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‘We’re attempting to heal through all realms’: Community display features local Black artists’ responses to current Black Lives Matter movement

The slideshow of artwork runs every night on the Downtown Mall, from sundown to sunrise

<p>The slideshow will be on display for an indefinite period of time in front of Splendora’s Gelato on the Downtown Mall, sundown to sunrise. It includes artwork — shown above, clockwise from top left — by Tobiah Mundt, Sahara Clemons, Eze Amos (1), &nbsp;Matthew Vanison, Jae Johnson, Eze Amos (2) and Marley Nichelle.</p>

The slideshow will be on display for an indefinite period of time in front of Splendora’s Gelato on the Downtown Mall, sundown to sunrise. It includes artwork — shown above, clockwise from top left — by Tobiah Mundt, Sahara Clemons, Eze Amos (1),  Matthew Vanison, Jae Johnson, Eze Amos (2) and Marley Nichelle.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement and nationwide protests against the death of George Floyd and racist police brutality, Alan Goffinski, director of The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, teamed up with Daisa Granger, a local Black artist and program coordinator at The Bridge, to connect Black artists in Charlottesville and share their stories. The project is a commemorative slideshow that offers exposure for the artists showcased and a visual representation of the community’s solidarity.

Fine art, as Granger noted, has historically been created for and consumed by wealthy white communities — excluding low-income and Black people. Granger praised the BLM movement for being able “to create access for Black people in more realms than there ever has been,” adding her appreciation for The Bridge — a non-profit dedicated to providing opportunities and resources for local artists — for working to “embrace and support and encouragement of Black artists” by dedicating programming to showing the diversity within Charlottesville.

“Some of these artists had never had an exhibit before,” Granger said. “This is something that they can put into their artists CV or their resume — these are big things for startup artists.” 

Granger was an art teacher at Walker Upper Elementary school before she joined The Bridge as a programming committee member in the fall of 2019. 

“It is amazing that fine art has begun to open up for the experience of Black artists,” Granger said. Speaking on her own experience going through art school eight years ago, Granger said how she was looking for “Black artists to compare herself to,” but she found that representation in art was nearly impossible, which meant there were no Black fine artists for her to look up to. 

For the slideshow, Granger took to social media to find prominent Black artists in Charlottesville. 

“It was really important to myself and to The Bridge to promote Black artists’ work and make the Black experience the forefront of the slideshow, to show Black expression through fine art and lead to exposure for the artists,” Granger said. Each artist was responding to the time in their respective works of art, using their experience and emotions. 

Artist Tobiah Mundt works primarily in fiberglass sculpture, including this work entitled “An Accelerated Evolution of an Oppressed People.” (Courtesy Tobiah Mundt)

One artist featured is Tobiah Mundt, whose primary medium is fiberglass sculpture. A striking image of her work entitled “An Accelerated Evolution of an Oppressed People” depicts a bust of a Black person with gills built in their cheeks. On Instagram, she captioned the picture “and so some of us gained cutaneous respiration while others grew gills. The most at risk became invisible when threatened,” adding the hashtag “ican’tf—kingbreath.”

Granger discussed how much time and effort it took to make a fiberglass statue and commended Mundt for the ability to put emotion into these beautifully crafted sculptures.

Another artist that resonated with Granger was fellow teacher and artist L’Oreal Lee. One of her images in the slideshow is a cartoon depiction of a tired-looking Black child in a classroom. The desk and classroom are deteriorating, and images surrounding the boy are symbols of gun violence, gangs and a crumbling home. Despite his environment, the boy is thinking about his “Future Dream” — which includes a diploma and a vision of his future as a doctor. 

Granger highlighted how Lee’s specific style of cartooning intersected with Black expressionism and her past experiences with racism to convey ideas or emotions that are typically seen as too controversial for the cartooning medium. Granger notes that it was “really enjoyable to see on a personal level to see [Lee] explore ... those feelings, versus the brighter happier artwork she typically creates with her cartooning style.” 

Artist  L’Oreal Lee's cartoon “Future Dream” depicts a Black child with a diploma and a vision of his future as a doctor. (Courtesy L’Oreal Lee)

Another featured artist, Eze Amos, is a photographer who is well-known in Charlottesville and throughout Virginia for his presence at multiple local events and protests. Granger used his photography of protests and Black Lives Matter demonstrations, noting how his black and white style and intimate portrait work has struck a chord with viewers due to the emotion and rage behind the photographs. A stand-out photograph in the slideshow showcases the frontline of a protest, where Black men are dressed in suits and linking arms. A sign in the back reads “am I next?” The photograph, taken just weeks ago in Richmond, is reminiscent of images taken during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. 

Eze Amos is well-known in Charlottesville and throughout Virginia for his photography at multiple local events and protests. (Courtesy Eze Amos)

A total of 80 works of art are presented in the slideshow, including works from artists Jae Johnson, Sahara Clemons, Marley Nichelle and Matthew Vanison. 

When asked about the importance of art during times of social and political unrest, Granger highlighted the importance of visual art in society. 

“An image can evoke so much emotion that reading often cannot,” Granger said. “When you look at the images and you look at these protests, when you look at these people and their raw emotion and the tears, and the anger and the sadness — all of the things that you see in these images, it almost makes it impossible to ignore ... When you look at these pictures, these in-the-moment responses, you can see the Black consensus in our community is that we're hurting, and we're attempting to heal through all realms.”

The slideshow will be on display for an indefinite period of time in front of Splendora’s Gelato on the Downtown Mall, sundown to sunrise.

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