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Charleston’s Neema Fine Art Gallery kicks off Neema Gallery Arts in Schools Program

CHARLESTON CHRONICLE — The program will provide innovative and exceptionally enriching arts experiences to children in schools throughout Charleston and surrounding areas.

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By The Charleston Chronicle

Neema Fine Art Gallery kicked off the start of its Arts in Schools Program with a highly anticipated visit by Neema Gallery artist and children’s book illustrator, April Harrison at James Simons Elem Elementary on March 1, 2019. April shared her journey into becoming an artist and new children’s book to two groups of 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders in the school library (approximately 125 in all) before reading and signing copies of her newly release book, “What is Given From the Heart.” The visit was coordinated and facilitated by Meisha Johnson, CEO and Founder of Neema Fine Art Gallery, located at 3 Broad St. in the Historic District of Charleston, SC. 

The school visit was followed by an artist opening reception that evening at Neema Fine Art Gallery for Harrison’s exhibit “Nutured, Bonded & Spiritual: The Artistry of April Harrison.” The exhibit will run through the entire month of March.

Meisha Johnson, CEO and Founder of Neema Fine Art Gallery, hopes to help nurture the next generation of fine artists, creatives and art appreciators through the Neema Gallery Arts in Schools Program. The program will provide innovative and exceptionally enriching arts experiences to children in schools throughout Charleston and surrounding areas with a particular concentration on schools that service children who reside in the Eastside of the Charleston peninsula.

April Harrison, of Greenville is a self-taught artist who by her own admission is “merely a vessel being utilized to instinctively create narrative, sentiment and observation.” She is known for her “With Closed Eyes” style and imagery where the viewer is taken on a “journey into a place where time stands still, and life’s special moments, felt by special caresses, tender touches, and fond memories, transport you into a state of inner spirituality, focusing on the nurtured, bonded and spiritual.” Her work is in the public collections of Vanderbilt University, Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, the Atlanta Housing Authority, and the Erskine University Museum, and in many private collections including that of Whoopi Goldberg, Honorable Ruth Simmons, Honorable Andrew Young, Jesse L. Martin and Shaun Robinson.

Her work has also been featured on the set of several well known television shows and feature films. Most recently, her work is a part of the living room set of Nickelodeon’s K.C. Undercover featuring teen acting and singing sensation, Zendaya and actor, Kadeem Hardison. “What is Given from the Heart,” was released in Jan. 2019 by Random House and is April’s first children’s book. 

The book was written by legendary children’s book author, Patricia McKissack  who died in 2017, leaving “What is Given From the Heart” behind as her final work. McKissack is the author of many lauded books for children, including “Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout,” a Parents Choice Gold Award winner, a New York Public Library, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year. She is also a three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and Newbery Honor author. McKissack’s final magnificent picture book is a poignant and uplifting celebration of the joy of giving. 

“Misery loves company,” Mama says to James Otis. It’s been a rough couple of months for them, but Mama says as long as they have their health and strength, they’re blessed. One Sunday before Valentine’s Day, Reverend Dennis makes an announcement during the service: the Temples have lost everything in a fire, and the church is collecting anything that might be useful to them. 

James thinks hard about what he can add to the Temples’“love box,” but what does he have worth giving? 

With her extraordinary gift for storytelling, McKissack—with stunning illustrations by Harrison—delivers a touching, powerful tale of compassion and reminds us that what is given from the heart reaches the heart.

April Harrison is represented by Neema Fine Art Gallery, Charleston, South Carolina’s newest art gallery featuring original works of art by both established and standout emerging African-American artists who are from or who currently reside in South Carolina. Located at 3 Broad St., Ste. 100, and positioned at the start of Charleston’s Historic Gallery Row, the gallery opened its doors on Dec. 1, 2018 with a mission to help diversify who shops on the peninsula, increase diversity in terms of the artists who are represented in galleries on the peninsula and help increase the number of successful minority owned businesses on the peninsula. CEO and Founder, Meisha Johnson who also is an artist, arts educator and former special needs teacher, also desires to help address challenges faced by children, families and the elderly who reside in the Eastside of Charleston through innovative arts programming, philanthropy and community organization partnerships. 

