‘Colonial Currents: Black Women, Water, Trauma, and Baptism’ At The 15th National Black Writers Conference

The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York (CBL) presents the 15th National Black Writers Conference (NBWC2020). The conference, which started on Wednesday, runs until Saturday, November 14, 2020. The event, in association with Akila Worksongs, was rescheduled from its annually-held Spring dates due to COVID-19 and will be held virtually. This year’s theme, Activism, Identity, and Race: Playwrights and Screenwriters at the Crossroads, is a new focus for the Conference that boldly affirms and celebrates how the diaspora’s playwrights and screenwriters expand society’s understanding of Black life and the human experience. Forming part of an exciting program of events, anthropologist and interdisciplinary artist Alexis Alleyne-Caputo (Afro Diaries™) will present her short film titled  ‘Colonial Currents: Black Women, Water, Trauma, and Baptism’. 

Further to her previous projects exploring issues affecting black and brown communities, Alexis Alleyne Caputo’s project draws on current pertinent and intersecting issues, underscoring racial injustice, police brutality, climate change, COVID-19, and the global momentum supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.  The short film will be followed by a Q&A, which I have been invited to participate in.

Much reflection is given on how artists, activists, and educators can respond to the conference’s overall theme of activism, identity, and race whilst widening discussion, exploring solutions and disseminating findings beyond the conference’s virtual registrants. The artist who contributed to the project were Andria Thomas, Anasthasia Grand-Pierre, Cheryl Harrell, Desiree Parkman, Kashia Kancey, Maryann A. Payne-Benjamin, M.M.N. Caputo, Na’Talya Elizabeth Duhart, Shawna Watson, Shawnnette Longley (Rimidi), and Yolande Clark-Jackson.

Speaking on the eve of the conference Alexis Alleyne Caputo explains, ”This is a response to the conference theme of  Activism, Identity, and Race: Playwrights and Screenwriters at the Crossroads. The African American experience must be recorded and viewed from a wider lens, understanding similar or shared experiences of black people across the world. Milestones in history, our response, and the narrative of the African diaspora’s story matters. This is best served via the collaboration of literary, visual, and musical minds to celebrate our being and shape our future’’.

Other conference highlights include roundtable conversations, panel discussions, a town hall, film screenings, author readings, writing and playwrighting talk shops, a local vendor marketplace, and much more. The four-day virtual gathering brings together students, writers, artists, activists, scholars, literary professionals, theater and film giants, and other literature enthusiasts from near and far. The aim is to explore the challenges, rewards, and impact of working within the Black film and theater industries. Discussions will examine the ways that race, identity, politics, and popular culture shape the production of plays, films, and television shows.

For further information on Alexis Alleyne Caputo please visit https://alexiscaputo.com/

Click here for the program for the day.  For further information and bookings for the 15th National Black Writers Conference (NBWC2020) please visit https://centerforblackliterature.com

The featured image, courtesy of Alexis Alleyne Caputo  features Anasthasia Grand-Pierre (left) and  Maryann A. Benjamin (right)

Let Creativity Continue!

It’s been a long and difficult year so far. The ongoing COVID pandemic and the plight of so many is the summary of 2020. It continues to be a  particularly difficult time for the creative industries and freelancers on projects halted due to the uncertainties the pandemic brings. On a personal front, I’ve directed my energy on working on personal projects and spending time in the studio to combat feelings of upset, anxiety and worry over how life has changed for so many in so short a time. I had the pleasure of being included in a series of interviews with Scripps National News focusing on how people are coping with COVID and regional lockdowns. Check it out !

I’ve also had the pleasure of engaging with other artists and interviewed a number for Occhi Magazine. This has been inspiring and motivational. I encourage you to read some of our recent articles for inspiration, encouragement and believe we can channel our energy into being creative and finding a therapeutic release during these times. Articles include artists Audrey Barcio, Jessica Hess , REWA and Visual Artist Denis Mubiru.

Audrey Barcio, an American visual artist known for her paintings and installations.  Her work has been featured in New American Paintings, and in 2019, she was awarded a Pollock Krasner Foundation grant. Barcio maintains a rigorous, interdisciplinary studio practice in which notions of action, labor, and the human condition intersect with the history of Modernism to form the basis of aesthetic explorations.

Oakland, CA-based artist Jessica Hess is a hyperreal landscape painter. Her depictions of the urban environment both celebrate and validate the art of graffiti through a fine art lens of oil paintings on canvas and gouache on paper. Her awe-inspiring paintings have a powerful, dramatic, and captivating energy that feeds a desire to know more about the person behind the work. It was a pleasure to connect with Jessica to discuss her art and future projects.

