Honors: Vivian Wilson Bluett

Vivian Wilson Bluett sits before a display of her work at the Natasha Ria Art Gallery, where she recently had a one-person show. (photo by Jim Barcus)

The Self-Taught Artist is Coming into Her Own with a Solo Show and Black Lives Matter Street Mural

“I was terrified. I was nervous and anxious about the details. As nervous and anxious as I was, I wasn’t going to turn down the project. I felt like I had a responsibility to the community to give a visual representation of our struggle,” said Vivian Wilson Bluett, describing her initial response to realizing that, as one of the muralists for KC Art on the Block, she would be solely responsible for designing a mural the size of a city block.

It was indeed a momentous community responsibility. On Sept. 5, Vivian joined five other artists (including this writer), and more than 1,000 volunteers to convert 1,200 gallons of paint into six striking murals. Designed by the artists, the bright and vivid murals, some loaded with symbolism and metaphor, were created in diverse metropolitan locations ranging from Briarcliff and Mulberry to 63rd and Troost. Although each mural had different themes, their unity of purpose was evident. While reflecting the unique styles of each artist, every design showcased “Black Lives Matter” in large block letters.

63rd and Brookside mural designed by Vivian Wilson Bluett (photo by Dylan Spencer)

Located at 63rd and Brookside, Bluett’s mural is not only aesthetically engaging but also intricate and rich with meaningful details. The letter B incorporates a brown fist under a yellow crown in a sea of vivid greens. The next letter, an L, is presented in stark black and white, containing the names of unarmed black citizens killed by police. Another letter contains a set of lungs with the words “I Can’t Breathe.” Yet another letter incorporates a rendition of the African continent. Each individual letter is a singular expression of activist artwork. As Bluett states, “There is a message in each one of my letters.”

For Bluett, the event was just as challenging emotionally as it was artistically. While many Kansas Citians saw the murals as a big plus for the city and a step toward racial healing, others took violent offense. Several times during the day, individuals in pickup trucks drove by and shouted, “F-ck Black Lives Matter.” Late in the day, while correcting an improperly painted peace sign by herself after the volunteers and site leaders had left, Bluett was stunned to see a vandal drive around the street barriers and over the still wet mural, nearly crushing the personal belongings she had laid down while she worked. Family members came to the site to provide support and protection.

Petite, freckled, and with a vibrant smile that radiates both sensitivity and strength, Bluett is easygoing and pleasant but immovably firm in her convictions and unwavering in her artistic purpose. “I wanted to make sure to include the names of the victims of police brutality. I wanted to include the green, black and red colors, considering that those are the colors of the African Liberation Flag. I wanted to make it attractive for children because I hope that our future is better than our present, and in order for that to be true, we have to raise children that value ALL human lives,” she states.

A Texas native, Bluett often addresses social issues through depictions of innocent and carefree Black and Brown children. She is a member of the collective Black Space Black Art and has successfully exhibited in Black-owned businesses across the metro area. “Vivian’s work truly reflects who I see her to be — beautiful, inviting, powerful and full of love,” said her fellow collective member, Warren “Stylez” Harvey. “Her art speaks to the innocence and maturity of us all.”

Most recently, Bluett held her first solo exhibition at the recently rebranded Natasha Ria Art Gallery. Natasha Ria El-Scari, owner and curator, states, “Her portrayal of the beautiful Black female aesthetic can only come from a place of first self-love and then agape love. She’s a true gem!”

A self-taught artist juggling her burgeoning art career along with motherhood and marriage to railroad conductor Jason Bluett, Vivian started painting in her thirties and has been exhibiting for four years. Judging from her technical mastery, sense of color, sheer courage, and the ability to artistically articulate the issue of color in America, we can expect to see more of Vivian Wilson Bluett.

Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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