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Press: Richmond, Alameda art exhibits celebrate Black History Month, East Bay Times

‘Art of the African Diaspora,’ ‘Demystifying the Journey’ feature Bay Area artists’ works

By MARTA YAMAMOTO | CorrespondentPUBLISHED: February 6, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. | UPDATED: February 7, 2021 at 7:14 a.m.

In honor of Black History Month, the Richmond Art Center is hosting its “Art of the African Diaspora” exhibit along with a satellite exhibit at Alameda’s Rhythmix Cultural Works. The exhibits offer opportunities to view art inspired and produced by Bay Area artists of African descent as it reflects the spirit and creativity of African people and, through artists’ talks and virtual open studios, opportunities to hear their stories and appreciate their creativity.

“Sweet Mother” by Abi Mustapha is one of the many works by African-American Bay Area artists being displayed by the Richmond Art Center and Alameda’s Rhythmix Cultural Works in their respective “Art of the African Diaspora” and “Demystifying the Journey” exhibits. (photo courtesy of Richmond Art Center) 

This annual event goes back 25 years, founded in 1996 under the name “The Art of Living Black” by the late sculptor Jan Hart-Schuyers and late painter Rae Louise Hayward. It was the only annual exhibit in the Bay Area to exclusively feature regional artists of African descent; in 2019 it was renamed “Art of the African Diaspora” (AOTAD).

The longest show in California dedicated to African-American artists, it’s running this year from Feb. 11 to May 16 with the main exhibition at the Richmond Art Center, along with satellite exhibits, including “Demystifying the Journey” at Alameda’s Rhythmix. AOTAD was created to provide opportunities to the Bay Area’s African-American artists ages 16 and older, to highlight their work, give them a chance to exhibit and to have a professional art experience.

“To participate in this nonjuried community show, artists must meet three qualifications — are you of the African diaspora, do you live in the Bay Area and do you have a body of work?” said Stephen Bruce, who chairs the AOTAD steering committee. “One of the key elements of the show is we have anywhere from beginning artists to emerging artists to well-known artists, so artists get to interact with a professional they would never expect to exhibit with, so mentoring is a big part of the show. There’s a chance to meet artists who have been exhibiting a while and learn some insight.”

“The 2nd Line” photograph by Val Kai is one of the many works by African-American Bay Area artists being displayed by the Richmond Art Center and Alameda’s Rhythmix Cultural Works in their respective “Art of the African Diaspora” and “Demystifying the Journey” exhibits. (photo courtesy of Richmond Art Center) 

Normally this year’s 110 participating artists would display at the Richmond Art Center and offer open studio tours. Due to the pandemic, though, the gallery is closed and this year’s show is virtual. Participating artists are included in the online exhibition with individual webpages highlighting their work. Some will offer virtual artist talks and open studio tours, and all are encouraged to display as much of their creativity as they can. The show, open to all media, is meant to raise awareness about Black art.

“It’s not about the image that you see but the spirit and creativity of African people,” Bruce said. “There’s a preconception of what Black art is, and that preconception might limit its marketability. Even though it shouldn’t, it might.”

In Alameda, the “Demystifying the Journey” satellite exhibit at Rhythmix Cultural Works highlights the work of nine Bay Area African-American winners of AOTAD show awards: 2018 winners Tōmye, Stephanie Thames and Karin Turner; 2019 winners Abi Mustapha, Zoë Boston and KaLiMa AmiLak; and 2020 award winners Fan Warren, Tiffany Conway and Val Kai. This exhibit is online now through April 30.

“Each artist submitted four to six pieces of work. Some have also submitted a process video or a video of them speaking about their work,” said Jennifer Radakovich, the assistant director at Rhythmix. “On the Rhythmix website, viewers can access the online gallery, watch the Zoom reception, hear the artists talk about their work and view the videos they’ve made.”

“One of the great values in this show is how we celebrate our history and one of the most poignant ways to do that is to highlight and celebrate the award winners,” added Bruce. “Some of them are emerging artists, and they use this award as a confidence builder for their careers.”

The exhibit advances the theme “Creating Our Future” from Rhythmix and AOTAD’s 2020-21 public art installation at Alameda’s Chochenyo Park, curated by Bruce in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The installation is up now and will remain so through the end of April.

“God’s Children Will Rise” by Zoe Boston-Brown is one of the many works by African-American Bay Area artists being displayed by the Richmond Art Center and Alameda’s Rhythmix Cultural Works in their respective “Art of the African Diaspora” and “Demystifying the Journey” exhibits. (photo courtesy of Richmond Art Center) 

“Three of the same artists who created work for that installation are in our current exhibit — Abi Mustapha, Tiffany Conway and Zoë Boston,” Radakovich said. “Part of the reason we’re hosting the current exhibit is that we had such a great experience working with Stephen and the artists and we wanted to do something else.”

AOTAD sends out the message that Black artists are in the community and their creativity is not limited to any preconceived concept of what constitutes Black art, that the art is available for purchase and that purchasing art is an excellent way to support these artists. Part of the Rhythmix mission is to bring people together to learn about each other and the world through art.

“We’re so happy to be able to feature and highlight artists of the African diaspora and connect people across communities,” Radakovich said. “Another part of our mission is to support local artists and emerging artists, and we’re so happy that Stephen’s been able to work with us so we can reach different sections of the artists’ population that we haven’t reached before and help bring them to the public.”

Twenty-five years ago two artists recognized the need to showcase the work of Black artists; this year the main and satellite exhibits again give Bay Area residents an opportunity to broaden their conceptions and admire the artists’ work and creativity.

Marta Yamamoto is a freelance writer, longtime Bay Area resident and outdoor enthusiast. Contact her at martayam@nullgmail.com.

Top image: “Legacy-Y” by Fan Warren is one of the many works by African-American Bay Area artists being displayed by the Richmond Art Center and Alameda’s Rhythmix Cultural Works in their respective “Art of the African Diaspora” and “Demystifying the Journey” exhibits. In honor of Black History Month, the Richmond and Alameda locations are hosting the exhibits to offer Bay Area residents opportunities to view the work of Black artists, broaden their conceptions and admire the artists’ work and creativity.

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