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Myrna Gates once volunteered at Magic City Art Connection; last week she won award of distinction

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Myrna Gates is a long-time Magic City Art Connection (MCAC) supporter: she’s attended for more than a decade, first as a visitor then a volunteer. This year was her first time as an artist at the event.

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By Ameera Steward

Myrna Gates is a long-time Magic City Art Connection (MCAC) supporter: she’s attended for more than a decade, first as a visitor then a volunteer. This year was her first time as an artist at the event.

“I [used] to walk around and talk to these artists, and I would always want to be there, but [some years] I didn’t have enough money for the application fee. Something … [would always] keep me from doing it.”

A couple of years ago she wanted to present her artwork so badly at the MCAC that she chose to volunteer because she had missed the deadline [to enter the festival].

“I just wanted to be a part,” Gates said. “The whole time I was [volunteering], I was … trying to keep myself from crying because I knew I wasn’t supposed to be out there volunteering. I was supposed to be out there as an artist, not just a volunteer.”

“Blue Bayou”

Gates, 53, from Birmingham’s Wenonah community, was at the MCAC last weekend, but not as a visitor or volunteer—she was among the 200-plus juried artists from Alabama and across the U.S. who gathered in Linn Park to display a broad range of art mediums and styles.

Gates said the festival was “awesome from the very first day …I sold several paintings, I got so many commissions, so many people who wanted me to do paintings for their offices, or their living rooms… It was 100 times more than what I expected and that’s all the way around…from the people to the artists that you meet…that was beautiful…meeting other artists from different states and they tell you how they travel, how they just go from show to show.”

On Friday, she won an Award of Distinction. “I knew they’d give awards away but I never thought I would win, it wasn’t even in my mind the whole time…so when that gentleman called my name, I literally took off running…I was yelling and screaming and that reaction also made people like me, they just thought that was so cool…people were just coming up to me the next day and…saying ‘you were so happy.’”

Because it was her first year as a participant, she looked forward to presenting her “Blue Bayou” collection.

“My first set of ‘Blue Bayou’ paintings, a collection of all-blue, more of an ocean scene with waves, [was inspired by a fear] I always had about painting with the color blue. I don’t know why I was always scared of it, so I named the collection ‘Blue Bayou,’ meaning sad, but they turn out so beautiful. It’s my favorite go-to color,” Gates said of the blue-themed paintings she began working on in March.

“I stretch my own canvas, so I buy wood and all the materials and begin the process of what size and how many,” she said.

Gates paints in layers, so she can work on a painting for a week to a couple of months: “[It] all depends on when I feel like it is finished. … [Something just] lets me know when it’s finished.”

“Spreading Happiness”

Gates said it’s important that people “see my art and go, ‘Wow!’ I want to spark a conversation. I want people to talk about it. I want [my paintings] to be so touching that [people] want to buy [them].”

“If they look at [the painting] every day, I want it to bring happiness. That’s why I paint. … Maybe it’s my own little way of spreading happiness.”

Gates has always enjoyed painting, but she got serious about it about 15 years ago, when she helped her son, Eric, with an art project during his time as a student at Birmingham’s George W. Carver High School. Her son also had the opportunity to meet Kerry James Marshall, a Birmingham native who is renowned for “his paintings, installations, and public projects … often drawn from African-American popular culture and … rooted in the geography of his upbringing,” according to art21.org.

“I took my son to the meeting [with Marshall], but I didn’t know I was going to get inspired,” Gates said.

Marshall spoke to young people and their parents at the Birmingham Museum of Art. He explained that when he was young and went to art museums, all the paintings seemed to be for whites, so he chose to incorporate black characters into his artwork. Gates was intrigued by Marshall’s lecture.

“It struck something in me because that’s what I saw when I went to to art museums, too,” she said. “[I] went to art museums all the time, but I never saw black figures.”

She often creates her best pieces when she is angry about an issue, Gates said.