My first impression of REWA’s art is its bright, harmonious, intense, and rich nature. The vibrancy and life in each picture draw you in, to examine its construction with excitement. She studied Physiology & Pharmacology at University College London and worked in the Insurance industry, so it was interesting to explore REWA’s development as an artist and approach to her work

Ugandan Artist Denis Mubiru provides a powerful blend of force, flavor, and prominence in his vivid, vibrant, and arresting work. His paintings, reminiscent of Basquiat,  are inspired by popular culture with bright colors and stylized imagery. Central to his work is the theme of transport and the migration or movement of people. His artworks often include roughly applied text which highlight the significance of thoughts or his experiences at the time.

These and other articles  are featured on Occhi Magazine. Wishing you all a safe and happy week ahead!

Images provided to Occhi Magazine, courtesy of the artists

Jessica Hess photo by Dustin Cantrell

In Conversation with Egyptian Painter Ghada Amer

Ghada Amer is an Egyptian painter, sculptor, and installation artist whose work addresses the issues of femininity, sexuality, and gender roles. Creatively she customizes ideas and symbols of religious fundamentalism and cultural identity via unique paintings and sculptures that illustrate her wide and varied talents. Ghada began her artistic training in Nice, France. As a student in the BFA and MFA programs of Villa Arson, Amer was excluded from painting classes because they were reserved for male students only. Refusing this narrative, she pursued an exciting career that continues to break boundaries. She injects a unique perspective on art, using different mediums to redefine what it means to be an artist. Ghada Amer now lives and works in New York City.  It was a pleasure to interview her for  Occhi Magazine.  Read the full interview here

Photo Credit: Arts/Industry, photographer Scott Seifert.

In The Spotlight: Ed Cross Fine Art

Hi all! Hoping all is well and you’re looking after yourselves mentally and physically during these difficult and trying times. I’ve been rather inconsistent with my entries of recent but I will endeavour to post, keeping you informed and hopefully inspiring your creative juices! I’ve been fortunate to interview several visual artists, musicians, authors, producers and directors for Occhi during the lockdown so please subscribe and follow the online magazine.

Ed Cross Fine Art works with emerging and established artists across and beyond the African diaspora. The gallery seeks to stage conversations – between practitioners, international audiences, and as guided by its artists to amplify voices historically silenced, and to create space for their independent development. Since launching in 2009, Ed Cross Fine Art has held exhibitions across the world: from New York to Paris, and London to Lagos, the gallery continues to build on its values of cooperation and curiosity. Occhi had the pleasure to speak to gallerist Ed Cross about the gallery and the sector trends, particularly in light of the COVID 19 lockdown.

Please tell our Occhi Readers how the Ed Cross gallery started.

Way back in 1988 I left my London publishing job at Heinemann to live in Kenya to pursue a career as an artist and continue my publishing interests as an independent agent for UK and American Educational publishers – so whilst Ed Cross Fine Art was formed in 2009 after I had returned to London, my connection to Africa long predates that. In Kenya, I collected some contemporary art just for the love of it and later worked as a sculptor myself for seven years but from the beginning, I was enthralled by the diverse creativity and energy that I experienced in East Africa and later the West and the South as I traveled the continent on business. In many ways, I liked the fact that the boundaries between art and life that I had known in the west were far less in evidence.

At around 2006, whilst still in Kenya,  I had an idea that would change my life – and this was simply the notion that “African Contemporary Art” was a hugely undervalued asset – undervalued culturally as well as financially. I saw this as both a business opportunity and a “mission” that,  it transpired,  would define my life. At that time there were very few artists from Africa who were on the world stage, El Anatsui had had excellent shows with October Gallery in London but it was at the Venice Biennale in 2007 that the magnificence of one of his great tapestry works overwhelmed the defenses of the Western art world and changed forever the perceptions of contemporary art from Africa.  By then I was already embarked on a journey towards raising the profile of artists from Africa. My decision to return to my home country was much to do with a desire to take the battle to the Western institutions and collector base and shortly after I arrived in the UK  I was pleased to learn that the Tate Modern who had previously shown little or no interest in African Contemporary art were embarked on a process of establishing a proper African contemporary collection.

Back in Africa, I had focussed on collecting contemporary works with some UK based friends but I soon found myself making friends with the artists whose works I was buying and realized that I could use the marketing skills I had acquired from publishing to help them sell their work – thus I accidentally became a gallerist.  The fact that I had studied History of  Art at Cambridge as an undergraduate helped too.

How would you describe the gallery’s program and what’s your USP, particularly for artists and art collectors?

A young curator who went on to hold one of the most important art jobs in the country once was kind enough to describe me as a magician because ECFA  “does all the things that a bigger gallery does without any of the usual infrastructures”.  In Kenya there is a term Jua Kali “hot sun” in Kiswahili covering the “informal sector” and I have always had a bit of an affinity with that way of doing things – we travel light.