On June 9th, 2019 Neema Gallery will partner with the Philip Simmons Foundation to host a birthday celebration in honor of legendary Charleston blacksmith and humanitarian, Philip Simmons who passed in 2009. The event will be held at Neema Fine Art Gallery and will include an art exhibit and silent auction of works created by SC artists commemorating the life, work and legacy of Philip Simmons. Funds raised from the exhibit will go towards the establishment of a Philip Simmons Children & Youth Scholars Program that will provide children and youth residing in the Eastside of Charleston with exceptionally enriching and empowering experiences that will help to nurture their God-given gifts and set them on a path to acquiring generational wealth. 

For additional information, contact Meisha Johnson, Owner, Curator & Gallery Director at Neema Fine Art a Gallery at neemagallery@gmail.com and (843) 353-8079 

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle

Art

Artists Partner with State for “Your Actions Save Lives” Campaign

“These accomplished artists are tapping into their culture and creativity to share empowering messages with communities that have been hard hit by COVID-19,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation.

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Jessica Wimbley, a Sacramento-based African American artist, uses her digital art to empower Black people to have agency in their own lives. Photo courtesy of CBM.

More than 20 California artists partnered with the state for the “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign. The effort was created to uplift and celebrate the resilience of communities and encourage safe practices that stop the spread of COVID-19 as Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to reopen the state on June 15.

The 14 original art projects included in the campaign range from murals, interactive exhibits, and live performances from artists based in communities highly impacted by the COVID-19, including Oakland, Sacramento, Stockton and San Diego.

“The arts have an opportunity to be uplifting and healing to your emotions,” said Jessica Wimbley, an African American digital artist who collaborated with the state for an advertisement on an Oak Park billboard in Sacramento and a digital art display at Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air to work on this campaign. There’s been so much negativity and divisiveness that’s happening in the world that is heavy on the spirit,” said Wimbley.

“It’s been transformative to work on this project,” she added.

The state partnered with the Center at Sierra Health Foundation in Sacramento for the project which relies on the power of art to communicate the importance of health awareness in addition to getting vaccinated.

“These accomplished artists are tapping into their culture and creativity to share empowering messages with communities that have been hard hit by COVID-19,” said Chet P. Hewitt, president and CEO of the Sierra Health Foundation.

“Art has incredible power, and we believe these works will spark important conversations, connections, and inspiration throughout the state,” he said.

Four female artists, including Wimbley, have used the project to tap into their respective cultures to create powerful visual artworks that empower and inform their diverse communities.

The interactive installation, ‘Benevolent Animals, Dangerous Animals,’ by Masako Miki located in Oakland’s Chinatown was inspired by Japanese folklore.

Sunroop Kaur, a classical artist, whose Spring mural is located in Stockton was inspired by her Punjabi-Sikh heritage. In San Diego, the mural ‘Stop the Spread’ by Tatiana Ortiz-Rubio honors her Mexican heritage.

In addition to the art campaign, Newsom recently announced a $116.5 million incentive program that will reward people in California for getting vaccinated. The state allotted $100 million in grocery gift cards worth $50 each for the next two million people who get vaccinated.

The remaining $16.5 million will be awarded as cash prizes to people who have been vaccinated across the state. More than 17 million people in California are fully vaccinated which is about 44% of the state’s population.

The incentive program aims to encourage everyone in California to get vaccinated with a goal to reopen the state by mid-June this year.

State officials say they are determined to fully reopen California schools and businesses in efforts to help the economy recover.

Black and Brown families continue to experience the brunt of the economic blow caused by COVID-19 despite the state’s efforts for community outreach to minimize hardship in their respective communities.

The artists featured in the state’s “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign hope to communicate messages of unity and solidarity through art influenced by their different cultures.

Four local artists celebrate their heritages and draw inspiration from their multicultural communities.

Masako Miki — Oakland

The interactive art installation ‘Benevolent Animals, Dangerous Animals’ by Miki was inspired by the idea of a treasure hunt throughout Chinatown in Oakland. The pandemic forced people to stay indoors, but the public art installation encourages people to explore different shops and restaurants while admiring the art.