“I do some of my best work when I’m upset and what I paint is about racism or inequality or [things] not being fair,” she said, adding that those sentiments inspired her new series, titled “Not Our Kind.”

“I have been in positions [in which I felt that] ‘I’m not their kind,’ … so I stopped trying to be part of the group,” Gates said. “I became my own self and then I found abstract.”

Her objective is to make people look: “I want you to see something. … I want you to find something,” she said.

“Loud and Proud”

Gates, who is self-taught, said she also wants children to see more black artists.

“When you go to [some] festivals, we’re not there. We’re not represented,” she said. “That was one of the reasons I [said to myself], ‘You have to fight [to be part of the festivals]. You have to do whatever you have to do. I don’t care. You have to be [at the MCAC] this year. … Your voice means something. Say something. If you want to change [the fact that we’re not represented], change it. If you want to do it, do it. You be the one to step up and do it.’

“So, I said, ‘I’m going to be there. I’m going to be loud and proud and just say, Hey I am here. I’m representing Birmingham. I’m representing my black community.’”

Gates didn’t start selling her paintings until her children started encouraging her.

“They were like, ‘Ma, your stuff looks just as good as these other people’s stuff. You need to sell it,’” she said.

Gates did her first art show at Avondale Park in 2015 with 10 paintings—and she sold out: “I’ve been selling ever since,” she said, adding that she is inspired by the people who came before her and she wants to inspire others.

Graffiti

Gates appreciates a broad range of art styles, but graffiti is one of her passions.

“A lot of people don’t want words in their paintings, but they accept the words if it’s graffiti,” she said. “I want to do graffiti like … Jean-Michel Basquiat, [a renowned New York City artist who died at age 27]. I love his graffiti and just listening to his story. [I’m] also very inspired when I listen to others, people who are artists and have a story to tell about how they struggled before they made it big. … Even if I never make it big, big I’m happy.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times

Art

Jean-Michel Basquiat, A Troubled Soul

Basquiat often said that he “felt friendless and misunderstood.” After his parents separated, Gerard moved with his children to Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood. When he was 7, Basquiat’s mother was diagnosed as mentally ill and was eventually institutionalized. This part of his life troubled him greatly.

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Untitled, 1981 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Wikipedia photo.
Untitled, 1981 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Wikipedia photo.

By Tamara Shiloh

It was the early summer of 1980. More than 100 artists converged on an abandoned four-story building at Seventh Avenue and 41st Street in New York City that had once served as a massage parlor. Among those in the group was Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988). His work on exhibit was believed to have been his first painting on canvas.

Although the exhibition, dubbed “The Times Square Show,” drew critical attention, it boosted 18-year-old Basquiat’s career as a painter. His contribution, a mural painted on a patch of wall, was described by Art in America as “a knockout combination of de Kooning and subway paint scribbles.”

The path to that shuttered massage parlor and his rise to success during the 1980s as part of the Neo-expressionism movement were not without difficulty.

Basquiat was born into a middle-class family in Brooklyn. His father, Gerard, a Haitian immigrant, was an accountant. His mother, Mathilde, was a homemaker. Despite her frequent hospital stays for depression, Mathilde spent countless hours in the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum with Jean-Michel, encouraging his interest in painting.

Gerard, physically abusive, wasn’t involved in his son’s career. Biographies and films have chronicled the strained relationship between the two, according to DNA Info.

Basquiat often said that he “felt friendless and misunderstood.” After his parents separated, Gerard moved with his children to Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood. When he was 7, Basquiat’s mother was diagnosed as mentally ill and was eventually institutionalized. This part of his life troubled him greatly.

By age 17, Basquiat dropped out of high school. Gerard then threw him out of the house. He stayed with friends, slept in Washington Square Park, and lived-in run-down hotels.

It was then that he partnered with other graffiti artists and created the persona, SAMO, meaning “same old sh––.” For money, he panhandled and sold sweatshirts and postcards marked with his drawings. He got by on “cheap red wine and 15¢ bags of Cheetos.”

