Arts News: International BAAR Art Journey and Residency makes American debut in Kansas City

“Love and Loyalty ll,” by BAAR Art Journey and Residency artist Atiye Afolabi is part of the “Berlin Files: Unapologetic” exhibition. (BAAR Art Journey and Residency)

Kansas City will be the first stop in the Americas for the Berlin-based international artist residency and exhibition, BAAR Art Journey and Residency, when the exhibit “Berlin Files: Unapologetic” stops at three Kansas City galleries this summer.

The residency was founded “to protect, foster, and amplify the talents of emerging and established African Diaspora and Latinx, and overlooked artists who have limited access to mainstream art markets, gallery representation, and/or integration into institutional collections,” according to its founder, Jewell Sparks, an investor, global business strategist and art collector.

At its core, BAAR provides artists of color with opportunities for wealth, growth and safety that often come easier to their white counterparts.

“Berlin Files: Unapologetic” took shape last year as a group of three Black artists from the Americas moved to Berlin to create work in an artistic cocoon of sorts, away from their country of residence and the pressures and prejudices that exist there.

“During BAAR Art Journey and Residency, artists created works of art over a six-week time period as they experienced European cultural immersion, freedom of creative expression, and tapped into their authentic selves outside of their countries,” Sparks explains. The visiting artists stayed and exhibited at the Berlin residential partner, Stiftung Starke. Additional artists from around the world, including Kansas City’s Harold Smith, joined in a hybrid format by participating online and adding work to the BAAR Art portfolio.

Owner and executive curator of Habitat Contemporary Gallery, Robert Gann, was instrumental in organizing BAAR’s tour in Kansas City. “I’m pretty excited to be a part of this process because Kansas City doesn’t get a lot of international attention,” Gann explained. “That’s why I tried to bring this program to KC because we need to be on the radar. We have so many great artists. We’re a cultural hub that often people consider to be a flyover state.”

Gann collaborated with fellow curators Kimi Kitada of Charlotte Street and Wolfe Brack of InterUrban Arthouse. Their three venues will host the exhibit.

“Berlin Files: Unapologetic” includes figure paintings, textiles, abstract multimedia and wall-length paintings with sweeping brushstrokes. The pieces show the individuality of the artists as well as the connections they made with each other in Berlin. Each work exemplifies the idea of being unapologetically true to oneself. The year-long tour following the residency is an opportunity for these artists to grow their audience and thus their financial stability.

Participating artists include Luli Okedoyin, A. Stoyke, Adana Tillman, Atiye Afolabi, Alphonce Odhiambo, Carolina Romillo Marin, Carl Hazlewood, Cory Ford, Dior Thiam, Djuneid Dulloo, Hamisi Mwangome, Francisco “Totem” Perez, Nanette Carter and Rafaella Braga.

“I’m always thrilled to be introduced to new BIPOC artists, some of whom are self-taught or exhibit more widely in Europe,” Kitada said. “I’m particularly excited to see the hand-dyed details of Adana Tillman’s textile works, as well as the masterful paintings of Alpha Odhiambo.”

As the exhibit tours, additional artists are added to increase opportunities for even more overlooked artists. Sparks says, “The goal is to have a portfolio of 20 artists per year over a five-year time period. Our ArtPreneur(c) program at the end of the journey is to help increase financial literacy amongst creatives in order to maintain sustainable careers as creators.”

Keeping in line with this mission, Kansas City-based artists Kwanza Humphrey, Miguel Rivera, Harold Smith and Sumire “Skye” Taniai were selected to exhibit alongside BAAR residents. Two of them will be chosen to continue the rest of the tour throughout the country and back in Europe.

“I think the premise of the BAAR Art Journey is a powerful and important one,” said Wolf Brack. “While things are improving, artists of color often have and still do face difficulties finding space, opportunities, and representation in mainstream institutions and art markets. By having these works tour and show in prominent spaces, this exhibition bolsters artists’ resumes with opportunities they might deserve but never have access to. It’s also a step towards ‘normalizing’ artists of color in all art spaces. It reminds the world that BIPOC art and art depicting people of color isn’t always just niche “Black art,” “Asian art,” or “Latino art” meant only for those who identify with these groups. It is also just ART, a part of the greater human experience and worthy of being enjoyed, supported, and consumed by everyone.”

“Berlin Files: Unapologetic” will be on view July 7 – Aug. 25 at Habitat Contemporary Gallery, 2012 Baltimore Ave.; Charlotte Street, 3333 Wyoming St.; and InterUrban ArtHouse, 8001 Newton St., Overland Park. Jewell Sparks and Nerman Museum director JoAnne Northrup will host an artist talk from 6 to 8 p.m. July 20 at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park.

Emily Spradling

Emily Spradling is an adult English-language instructor, freelance writer and founding member of the arts/advocacy organization, No Divide KC. She is particularly interested in the intersections of art, culture and LGBTQ+ issues.

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