The artwork was inspired by shapeshifting animals in Japanese mythology.

“I wanted to make this positive and uplifting because when things are dark and difficult, we need to have more positive images,” said Miki.

The current reality of the pandemic is, “so dark and difficult that we need to have imagery that gives us the ability to envision something positive,” she said.

In Japanese culture the tiger is a majestic animal that is fearless, she says. The cultural message in the artwork echoes notions of toughness.

“Resiliency is our strength,” and the benevolent animals featured in the art are meant to encourage people to, “respect each other and have empathy to get through this difficult time together,” said Miki.

Recent incidents of violence against Asians have fueled racial tension in America, in addition to the violence toward African Americans nationwide. Miki aspires to use her artwork to dispel stigmas related to COVID-19 about the Asian community.

“We have to have this dialogue so that I can introduce my culture in such a way that it becomes familiar and it’s not something that they’re afraid of because they don’t know about it,” said Miki.

Artistic performances and visual displays created by all the artists in the “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign have been exhibited since April and will continue until June this year.

Sunroop Kaur — Stockton

Kaur, an artist of South Asian descent, aims to decolonize classical art by using people of color as the center of attention in her paintings.

The large population of Punjabi Sikh immigrants in Stockton is a major influence in Kaur’s artwork. Kaur is intentional about using people of color as the focal point in her ‘Spring’ mural located at JMP Restaurant Supply.

“This mural is a visual celebration of my community and its resilience to not only survive in a foreign land but to thrive,” said Kaur.

The mural draws from the idea of, “decentering whiteness within my work by using people of color is my main fitters,” she said.

“The appropriation of Western classical art canons as a way to decolonize my own body and my culture,” she said.

The artwork includes two people socially distancing and wearing masks depicted through the Italian Baroque portraiture, a 17th-century art style associated with grandeur, movement, and drama.

The body language from the figures symbolizes, “the universal longing and yearning we feel for one another, but also acknowledging the fact that to keep our loved ones safe,” said Kaur.

The mural also includes pastel-colored floral patterns in reference to Spring which represents the reemergence of life following the pandemic. The mural includes royal blue arches as well as pink and malachite with historical pastel pigments that are part of Persian culture.

 Jessica Wimbley — Sacramento

Wimbley, a renowned African American artist, uses her digital art to empower Black people to have agency in their own lives.

The Oak Park Billboard, which is part of a state-sponsored advertising campaign, features Wimbley’s husband as the model. The representation of dark-skinned Black men is important when there have been many incidents of people dying in the media.

The billboard reinforces, “This notion of a Black man living,” said Wimbley.

“It’s really important to bring humanization to the representation of Black people in media. And focus on producing an agency, and empowerment,” she said.

Wimbley’s Masking Series was inspired by the tradition of masquerade which is celebrated in many cultures across Africa. The art series features a still photo of a face with a mask modeled by her husband and a multimedia image with a mask reflecting different visuals.

“The storytelling communicates the important occurrences within the community, I was reflecting on wearing a mask within the masquerade culture and the transformative nature of both putting on a mask and wearing one,” said Wimbley.

Wimbley also wanted to humanize Black and Brown people who were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The added stress of police brutality resulting in the death of African Americans nationwide also inspired Wimbley to show that Black people have agency in their own lives.

Through her art, Wimbley said that she wants Black people, “to be in a place of empowerment, versus, a space of trauma.”

“We are a part of an interconnected story and part of each other’s stories. We have agency in how we move forward, and we can write, claim, and develop what that next phase looks like,” said Wimbley.

The symbolism of the images presented on the Oak Park billboard and the digital display at Arden Fair Mall highlight different codes that have inspired social justice movements throughout the nation. On the billboard, the model is wearing a mask with coded patterns promoting vaccinations and several rings, one with Harriet Tubman.

Tatiana Ortiz-Rubio

In her ‘Stop the Spread’ mural located at Bread & Salt Gallery in Chicano Park,

Mexican-American visual artist Ortiz-Rubio used the image of a Latina woman to raise awareness on COVID-19 safety precautions in her community.

