“NOW WHAT?” African American Artist Collective Exhibition, Leedy-Voulkos Art Center

Leedy-Voulkos exhibition space featuring “NOW WHAT?”

“I’m here and I exist! So now what?” asked Jason Wilcox after contemplating his participation in the “NOW WHAT?” group exhibition at Leedy-Voulkos Art Center. Wilcox shared a photograph taken on opening night of himself standing next to his multimedia diptych “Alion.” His piece depicts the raw power of Muhammad Ali and pays homage to the struggles and resilience of vocal historical figures and movements that have demanded equal human rights for Black Americans.  

“NOW WHAT?,” as explained by Soníe Joi Thompson-Ruffin, curator and founder of the African American Artist Collective (AAAC), “shines a light on the untold stories, the silenced voices, and the collective history that has shaped and molded the community.” Thirty-one artists participated in the exhibition, each encouraging viewers to think about identities, histories, race, ancestry, injustices and tragedies, and initiatives for systemic equality. As Jason Piggie says, there is a “duality of oppression and opportunity.” 

Joseph T. Newton, #2-4 “Pharaoh’s infinity. The 8th prelude to the Sequence to the 7th Galaxy – in the Shadow of the Moon Pharaoh’s Infinity 8,000”

One dialogue in the exhibition is that of ancestry and recontextualizing history. Joseph T. Newton’s “Pharaoh’s infinity” series connects painting and music through geometric abstraction, as once initiated by Wassily Kandinsky. However, in Newton’s works, one may hear the jazz instrumentals of Miles Davis or Charlie Parker. Ramona Davis’ “Rhythm of Patterns” was inspired by the work of Alma Thomas, an Abstract Expressionist and part of the Black Arts Movement (1965-75). Davis looked to the Surma and Mursi tribes of the Omo Valley in Southern Ethiopia when creating the figure.  

Janine Carter, “Red Lined, Green Lined Go?”

Several works in “NOW WHAT?” attend to the discriminatory practice of redlining. Stasi Bobo Ligon’s work “Segregated by Design” recalls her personal experience with redlining in Kansas City and was also motivated by the writing of Richard Rothstein, which discusses systemic racism. Janine Carter’s piece “Red Lined, Green Lined Go?” portrays Kansas City’s I-435 and U.S. Highway 40 as particular points of contention. A Black man and woman process these boundaries while the “green line” cuts off their air supply at the throat. 

Michael Patton also references violence against Black populations in his poem “To a Black Boy Dying Young.” The poem, which begins, “Death arrives so casually now,” informs the reader about the dangers of complicity in the destruction of young Black lives. Patton says, “Despite all attempts to plan, to educate, and to ‘talk’ to our boys nothing has removed the targets emblazoned on their backs.”  

Likewise, Glenn North’s visual poem “Still Life with Black Blossoms,” comments on those violent tragedies, but with the auxiliary element of photographs of young Black lives being tragically ripped from them since Emmett Till in 1955. The department store art that North uses for his canvas is reminiscent of the banality that white supremacy treats young Black children being slaughtered. Thompson-Ruffin asks, “How did we become so comfortable with these tragedies?”  

Remy Wharry, “The Blueprint”

Many works in “NOW WHAT?” speak to empowerment rather than anger or loss. Anita Easterwood’s graphite work “Manuela” and Kim Newton’s quilt “Fix Our Crown” enter a dialogue about intersectionality and the authority of Black women. Remy Wharry’s piece “The Blueprint” explores cultural trends and beauty standards among Black women. She says, “WE are the trendsetters, WE are unique, WE are the heart of pop culture, WE deserve our credit, and WE are the blueprint.”  

Several artists featured in the exhibition mention the importance of AAAC’s work in the community for Black artists. Founded in 2014, artists can develop their professional networks, gain mentorship, and develop their artistic practices while engaging social justice movements. “NOW WHAT?” materializes as a culmination of ideas and artworks that have incredible insight into Kansas City’s communities and histories and how they hope to shape its future.  

“NOW WHAT” also features the works of Michelle Beasley, J. LeRoy Beasley, Charles Bibbs, NedRa Bonds, Wolfe Brack, Ed Dwight, Diallo Javonne French, Toni Gates, Cathy Ann Johnson-Conforto, Clarissa Knighten, Leonard Le’Doux, Jr., Dean Mitchell, George Mayfield, Maria Morgan, Arnold Nelson, Joseph A. Newton, Jason Piggie, David Stevens, Sandra Scott-Revelle, Sonié Joi Thompson-Ruffin and Michael Toombs

“NOW WHAT” continues at Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore Ave., through Aug. 26. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, 816.474.1919 or www.leedy-voulkos.com/main-gallery.

Ashley Lindeman

Ashley Lindeman is an art historian, educator, and arts writer. She recently earned her Ph.D. from Florida State University, and she works full time as Assistant Professor of Humanities at Johnson County Community College.

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