Mary Marin, “Sandra Bland Teapot,” ceramic.
For many who came of age in the mid-1970s, “The Waltons” was a staple of Thursday night television. The struggles of the fictitious Walton family from the Appalachian mountains of Virginia kept us glued to the small screen week after week. The few people of color featured on the show were struggling under the burden of racism and discrimination, often relying on the kindness of “good white folk” to save them. That, along with the influence of films such as “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” and “Wrong Turn,” have promoted the unfortunate stereotype of Appalachians as uneducated and uncultured.
This stereotype is challenged in “Holler if You See Me,” a visually riveting exploration of Black Appalachian culture currently on view at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
“When most people think of people of color living in the Appalachian mountain area, they think of slavery, poverty and oppression,” said Shai Perry, gallery coordinator and instructor at KCKCC. “Yes, that has happened, but people of color have also built homes, communities, businesses, and a body of inspiring artwork comes from artists of color who either live or are from the Appalachian area.”
Curated by Mid-South Sculpture Alliance board director, Karolta Contreras-Koterbay, who is BIPOC, and Lyn Govette, curatorial fellow, Slocumb Galleries, who is LGBTQ, “Holler if You See Me,” “explores the Black Appalachian artists’ efforts for inclusion, equality and negotiating the self-amidst systemic disenfranchisement, violence and loss,” according to the curatorial statement. “The artists’ quests for self-determination are aided in art as they reassert their presence, express dissent, and acquire empowerment.”
From ceramics and works on denim to wire sculptures and paintings on stretched canvas, “Holler if You See Me,” presents a side of Black Appalachia that is energetic, vibrant, hopeful, and speaks of self-determination, racial pride, and deep humanity. The 10 featured artists “range from Appalachian born to migrant Appalachians, some academic-trained and some are self-taught, all united on their quests for recognition, awareness and social justice.”
Mary Martin’s “Sandra Bland Teapot Ceramic” superimposes upon a dark-yellowish ceramic teapot a monochromatic image of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African American woman arrested in 2015 on a traffic stop and later found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas. Bland’s image is surrounded by the inscription “We have the capacity to birth new life out of our pain.” Poignant and vulnerable, this teapot serves the artist’s purpose in using ceramic objects as “storytelling vessels that both share fragments of memories and internalize the often-silenced voices that are too often ignored in society.”
Lynn Bachman’s painting on denim side-profiles a young Black woman wearing a black cocktail dress and adorned with a tiara, hoop earrings, pearls, and a ponytail. The juxtaposition of the formal and the casual, the refined and the common, speaks to the double consciousness that Black women must navigate in America. The artist, who has been employed at Eastman Chemical for 41 years and is also an ordained minister, “has a passion to use his ability to uplift and inspire others.”
Dexter Greenlee, a self-taught wire artist from Tennessee, presents a sculpture composed of hundreds of pieces of wire, twisting and turning to create the unmistakable form of a guitar. According to the exhibition catalogue, Greenlee took up wire sculpting in 1997 when his boredom and an abundance of wire intersected. This work speaks to patience, dedication to detail, and a commitment to craft.
Jason Flack’s “Slave Ship” utilizes acrylic, colored pencils, and paint markers to depict a slave ship surrounded by a sea composed of strokes of (what appears to be) teal, cobalt blue, pure green, and ultramarine blue. A student of Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat, Flack portrays the enslaved as crowded and tightly cramped in uncomfortable positions, consistent with the horrors of transatlantic slavery. Like all works in this exhibition, “Slave Ship” displays a dedication to detail and precision consistent with talented artists who are serious about their message.
Also including works by Jonathan Adams, Akintayo Akintobi, Tramel Fain, Pam Faw, Anissa Lewis, and Travis Prince, “Holler if You See Me” is a visually pleasing and enlightening exhibition to absorb and digest. It presents a side of the Appalachian community that is simply not seen enough; it also testifies to the resilience and self-determination of people of color, not just in Appalachia, but worldwide.
Kansas City Kansas Community College is not often looked at as an art destination in the area, but it is. Check it out.
“Holler If You See Me: Black Appalachia” continues at Kansas City Kansas Community College Art Gallery, located in the Jewell Center on the main campus, 7250 State Ave., Kansas City, Kan., through March 31, when the gallery will hold a closing reception from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday; a call ahead is recommended. For more information 913-288-7408 or www.KCKCC.edu.