According to national data, Latinos make up about 30 % of San Diego’s population. They were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because a disproportionate number are essential workers or undocumented people.

“This is truly a message for anyone in the world because a pandemic has affected us all. But it hasn’t affected us equally,” said Ortiz-Rubio.

“In the United States, minorities have been affected because of their race and economic status,” she said.

Muralism was a social movement which helped foster systematic change in Mexico. Ortiz-Rubio said that the Black Lives Movement also inspired her to challenge racism and inequality through her artwork.

“It speaks to everyone, and the fact that it is a Latin American woman speaking to anyone, is also important because usually generalized images are of a White person,” she said.

Being a woman is an integral part of Ortiz-Rubio’s experience creating the mural. She recalled young girls and their mothers witnessing her paint the mural from their backyards which reaffirmed her desire to use a Latina as the centerpiece of her mural.

“It’s very empowering to be celebrated,” said Ortiz-Rubio.

“This will be a message that will take that stigma away,” she said.

The visual artist said that she wants Latin Americans to be represented and celebrated in her art especially when they are the target audience.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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Art

Broadway Success of Black Artists Revealed in ‘Footnotes’

Caseen Gaines explores the question, how long will your star stay aloft?

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Footnotes/Google Books

 You can’t see where the roar is coming from.

But you can hear it, and that’s what matters. The role was made for you, you hit every line and note, the audience loved you – and now the roar of cheers and applause is yours. 

How long does the standing ovation last? How hard do they clap? And, in her new book “Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way”

Caseen Gaines explores the question, how long will your star stay aloft?

Growing up in an affluent Black neighborhood in Columbia, Tenn., Flournoy Miller had everything he could ever want – and when he was 9 years old, he wanted to be onstage. It was 1894, and his parents had taken him to see Sissieretta Jones, a famous soprano and one of the highest-paid Black entertainers of the day.

“Miller,” says Gaines, “was captivated.”

And yet, growing up, Miller knew that fame was a dangerous reach. Every Black entertainer seemed to know someone who was killed by white folks for no reason, but once Miller met Aubrey Lyles in 1903 and “the two hit it off right away,” the warning was ignored. 

Miller, in fact, was more determined than ever for fame, and the two developed a popular comedy act.

From the time he was a child, Noble Sissle loved to sing. Few things pleased him more than a chance to perform in church and, while it was expected that he would become a minister like his father, he grew more passionate about music.

When Sissle took a job in Baltimore, he met Eubie Blake, a talented pianist who grew up in a Godly house as a child and honed his talents at brothels as a teenager. They, too, became fast friends and eventual collaborators.

It’s a small world, and because they worked in the same industry, Miller and Lyles knew Sissle and Blake and there was mutual respect all around. They had kicked around the idea of working together on a show, but the idea didn’t coalesce until early 1921.

And, “with nothing but a handshake agreement..” says Gaines, “the quartet agreed to give it a shot.”

The nicest thing about “Footnotes” is this: you don’t have to be a theater-goer to enjoy it. You don’t ever have to have even seen a play. You can love this lively, sparkling book for no reason but just because.

Though it takes a while to get there and though it may not seem like it, the main subject of this book is the musical, “Shuffle Along.” Gaines seems to use this main feature as a backdrop as he wraps biographies, history, and everyday life around that century-old show to demonstrate how it came to be and why it was so important to Black culture. 

There’s racism in this tale, of course, but also determination and a sense of opulence and grandeur, at times. It can be a feel-good story, but one that hurts, too.

Shakespeare said, “The play’s the thing” and so is “Footnotes.” If you love Broadway, history, or books on culture, it’ll make you roar.

“Footnotes: The Black Artists Who Rewrote the Rules of the Great White Way” by Caseen Gaines. c.2021, Sourcebooks $26.99 / higher in Canada 448 pages

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Activism

San Francisco Proposes Art Installation to Honor Black Lives, History of African Americans

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent.

