‘This is like our Harlem Renaissance’: Exhibition showcasing Black artists set to open in Richmond
on January 2, 2024
In an arena where they’re often in the shadows, Black artists are creating spaces to recognize and celebrate their talent.
For the 28th year, the Richmond Art Center will present the “Art of the African Diaspora” exhibition, later this month. AOTD gives local artists of African descent a way to share their work with the community and each other.
The showcase, which will run from Jan. 24 to March 16, will feature 160 Bay Area artists working in a variety of mediums.
“You have artists who are at different stages of their career and success. This allows younger and mid-career artists to show their art,” said Stephen Bruce, a Richmond artist who chairs the steering committee.
The idea of this Black art mecca was first nurtured by the late Jan Hart-Schuyers, a revered Bay Area artist, art educator, and community organizer, according to the AOTD website. Lauded for her many sculptures, Schuyers established a partnership with Los Angeles-born painter Rae Louise Hayward, and the two would go on to produce the first AOTAD showcase in 1997 under the name “Art of Living Black,” which featured 35 artists. Though they didn’t live to see the event’s growth, their vision was fulfilled.
But when the showcase ends each year, many of the participating artists return to a harsh reality. Since the first museums opened in America, Black people have had their likeness on display but seldom have had the chance to be recognized for their own works: a pattern noted by scholar Bridget R. Cooks in her book “Black Artists and Activism: Harlem on My Mind.”
In 2022, Julia Halperin and Charlotte Burns, who created the Burns Halperin Report to analyze representation in the art market, surveyed 31 American museums and found that African American artists were underrepresented. Work by Black female artists comprised 0.5% of acquisitions of all the museums surveyed. And of the top 20 artists, only one — Julie Mehretu from Ethiopia — was of African descent.
AOTD seeks to give more Black artists a platform to showcase their creative skills.
“This is like our Harlem Renaissance,” artist Kelvin Curry said, referring to the Black cultural revival in the 1920s.
This season’s showcase offers variety. Illustrator Virginia Jourdan, who’s been participating since the first showcase, is displaying acrylics. She’s produced works ranging from portraits to urban landscapes, and says her work is focused on “uplifting African American images.” Jourdan said she’s grateful for a space that allows her to celebrate her craft.
“Art is very relaxing for me and something that’s innate,” Jourdan said.
Curry’s work also is featured. A multimedia artist, Curry describes his work as “figurative, abstract, and symbolic.” He incorporates African-inspired shapes and color schemes into his work.
With the showcase, Curry said, “I hope to gain new collectors and more exposure.”
Bruce, who’s participated in AOTD since the beginning like Jourdan and Curry, said that the showcase benefits Bay Area residents as much as it does the artists, giving people a chance to experience art they otherwise might not have seen. After months of planning, he is excited for opening day.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to see an array of artists in their community,” Bruce said.
More information about the exhibit is on the AOTAD website.
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