Artists bring personal history and ancestry to ‘Celebrating the Black Experience’ exhibit – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville
For Aukram Burton, a new art exhibition at Kentucky Center for African American Heritage embodies the tradition of call and response found in many African cultures.
Burton, who is the center’s executive director, said the call was for the exhibition request for artists submit work celebrating the black experience, and the response has been the varied artistic interpretations of this theme.
“When we talk about Blackness, it’s not a monolith,” Burton said. “There is incredible diversity. And in fact, it’s that diversity that’s helped us survive the oppression that we’ve faced over the years… The selection of the artwork, I’m really, really thrilled that diversity exists on the show .
“Celebrating the Black Experience” features more than 20 local, national and international artists, including Louisville-based artist Tramel Fain.
Fain is exhibiting three paintings, including the show’s key piece, “Ms. America.” It depicts a black woman with her arms crossed over her body. An American flag is wrapped around her hips and she is holding a trio of flowers: one red, one white and one blue.
He told WFPL News he began the portrait during Louisville’s racial justice protests in the summer of 2020.
“What led me to choose was kind of the idea of, what is America, whose America?” he said. “So I wanted to show her in a powerful pose, showing her strength, in front of walls of graffiti…And with the American flag, just to show that it’s all of America.”
In his artist statement, he wrote that he makes art “to capture the strength, grace and love of life”.
Fain recently started showing his work and wanted to do this show to connect with other creatives, such as visual and performance artist Jamie Philbert.
Philbert is one of several artists from Trinidad and Tobago to collaborate with the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in an artistic exchange that began shortly before the pandemic forced the cancellation of experiments in nobody.
Although he couldn’t be physically present at the opening, Philbert said the exchange was meaningful.
“Having the energy and the essence of the work and not just me, as an artist, but what surrounds it and the space of Trinidad, it’s like Trinidad is sitting inside of Louisville. So that’s nice.
The exhibition marks the first time that Louisville-based illustrator and graphic designer Sydney Howleit has exhibited her work.
“I was starting to really feel my way through my work,” said Howleit, who has two or paintings in the exhibit. “I’m still trying to get used to all the networking and prizes and all of that. So it’s a whole new experience for me.
The organizers intended to exhibit the work of artists at different stages of their careers. Coordinator Julia Youngblood said it was important to create opportunities and access for new artists.
“Often there aren’t many venues and spaces that are open to all artists,” they said. “That’s the wonderful thing about this space is that it’s really there for the community.”
To ensure the exhibit was representative of this, Youngblood said curators focused on the artwork’s message before anything else.
“It’s a deep story and a deep celebration. It’s a powerful celebration. All the work comes with a lot of history and a lot of ancestry in each case.
Aukram Burton has two photographs in the exhibit. He remembers the first time his work was shown publicly, and those feelings of fear and uncertainty. This is why he also wants artists from all professional backgrounds to exhibit together.
“What got me through all of that was mentorship with other artists, other artists who were willing to share with me,” Burton said. “And that’s what really helped propel me forward and move forward.”
The “Celebrating the Black Experience” show opens Friday with a reception from 6-9 p.m. It runs until June 16.
Burton said it would become an annual exhibit at the center.