Printmaker and photographer Ponkho Bermejo is the curator of the new outdoor gallery space — the BeLoved Gallery — in BeLoved Asheville’s Liberation Station community center at 10 N. Market St. “We want to create art to make people feel something,” Bermejo says. “We are trying to bring conscience to the city through our art and, through our actions, to create a change.”
The gallery will host a Black History Month and Afro/Latinx Art celebration on Thursday, Feb. 21. The event includes music by DJ Malinalli and light hors d’oeuvres at 5:30 p.m. followed by the unveiling of the work “Rising of the Ancestors” by Harry Rivera, an artist talk by Bermejo, a documentary film screening and a panel discussion featuring Rivera, Bermejo and Carmen Ramos-Kennedy, President of the Asheville-Buncombe County NAACP.
Bermejo’s screen-printed works are on par with the smooth, pop-culture cachet of Shepard Fairey, and brings a much-needed Latinx perspective to Asheville. “Latinx people have been in Asheville for a long time — we are the people making your food, washing your dishes, building the new hotels,” Bermejo says. “But we are not visible, we are not heard.” His work speaks not just of the present moment but also of pre-colonial history and indigenous culture. Draped across a window view of downtown Asheville, Bermejo’s repeated “Coatlicue” print on repurposed bedsheets honors the strength and beauty of abandoned and suppressed objects and traditions. The work forms a visual mass reminiscent of papel picado — traditional paper-cut garlands of Mexican folk art.
Currently on display in the BeLoved Gallery, Unveiling is Rise Up Studio Collective’s first exhibition at the newly renovated gallery space, on view through Friday, March 15. Featured artists, along with Bermejo and Rivera, include Adrienne Sigmon, James Gambrell, Edwin Salas Acosta, Sunni Morgan, Courtney M., Jimi Mead, Jesse Smith and Tim Clark.
The collected works in Unveiling investigate the intersections of identity and mythology, and of place and politics. It’s raw, contemporary and hyperlocal work that speaks to what it is to exist in a heavily divided and exclusionary city, famed for art but increasingly hostile to artists. “Asheville is hard for artists to make a life,” Bermejo says. “People without money and without opportunities or the right network can’t have exhibitions and show their work. BeLoved gives local people that opportunity.”
The new BeLoved Gallery adjoins the Rise Up Studio Collective’s art studio and the BeLoved community space. Artists work in close proximity, sharing techniques and materials and often repurposing and reclaiming materials in ingenious ways. “We’re proving that nothing is trash, that everything can be turned into a piece of art if you have the creativity to do it,” Bermejo says. Rise Up Studio Collective repurposes and salvages materials and equipment and uses donated art supplies.
The Rise Up Studio Collective was formed in the summer of 2013 in response to the city of Asheville’s policy of confiscating and destroying artwork offered for sale in public spaces by street artists, says self-described “undercover pastor” and BeLoved community collaborator the Rev. Amy Cantrell. Cantrell saw that these artists were being denied what was often their only means of financial support and their method of sself-expression. “In all my years in Asheville, public space has been contested,” she says. “If you don’t fall into a moneyed column, public space is not for you. Street and starving artists are pushed out.” Rise Up Studio Collective gives artists a space to make and store work and access to art materials, as well as the time and safety necessary to experiment and evolve artistically.
“Rise Up Studio artists bring the power of their insights, creativity and knowledge into their work,” says Cantrell. “Their art is gutsy and beautiful, just like their lives. By doing art in community with a purpose, they are fashioning art and life in this city in brave new ways that dare to be defiantly hopeful.” Rise Up is open to anyone in the community who does not have access to space and supplies to create their art.
In addition to an art studio and gallery, BeLoved offers workshops, wellness classes, documentary screenings, community meals, a trained street medic team, a Kid’s Justice League and a host of other activities and resources.
WHAT: Black History Month and Afro/Latinx Art celebration
WHERE: BeLoved Gallery, 10 N. Market St., Third floor. belovedasheville.com
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 21, 5:30 p.m.