Before the pandemic, attending artist talks was limited due to a busy work schedule exasperated by grueling commutes. Today, online platforms provide access to those with a device and Internet access. Understanding the human experience starts with connection: in-person, virtually, or both.
Last week Wednesday was the Creative Conversations: Personal to Political, Part II (Facebook Live) discussion moderated by historian Cassandra Cavness with artists Lava Thomas and Radcliffe Bailey. Both artists are currently featured at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts’ Personal to Political: Celebrating the African-American Artists of Paulson Fontaine Press exhibition. Website: “The artists of Personal to Political capture the many personal narratives and political battles of African American artists across the country, reflecting a collective experience expressed in uniquely individual ways. Drawing on the experiences and conceptual interpretations of 15 artists, this exhibition includes a large collection of prints from Paulson Fontaine Press, a long-time supporter of African-American artists like Kerry James Marshall, Martin Puryear, the Gee’s Bend quilters, among others…Personal to Political honors the stories and wisdom of African American artists that Paulson Fontaine Press has cherished for decades…”
Lava Thomas’ artworks are perfection: conceptually and aesthetically. From artist’s website: “Lava Thomas tackles issues of race, gender, representation and memorialization through a multidisciplinary practice that spans drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, and site-specific installations. Drawing from her family’s Southern roots, current socio-political events, intersectional feminism and African American protest and devotional traditions, Thomas’s practice centers ideas that amplify visibility, healing, and empowerment in the face of erasure, trauma and oppression.”
Thomas’ work is timeless speaking to our history and future. During the talk, she expressed that “I feel hopeful but not optimistic” and “I don’t know how long this moment of reckoning will last.” For wisdom and truth, we are guided by her art. She quotes Maya Angelo in her Portrait of Phenomenal Women public art proposal: “If one has courage, nothing can dim the light which shines from within.” A pandemic, systematic racism, and bureaucratic dysfunction can’t overshadow Thomas’ brilliance.
Radcliffe Bailey’s insightful response is to “…deal with beauty over the pain.” Jack Shainman Gallery: “Radcliffe Bailey (b. 1968, Bridgetown, NJ; lives and works in Atlanta, GA) is a painter, sculptor, and mixed media artist who utilizes the layering of imagery, culturally resonant materials and text to explore themes of ancestry, race, migration and collective memory. His work often incorporates found materials and objects from his past into textured compositions, including traditional African sculpture, tintypes of his family members, ships, train tracks and Georgia red clay. The cultural significance and rhythmic properties of music are also important influences that can be seen throughout his oeuvre.”
Moderator Cassandra Cavness’ perfect summary: “Art soothes the soul.” The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts provides a meaningful platform for artistic discovery. The soul of our nation continues to be on display.
Personal to Political: Celebrating the African-American Artists of Paulson Fontaine Press, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama, May 22 – July 26, 2020.