With no formal training, Basquiat created work that mixed graffiti and signs with the gestural and intuitive approach of Abstract Expressionist painting.

He expressed his personal angst in highly stylized self-portraits. In the early ’80s, race entered his work for the first time as a reflection of a “growing consciousness of his own position within the New York art world.”

His painting, “The Death of Michael Stewart” commemorates the killing of the young Black artist by New York City Transit Police. “Black people are never really portrayed realistically…. I mean, not even portrayed in modern art enough,” Basquiat had said.

Basquiat died of a drug overdose in 1988. Toward the end of his life, his works were selling around $25,000 to the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

Earlier though, both museums had rejected his work.

Be inspired by Basquiat’s paintings, read “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” by Maya Angelou, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Sarah Jane Boyers.

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Art

Marin Fair Competitive Exhibits Open for Entry

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

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Marin County Fair “So Happy Together!” returns June 30-July 4

Courtesy of Marin County

2022 Marin County Fair Poster depicting a variety of farm animals with the Marin County Civic Center and Marin Fairgrounds property in the background. San Rafael, California — With Marin County Fair’s June 30 opening day just around the corner, the Competitive Exhibits categories for the 2022 Fair are now available on the Fair’s website MarinFair.org.

The competitive exhibit program, which usually takes place indoors, will remain online for one more year and will include competitions such as fine art and photography, decorated cakes and cookies, wine and beer label design, clothing and textiles, cartoon art, exceptional art, poetry and creative writing, hobbies and crafts, and more. The Plein Air painting competition on the first day of the Fair will take place outdoors. The agriculture competitions will remain outdoors and will include poultry, rabbits, sheep dog trials, pocket pets, dog care and training, and small animal round robin showmanship, to name a few.

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

The full list of categories and entry guidelines is available online at MarinFair.org. Submissions will be accepted from May 6 to May 31 and winners will be announced online during Fair time.

The 2022 fair will also focus on outdoor entertainment including the headline concerts, performers roaming the grounds such as jugglers, unicyclists, and stilt walkers, and interactive art experiences for fans of all ages. Returning fair favorites will include traditional carnival rides, the Global Marketplace, the Barnyard, food and drinks, and fireworks every night over the Civic Center’s Lagoon Park.

Early bird tickets sold out within one day of release. Discounted Fair tickets are still available for adults and teens through June 29. The Fair is a one-price gate featuring 28 carnival rides, exciting exhibits, spectacular firework displays, first-rate concerts and exciting attractions are FREE with gate admission. Tickets are available online only at MarinFair.org.

Headline concerts will soon be announced, and reserved gold circle tickets will go on sale May 16. Reserved concert seating in a special section is $60 per person and includes Fair admission.

Special Admission Days:
Kids Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Children 12 and under are FREE on Thursday, June 30.
Senior Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Seniors 65+ are admitted FREE

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Activism

Installation Invoking Black Struggle for Justice in Opens May 14 at Oakland City Hall

Society’s Cage is an open air, accessible pavilion featuring 500 hanging steel bars that form a cavernous cube with a habitable void allowing visitors to experience the symbolic weight of institutional racism. This immersive experience offers the opportunity to consider the severity of racial biases within our institutional structures of justice and allows for moments of reflection and healing. 

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Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it was being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.
View of ‘Society’s Cage,’ an immersive exhibit at Oakland City Hall. Photo courtesy of the organizers.

By Randolph Belle

A traveling exhibit that invokes the history of repression of Blacks in the United States arrived in Oakland for installation this week at Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Support Oakland Artists, an Oakland based 501(C)3, partnered with Society’s Cage to bring the acclaimed social justice art installation as a feature in front of Oakland City Hall from May 9-30, 2022.

Society’s Cage is an open air, accessible pavilion featuring 500 hanging steel bars that form a cavernous cube with a habitable void allowing visitors to experience the symbolic weight of institutional racism.

This immersive experience offers the opportunity to consider the severity of racial biases within our institutional structures of justice and allows for moments of reflection and healing.

