This party’s got presence! Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture‘s exhibition my Presence is Present is a celebration of melanated culture, melanated art, and melanated identity.

Fully titled my Presence is Present: interpretations of afrosurrealism from the American South, the Gantt Center’s grand opening was truly grand, and a time was had! I was floored at the conceptual design, technical execution, and storytelling qualities of the collective artistry. The event was truly inspiring. From photo series to interior design, film, sketch work, and pure innovation, there was a wide array of influential talents and perspectives in their approach to interpreting, making, and connecting with art. High praise to curator Carla Aaron-Lopez, who so masterfully designed and blueprinted the gallery for patrons to navigate the space, network, and absorb the possibilities of afrosurrealism in real time.

Centerpiece artworks of the exhibition include those by Nadia Meadows titled Yes Queen!, North Star, and Can’t Dim My Light. These pieces showcase accent furniture items like a chair, a table, and a lamp, adorned in braided hair. The series features the significance of protective hairstyles, while simultaneously introducing a simple yet organically complex bridge that intertwines societal narratives, historical milestones, and progressive insights.

Another piece with a similar impact is Formation of Spirit. Created by artist Rashuan Rucker, this piece is a large church fan that magnifies the nostalgia of fraternity life.

Other artists featured include: Michi Meko, Dammit Wesley, Kalin Renee Devone, Bryan Wilson, Gustavo Soto, Shanequa Gay, Ariel Danielle, Kevin “Surf” Mitchell, Clarence Heyward, Asa Jackson, Roscoe Hall, William Downs, Garrison Gist, Jamea Naje Marlowe, and J. Stacy Utley. A sincere congratulations to all involved as these works were exclusively representative of visionary excellence. Please take some time to look into these talented artists… they’re dope!

The exhibition highlights the pivotal narratives that hair and athleticism represent for the Southern, melanated community. Works like High Jumper by Kevin “Surf” Mitchell or The Couch by Will Jenkins effortlessly showcase the necessity of these identity staples. About five minutes into the gallery, I sat to fully absorb the space. Eventually I realized how joyful I had become by the indescribable passion I felt for community engagement through collective and progressive arts mediums. I couldn’t help but to begin writing right there, in the moment! I hid myself in plain sight, amongst the artwork, watching as those around me embraced and became immersed in the sport of art life. Some were supporting friends, some supporting their curiosity, and some supporting themselves by showcasing the work they’ve done – but all here, together, in support of one another, to celebrate love for the future of art, history, and community.

I saw people from all walks of life: satin shirts, plaid, acid wash, jerseys, beanies, durags, suits, sandals, stripes, corsets, jumpers, loafers, crochet, dresses, earrings that looked like cassette tapes, earrings sculpted like black women, Afros, braids, sisterlocks, baby locs, long locs, skinny locs, thick locs, bald heads, straight hair, curly hair. IDENTITY! I saw uniquity. I saw natural essence and watched as the freedom of creative expression breathed throughout the space, unrestricted.

There was dancing from participants of all kinds, even those in wheelchairs, crutches, and boots! I thought, Now this is a community event. I saw so many genuine smiles. I heard so much gut-rooted laughter. There was good food, good music, and, ultimately, even greater vibes. The event exemplified the impact that artistic expression has on the vitality of social reform and connectivity. There was no way not to be inspired. It was clear: good art makes a greater impact.

Carla Aaron-Lopez has done an amazing job of creating a space that caters to curiosity and leaves room for inquisition. The artists selected have done an even better job of allowing their work to speak for itself.

Major congratulations for those involved, and a special praise to Harvey B. Gantt Center for understanding the assignment and hosting a beautiful exhibition. On display until January 2024, there’s plenty of time to experience this carefully representative work. If you’re a like-minded artist searching for ways to explore the possibilities of expanding and establishing your artwork, or if you’re in need of some inspiration to spark your creative genious, make your way down to Harvey B. Gantt Center! I will definitely be returning.

Recommended Event: Curator Carla Aaron-Lopez is hosting a Virtual Artist Talk to be held Tuesday, August 8, 7:00-8:00 PM.