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“For the Culture, By the Culture” Exhibit Spotlights 19 Local and National Black Artists of Influence

By Carolyn M. Brown,

originally published: 05/26/2022

“For the Culture, By the Culture” Exhibit Spotlights 19 Local and National Black Artists of Influence

In celebration of Art in the Atrium’s 30th anniversary, the Morris Museum and Art in the Atrium (ATA) present the exhibition, For the Culture, By the Culture: 30 Years of Black Art, Activism, and Achievement. This exhibition brings together prior ATA-featured artists in a group retrospective that spans 30 years and spotlights local and national Black artists who are masters of their craft and who have contributed to Black culture by creating impactful works.

The exhibition is curated by Charles D. Craig, Nette Forné Thomas, and Onnie Strother of ATA, along with Michelle Graves of the Morris Museum. It is on view through September 25 at the Morris Museum.

ATA is a local non-profit arts organization whose mission is to celebrate Black excellence, support the careers and lives of Black fine artists, and create opportunities for emerging voices in Black art. The ATA touts its impact and accomplishments over the past 30 years to increase the visibility of Black artistry is unparalleled.

“For the Culture, By the Culture” Exhibit Spotlights 19 Local and National Black Artists of Influence

For the Culture, By the Culture showcases the works of 19 artists, including Bisa Butler, Leroy Campbell, Alonzo Adams, Faith Ringgold, and Norman Lewis. “All these names that are really giants in the field and, as we know, Black art is hotter than ever,” says ATA Executive Director Lauren LeBeaux Craig.

LeBeaux Craig, a native of Morristown, says “It’s really nice to be able to celebrate something that is a family legacy for me, but also really important to the Morristown community, to the Black community as a whole, and the art world.”

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LeBeaux Craig is the daughter of ATA co-founders Charles D. and Victoria Craig. Charles D. Craig, an attorney, was inspired to do an exhibit of African American art at the Atrium Gallery in the Morris County Administration & Records Building for Black History Month in 1992. For 30 years, the ATA has held an annual show at the Atrium Gallery. It has grown to be the largest exhibit of its kind in New Jersey.

The Morris Museum has a longstanding relationship with the ATA, which includes having hosted both its 20th and 25th anniversary exhibitions.

“Even though black art is trendy right now, the importance of the theme of this exhibit, For the Culture, By the Culture, is that Art in the Atrium as a Black-led organization was doing this work (long before collecting Black art became popular),” says LeBeaux Craig. “We were pushing that Black art is fine art and it is something that you should be investing in. And Black artists are people who needed the shine,” she adds.

“The For the Culture, By the Culture art exhibit represents a corner of American culture that has been overlooked and underserved in colonialistic museums for hundreds of years,” says Michelle Graves, Morris Museum’s managing curator for the exhibition.

Graves points out that all of the 19 artists have profoundly changed or are still changing the narrative of what American art is. “I'm excited to be a part of an exhibition that explores these profound changes in social justice and civil rights, and all the many ways that each one of these individual artists has contributed to changing the narrative of art in America or society in America baseline,” she adds.

Graves cites a few artists in the exhibition.

Benny Andrews co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC) in 1969 along with a group of Black artists and agitated for greater representation in New York’s major art museums. The group protested the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Harlem On My Mind exhibit because it omitted the contributions of African-American painters and sculptors to the Harlem community.

“For the Culture, By the Culture” Exhibit Spotlights 19 Local and National Black Artists of Influence

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“No African Americans were involved in crafting the narrative of that exhibition,” says Graves. “So, that was the tip of the iceberg for Benny’s activism. And his art itself depicts what it's like to be Black in America.”

Andrews is renowned for his narrative paintings that often incorporate collaged fabric or other materials.

Graves shares how Andrews also helped to create a groundbreaking arts education program in prisons and detention centers for people to express themselves through art and to address the social injustices that they experienced.

Faith Ringgold was a founding member of the Ad Hoc Women Artists’ Committee. “She vociferously protested the lack of inclusion of female artists at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1970. She is a strong feminist icon who helped to diversify collections in all of the major art museums in New York,” Graves says.

Ringgold is a writer, painter, mixed media sculptor, and performance artist who is best known for her narrative quilts. Her works document her life and the Black experience in America.

“Elizabeth Catlett profoundly changed the narrative of Black women in her exploration of mothers and children. She made it very clear that the Black mammy narrative was racist, narrow-minded, and a misconception,” Graves says. “She managed to do this through her sculptural work using wood, stone, clay, and bronze materials.

“For the Culture, By the Culture” Exhibit Spotlights 19 Local and National Black Artists of Influence

Catlett was also an accomplished printmaker known for her linoleum cuts and lithographs depicting African American and Mexican life.

“And then you have David Driskell,” Graves adds. “The impetus of his career was to make sure that African American art was presented in American art history books.” Graves notes that Driskell is an artist, art historian, and curator who is regarded for his pivotal role in bringing recognition to Black art and its importance in the broader story of art in America.

In summarizing the significance of this exhibit, LeBeaux Craig notes, “it is powerful to have Black art such as this in a museum setting. A lot of Black artists don't get that shot, to have their work displayed in a museum. I love the fact that Art in the Atrium gets to expose a new audience that may not have seen art of this caliber put together in this way.”

From a museum perspective, representation is incredibly important, Graves says. Take for example a group of students who come to the museum and they are able to look at art and say to themselves, ‘I can see myself in that art.’ That is profoundly important for generations,” she says. “It has rippling effects that fall into so many other aspects of people's lives. Just that alone makes this exhibition totally worthwhile.”

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About the author: Carolyn M. Brown is an investigative journalist, editor, author, playwright, multimedia content producer and an entrepreneur. She has produced content spanning across a portfolio of platforms, including print, digital media, broadcast, theater arts, and custom events. Her publication credits include Essence, Forbes, Inc., and Diversity Woman magazines. She is a founding board member of the Paterson Performing Arts Development Council, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing together diverse communities through the performing arts and cultural events and to creating pathways for new and established artists.

Content provided by Discover Jersey Arts, a project of the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.



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