The designers, Dayton Schroeter, Julian Arrington, Monteil Crawley and Ivan O’Garro, created the installation to contextualize the contemporary phenomenon of police killings of Black Americans within the 400+ year continuum of racialized state violence in the United States.

It is a data-driven installation shaped in response to the question “What is the value of Black life in America?”

The Oakland installation will be the first on the West Coast as it travels nationally to sites of symbolic power related to justice, freedom & democracy. Originating in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall in response to the 2020 murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Society’s Cage has continued its journey as an interpretive lens highlighting the historic forces of racialized state violence in the United States.

Other sites have included War Memorial Plaza in Baltimore, Maryland, and the site of the Vernon AME Chapel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race massacre and destruction of the Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street.

Oakland is an ideal host site for the installation as the home of the Black Panther Party, which was founded to combat the legacy of police oppression, inequitable incarceration practices, and remnants of slavery in the form of state-sponsored terrorism against Black people.

In 2009, the killing of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old, unarmed Black transit rider by the BART police in Oakland set off local and regional organized protests that catalyzed a national movement.

Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it was being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

Support Oakland Artists Executive Director Randolph Belle atop the installation called ‘Society’s Cage’ as it was being assembled. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

“We were inspired to create the installation as a response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” explains Dayton Schroeter, lead designer of Society’s Cage and design director at SmithGroup, which has offices in San Francisco. “The pavilion is a real and raw reflection of the conversations about racism happening now. It’s a physical manifestation of the institutional structures that have undermined the progress of Black Americans over the history of this country.

“The name Society’s Cage refers to the societal constraints that limit the prosperity of the Black community,” says Julian Arrington, who led the design with Schroeter, and is an associate at SmithGroup. “The pavilion creates an experience to help visitors understand and acknowledge these impacts of racism and be moved to create change.”

 

 

 

“It only took an instant for me to commit to this project,” said Randolph Belle, executive director of Support Oakland Artists. “In my over 30 years in Oakland as an artist and community developer, I’ve strived to utilize the arts to engage the public in thoughtful ways around important and timely topics. This project, this site, and these times are an unprecedented example of that.”

Visitors are encouraged to participate in a shared experience upon entering the pavilion. After holding their breath for as long as they can, evoking the common plea among victims of police killings, “I can’t breathe,” visitors then post a video reflection of their experience on social media using the hashtag #SocietysCage. This exercise is meant not only to build empathy but expand the installation’s impact online to allow anyone to participate in this shared exercise.

The pavilion was fabricated by Gronning Design + Manufacturing LLC in Washington, D.C., and Mejia Ironworks in Hyattsville, Maryland. A soundscape was commissioned from a pair of composers, Raney Antoine Jr. and Lovell “U-P” Cooper.

Comprised of four pieces, each eight minutes and 46 seconds in length in recognition of the time George Floyd suffered under the knee of police, they are themed to reflect each of the four institutional forces that sculpted the pavilion’s interior — mass incarceration, police terrorism, capital punishment and racist lynchings.

Early sponsors who have made the hosting of the Society’s Cage Oakland installation possible include the Akonadi Foundation, Tarbell Family Foundation, individual sponsors including principals from SmithGroup’s San Francisco office, corporate sponsorship including SmithGroup and many community partners including BIG Oakland.

Jeremy Crandall and Emax Exhibits were the Oakland Installation team.

A public unveiling is scheduled for Saturday, May 14, 2022, at 11 a.m., and a programmed event featuring local cultural artists is scheduled for Sunday, May 29, 2022, at 7 p.m. Participating individuals and organizations include original members of the Black Panther Party, the Black Cultural Zone, HipHopTV, and a host of local artists.

For more information, visit www.societyscage.com to find a link to the donation site. Additional donations will assist with programming and documentation related to the Oakland activation.

Randolph Belle is the executive director of Support Oakland Artists and RBA Creative studio in Oakland.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
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