Exhibit celebrates African-American artists

CHALLENGE ISSUED: 'Say It Loud' will feature works from award-winning and internationally known artists, including Kehinde Wiley whose 2013 oil painting "Prince Albert, Prince Consort of Queen Victoria," pictured, will be on display at the exhibit. Wiley is best known for his official portrait of President Barack Obama. Photo courtesy of Hedy Fischer

Beauty, gender, ethnic identity and stereotypes are among the issues explored in Say It Loud, the latest exhibit from the collection of local curator Hedy Fischer and artist Randy Shull. The mixed-media event will feature paintings, photography, sculptures and video by local, regional, national and internationally recognized African-American artists, including Kehinde Wiley, best known for his official portrait of President Barack Obama.

The show continues Fischer’s and Shull’s interest in producing socially and politically charged exhibits. Last year’s ¡Viva! delved into contemporary issues in Latin America. And, more recently, Fischer organized Trigger Happy, a collection of local works confronting gun violence in America.

“It’s personally important to us because I don’t see much engagement here in Asheville,” she says, noting a racial divide among many of the area’s communities. “So this is our way, hopefully, of providing an opportunity for people to come together.”

Slated to open Saturday, Sept. 29, Say It Loud will debut on the same weekend as the opening of Between Form and Content: Perspectives on Jacob Lawrence and Black Mountain College at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. The date, notes Fischer, is no coincidence. “To have two major African-American art exhibitions opening on the same weekend in Asheville is a really big deal,” she says.

In total, 19 artists will be featured in Say It Loud. Alicia Henry is among the show’s regionally based talents. Her mixed-media works tend to explore the human figure with a particular focus on individual expressions. “She often depicts the face as a mask or a shield to protect the most vulnerable parts of ourselves,” notes Fischer. The use of textiles within Henry’s designs lend to the subject’s overall sense of concealment, Fischer adds.

THE MASK: Artist Alicia Henry “often depicts the face as a mask or a shield to protect the most vulnerable parts of ourselves,” notes Hedy Fischer. Her piece, ‘Untitled (Blue Nose, Male),’ will be among the featured works in Say It Loud. Photo courtesy of Fischer

Henry, who teaches art at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., says she is pleased to be featured in a show steeped in talent. From Rashid Johnson, the first African-American artist to be a trustee at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, to MacArthur fellow Kerry James Marshall, Henry describes the collection as a group of “fantastic artists with strong opinions and visual clarity.”

The exhibit’s themes, she adds, are particularly relevant in today’s political climate. “I think we need to work on being able to talk about things and not feel our hairs rise up and get defensive and uncomfortable,” she says.

One of the great benefits of shows like this, Henry continues, is that it creates meditative spaces allowing people to contemplate issues without the noise that often disrupts and distracts us. “Sometimes that makes it more approachable for people,” she says, “to be able to first look at an image that deals with something that is going on in society … and then to address it.”

Like Henry’s art, work by local artist Clarissa Sligh also asks viewers to consider what’s beyond the surface. Her piece, Blessing of the Men, features nine silver gelatin prints obscured by a curtain of more than 2,000 origami cranes strung on cotton thread.

“Most of her work deals with transformation and change,” explains Fischer. “In this particular piece, she is showing men in their tender moments.”

Sligh’s interest in breaking stereotypes associated with masculinity dates back to her childhood. “My father felt that men were supposed to be macho … and maintain some distance between themselves and their family,” the artist says.

Blessing of the Men captures nine men of color in various acts. Some are combing their children’s hair, others are sitting contemplatively inside their homes. In one case, a man is tending to a kitten; in another photo, the subject is transferring a bouquet of flowers into a vase.

MOMENTS OF QUIET: Local artist Clarissa Sligh will also be featured at the exhibit. Her work, Blessing of the Men, captures nine men of color in quiet moments. Photo courtesy of Hedy Fischer

“These are moments outside of the whole notion of the macho man, patriarch, provider — that kind of thing,” says Sligh.

Meanwhile, the origami cranes work on a variety of levels. In one sense, they function as a metaphorical shield of protection, Sligh explains. At the same time, she notes, the curtain is meant to be parted by viewers. Like many of the other works in Say It Loud, Sligh’s piece invites and encourages the audience to push past the barriers to take a closer look.

WHAT: Say It Loud
WHERE: 22 London Road, 22london.org
WHEN: Opening reception Saturday, Sept. 29, 6-10 p.m. The exhibit will remain on view by appointment through Sunday, Oct. 28. Free

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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