Dred, Wah Yah Sey, 36- x 48-, Oil, Paper, Fabric, Rope, & Adornments on Wood, 2023
(NEWARK, NJ) -- Akwaaba Gallery in Newark presents a solo exhibition by Antoinette Ellis-Williams entitled "Re/GeNeraTion." This is a collection of abstract Afro Futurist works that plumb concepts of evolution and how it manifests itself genetically, culturally and spiritually. The exhibition will be on view until December 23, 2023.
“These mixed media, collage, and digital works explore regeneration found in play, sex, birth, pain, resistance, nature, blues, love, and spirit,’’ says Ellis-Williams, a Jamaican-born artist based in Newark. “The colors are bright; shapes, patterns are ancient, with elements of graffiti and impressionism. Layers are built using my personal recycled artwork.”
The gallery will officially open the exhibit on Saturday, November 11th from 5:00pm to 9:00pm.
Williams public art has appeared in the main area of Terminal A of the Newark Airport and is on permanent display at the United Airlines lounge. She has also created public work commissioned by Audible and shown pieces at the Newark Museum of Art, the New Jersey State Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, in addition to other venues.
For the pieces in “Re/GeNeraTion,’’ Ellis-Williams incorporated a recurring motif of black coils that often represent Black hair as a symbol of lineage, endurance and defiance.
“Black hair is something that has power,” she says. “Because it can occur only in Black people, its special, it’s feared, it's considered militant. We are told to tame it. I want to expose its ability to resist in the face of oppression.”
She adds, “On the surface Black hair is dead, but deep within our bodies each strand holds a connection to stories, mysteries, codes, and songs of survival. Black hair has found its way to rituals and rites of passages. If its wooly coils could speak, what would they say? Where would they take us?”
A Full Womb, 24- x 18- Pen, Marker, & Cowrie Shells on Wood, 2023
Ellis-Williams has had a multifaceted career as an academic, minister, and poet, in addition to her work as an artist, which she began in her 50s. She is a Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at New Jersey City University, teaching courses on Black womanhood, women and leadership, and hip-hop and social change.
She views her art as a continuation of her academic work. Art can be a way to make esoteric ideas more tangible and relevant, says Ellis-Williams. “Black feminism is how we examine the body in the space of the empire, but I want to make it accessible to people, not so lofty,’’ she says. “Often as academics, we are preaching to the choir. There are people who are incredibly brilliant and on the front lines but don’t have the language to discuss all this. I want to be a bridge, a conduit.”
The Afro Futurist movement had a great influence on “Re/GeNeraTion,’’ she says.
“Afrofuturism is a place for individuals to put forward a reimagination of what happened in the past, take the colonial ideas and flip them. Let’s imagine if we had power, what can we take and what can we leave from this idea?”
Another inspiration for the work in “Re/GeNeraTion” has been Ellis-William’s relationship with her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and is currently in stage 4.
“I challenged myself to think of how ancestors transmit knowledge. She has shared stories she never shared before. I’m listening as a daughter but as a mother to my own sons. I’m listening to someone who is thinking about the next wall they will cross over. It makes me think of what’s important,’’ she says.
“There is so much emphasis on death, I have to find life in it. How do we remember that life and honor that life?” she asks.
Blues Brother-Man, 36- x 48-, Mixed Media on Wood, 2023
Akwaaba Gallery is located at 509 South Orange Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. The gallery opened on February 15, 2019 and is a hidden Newark gem located in the historic Fairmont neighborhood. Akwaaba Gallery features diverse and eclectic contemporary works of art in various mediums. Akwaaba's mission is to engage the community and public with exhibitions featuring emerging local, regional, national and international artists. Akwaaba Gallery is quickly becoming the art hub of the West Ward and a welcoming venue to the community and surrounding towns.