Our resources go into wonderful and highly skilled colleagues, art fairs, pop-ups, and online platforms, and the development of materials that throw light on the artists we represent.  We had a space very briefly when I first started the company but since 2010 we have not had a physical space and since 2018 we have been lucky enough to be part of the Somerset House Exchange project which provides office space for creative businesses linked to its core mission of supporting the arts. This is a blessing in the current crisis.

Our USP is our relationship with our client artists and our commitment to the integrity of them as people and their work. We are always in search alchemy. It is all about the artist and their work, less about the gallery. We are not a gallery that tries to mold artists in any way but we are very much there for them – we are on the journey together and are often friends as well as business partners. We are also open to new “talent” and will take risks with new artists because we can and because it’s core to what we do. Many of our artists come to the art world via unconventional routes and we absolutely embrace that.

I am also only interested in artists that have something that I sense is profound and important to say – I am not interested in artists that try to game the system unless that is part of their practice. I have worked as an artist myself and my mindset as a gallerist is similar in many ways – in the end, you go with your intuition.

To read the full interview visit https://occhimagazine.com/in-the-spotlight-ed-cross-fine-art/

Photograph of Ed Cross by Dola Posh (2019)

In Conversation with Gallerist Jenn Singer

I met Jenn Singer several years ago at a gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan. She struck me as a warm, personable and professional individual with a genuine passion for the arts and a natural ability to engage with people, particularly prospective buyers. It is no surprise she celebrates 5 years of running her gallery with the launch of new artist additions, expanded services,  a new look and redesigned website where collectors can purchase artwork online. On behalf of Occhi Magazine,  I had the pleasure of speaking to Jenn about the gallery, the industry and what we can look forward to.

Jenn, when did you first gain an interest in art and how did it lead to you becoming a gallerist?

I first started my career in the visual art world, nearly 15 years ago, from the perspective of a trained dancer who had been in the performing arts since I was 5 years old.

When I found myself working in an art gallery, almost by accident, I felt at home immediately. My first sale of a painting, that first day on the job, spurred the question “but how much does the artist make?” This question was important for me to ask because, in my experience as a dancer in NYC, the path to making a real living from one’s art can be a tiresome struggle. The answer I received was music to my ears “the artist will make 50%”. I was hooked. That was a good payday for them, and I learned this particular artist’s work sold well. This artist made a living from doing what they loved the most, and from then on that was my “why”. I sell art so that artists can get paid to do what they love.

The gallery is now in its fifth year. Are there any role models in the industry who have inspired and motivated you to be where you are now?

I receive most of my motivation and inspiration from the artists themselves, as it’s their passion that leads to creation that drives me to support them. Without art where would any of us be? It would be a very different, less bearable world for sure. I am very grateful for my teachers along the way, the gallery owners who I’ve worked for in the past. Without them, I would not have learned the business of art. I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot (and a lot of what not to do). But over the past five years in business, the art world has changed dramatically. So I’ve mostly looked for inspiration from business leaders and role models from outside the art world, which seems to be somewhat lacking in innovation when it comes to dealing with shifting business models. I’ve never been comfortable with the lack of transparency and “coldness” of the white box gallery model. I have also witnessed and experienced the lack of support of women in the arts. So, my inspirations have come from women in business who are also creatives but not necessarily from the art world proper.

One of my recent inspirations is Mary Portas and her book Work Like a Woman. The white male dominance of the fashion world she describes reminded me of the hurdles that women who work in the art world face. It seems that in creative industries, there would be more, not less, support of women and their invaluable intuition at work, but that’s not how it is. It’s still mostly run by men who care more about their bottom lines than people. Mary has powered through, broken down the systems that weren’t working and rebuilt her business as a leader who gives back, encourages working from the female seat of intuition and supports other women in business to do the same. I have a long way to go in developing this business, but it’s leaders like Mary that I look to when I need a boost of confidence and encouragement.

How would you describe the gallery’s program?

We represent a diverse, international roster of emerging and mid-career contemporary artists, including Anne Austin Pearce (USA), Al Luke (South Africa), David Stenbeck aka@dovneon (Sweden), Emily Weiskopf (USA), Faatimah Mohamed-Luke (South Africa), Frida Harari Sitton (Mexico), Michelle Rogers (Ireland), Timothy P. Wilson (USA) and Virginia Wagner (USA). Our artists & exhibitions have been featured in Wallpaper*, Cultured Magazine, VICE – The Creators Project, The Huffington Post, Glamour and Hi-Fructose Magazine, among other publications.

Our expertise and global reach make collecting contemporary art easy, but our services reach well beyond this, including sourcing and consigning artwork from the secondary market, trade accounts for international art advisors and interior designers for residential, corporate, hospitality, film & tv set design, public art & commercial projects, custom framing and representing and connecting artists with global brands for mid-large scale licensing and commission projects….

 

You can read the full interview on Occhi Magazine’s official website. 

Jenn Singer Photographed by Peter Roessler