking the pledge, they didn’t know how much the church supports Black Lives Matter,” Yane said.
Georgia Geen, Staff Writer