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LH Horton Jr Gallery presents "Themes of Black Identity in America"
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LH Horton Jr Gallery presents "Themes of Black Identity in America"

Delta Center for the Arts LH Horton Jr Gallery presents an extraordinary art exhibition, Themes of Black Identity In America, February 27–March 21, 2014. An opening reception will take place at the Gallery on February 27th, from 5 to 7p.m., with special performance by Stockton’s With Our Words Youth Poetry Collective reading at 6p.m.

Curated by Jan Marlese, Horton Gallery Director, Themes of Black Identity In America presents nationally recognized artists whose work explores Black American identity, culture and history. Scheduled to open during Black History Month, the exhibition is accompanied by the performance of Tar Baby, staring Desiree Burch, and the film screening of Question Bridge: Black Males (see below for further information). Artist Milton Bowens will also present an arts lecture, as a prelude to the exhibition, on Friday, February 21st, at 4pm in the West Forum at Delta College.

Curator Statement – Jan Marlese

My first priority in curating an art exhibition is the education of Delta College students, particularly in the Student Learning Outcomes of the visual arts curriculum. The Gallery presents artworks and events that build knowledge in the aesthetic, technical, cultural and historical context of the visual arts. The community benefits from this as well, as the Gallery provides open public access, and presents works that can’t be seen without traveling to Sacramento, the Bay Area, and in many cases, out of state.

In selecting the artists for this exhibition and the accompanying events, I focused my search on artists working in the theme of Black American identity and culture most specifically, as well as historical events related to slavery, emancipation and civil rights. The exhibition presents a wide representation of artistic style and content, yet each has something very specific to say about the cultural heritage and experiences of Black Americans. As a society, we cannot decide to represent only one part of a group’s cultural identity, as each individual within a defined culture or ethnic group has their own experience and interpretation of that experience.

Some works are historical narratives, such as Joseph Holton’s series Color in Freedom: Journey along the Underground Railroad. This visual narrative of nine etchings chronicles specific events of the African slave trade, from captivity and slavery, through escape and emancipation. Moving further into time during the civil rights movement of the 1960s is the “cloth painting” by Dawn Williams Boyd, Waiting for Medgar, Jackson, MS, 1963. This piece depicts the story of Medgar Wiley Evers, who on June 12,1963 was brutally murdered by admitted white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith.

Marsha Hatcher’s work generally present prideful themes, with images of family, African roots, the pride of a Black soldier serving his country, and the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as it’s passed on to the next generation. George Nock’s bronze sculptures celebrate the contributions to jazz music by Black Americans, and the sport of horse racing (the first integrated sport Black men were allowed to compete). While both artists’ work has a more celebratory focal point, one cannot overlook the shadows of racism, such as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or the banning of Black jockeys by 1904, or the diaspora of Africans through the slave trade.

Several artists’ work is confrontational to the very heart of racist stereotyping, and the long-term impact of slavery and racism on issues of education, poverty, and cultural identity. The continued socioeconomic inequality of a majority of Black Americans is clearly documented (e.g., The Economic and Educational State of Black Americans in the 21st Century; Angel L. Harris, Princeton University; Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2010). Nathaniel Donnett’s installation piece confronts this disparity, depicting the resulting challenges economic repression has on the quality of education in predominantly Black schools. Amy Sherald’s portraits confront the marginalization of Black identity within our society, and note particular attention to concepts of social exclusion and assimilation. The guest speaker for the accompanying Arts Lecture and an exhibiting artist, Milton Bowens, “pairs the legacy and importance of maintaining self-esteem for African Americans while examining the importance of controlling the cultural narrative of one’s own stories and experiences.”  

I have grown and learned a lot during my research for this exhibition, and hope that Delta College students and the community will gain insight into the very real and painful history, as well as the richness and pride of Black American culture and identity. Most importantly, I hope that the exhibition and events create a dialogue about the continued need for the confronting of and the healing from racism in our society. For this, I am very grateful to the exhibiting artists, as well as the work of many fine art galleries which provided my connection to these artists, including Morton Fine Arts and Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C.; Jack Shainman Gallery, New York; Richmond Art Center, Richmond, CA; and the Black Artists Network website.
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