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Dana King/ Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco, CA. – Mayor London N. Breed today announced the City of San Francisco is planning a new public art installation to honor Black lives and the history of African Americans. The installation is planned to be located in Golden Gate Park’s Music Concourse next month, in time for Juneteenth.

The installation, ‘Monumental Reckoning,’ by Bay Area sculptor Dana King, honors the first Africans stolen from their homeland and sold into chattel slavery in the New World. The installation consists of 350 sculptures representing the number of Africans initially forced onto the slave ship San Juan Bautista for a journey of death and suffering across the Atlantic in 1619. A handful of these original 350 ancestors became America’s first enslaved people.

The sculptural figures created in all-black steel with vinyl tubing, each standing four feet high, would surround the empty pedestal where a statue of Francis Scott Key once stood. Key, who wrote the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was a slave owner and abolition opponent. Protestors toppled the statue on Juneteenth 2020.

“The art and monuments that we choose to display in our city and the civic art that fills our public spaces must reflect the diversity of our community, and honor our history,” said Breed. “This powerful public art installation in Golden Gate Park will help us not only commemorate Juneteenth, but also serve as an example of how we can honor our past, no matter how painful, and reflect on the challenges that are still with us today.”

Monumental Reckoning would allow visitors to commune with the figures. The phrase “Lift Every Voice” would shine from atop the nearby Spreckels Temple of Music through a second, connected piece by Illuminate the Arts. These are the first three words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, a song written by civil rights champion James Weldon Johnson which was first performed in 1900—the same year the Spreckels Temple of Music opened. 

For more than a century, Johnson’s song of unity has been sung as the Black national anthem. U.S. Representative James Clyburn is currently leading an effort to have the song named America’s national hymn.

“I’m excited to see the new monument go up in Golden Gate Park to honor Black lives and the rich history of African Americans,” said Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton. “I think this is a perfect example of trying to right a wrong. Rather than uplifting individuals with oppressive histories, this is an opportunity to honor diversity and our community through public art.”

The installation was approved by both the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission’s Operations Committee this week. It is currently under review by the Planning Commission. “Lift Every Voice” will also need to be approved by the City’s Historical Preservation Committee before it can be installed. If approved, Monumental Reckoning would open to the public on June 19, or Juneteenth 2021, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. The art piece would remain in place through June 20, 2023.

“The memory of African descendants deserves to be told truthfully and publicly,” said King, Monumental Reckoning’s creator. “Monumental Reckoning fulfills both objectives with the installation of 350 ‘ancestors’ who will encircle the Francis Scott Key plinth in Golden Gate Park. The ancestors stand in judgement, holding history accountable to the terror inflicted on the first group of enslaved people brought here in 1619 to the last person sold to another, all victims of chattel slavery. Even though the business of enslavement ended long ago, it still resonates generationally for African Americans and forms the bedrock from which systems of oppression proliferate today.”

Fundraising, community outreach, and ongoing support for the installation is being provided by the Museum of the African Diaspora. Creative and programming support would be provided by The Black Woman is God, which is an annual group exhibition of Black women artists curated by Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green. The project celebrates Black women as essential to building a more just society and sustainable future and reclaims space historically denied to Black women artists.

“What Dana King’s powerful installation communicates and commemorates is a sober cultural gut-punch long overdue, and I hope it’s the beginning of many such visual testaments in the public realm that venerate the origin stories of our most marginalized and disenfranchised populations,” said Ralph Remington, San Francisco’s Director of Cultural Affairs. “We almost never see images of Black people represented in our public monuments, or in the American telling of history. So, it’s no surprise that in a society rooted in white supremacy, people of color remain invisible and undervalued in our mythology, symbols, architecture and national narrative. While the City examines the historic works in our Civic Art Collection and the future of monuments in San Francisco, this installation will help build and advance a discourse about who and what we venerate in our open spaces.”

 “We are incredibly proud to host this powerful piece,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “Monumental Reckoning prompts frank discussion about the legacy of slavery, while charting a course between past, present and future. We are grateful to have these crucial conversations in Golden Gate Park—a beloved public space that belongs to everyone.”

This story was produced by the San Francisco Mayor’s office.

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