Art exhibit shows black history is for everyone

By Cielestia Calbay

In keeping with the spirit of Black History Month, a three-day
exhibit embodying this year’s theme, “Are We Free?” was held at the
Kellogg Art Gallery Feb. 25-27.

The opening reception was held Feb. 18 and featured free food
and a DJ that played old-school hip-hop music.

The exhibit, which cost an estimated $400, was put together by
members of the Black History Month committee and sponsored by the
Office of Student Life.

“The goal of the exhibit was to show the poisonous elements of
society … and to also bring awareness to the art of graffiti that
came from black hip-hop culture; we did this from an Afro-centric
point of view,” said La ‘Keisha Gilford-Beard, coordinator of the
African American Student Center.

The theme utilized pan-African elements such as its traditional
colors of black, red, green and yellow.

Corey Gaither, chair of the Black History Month committee and a
fourth-year sociology student, defines black as skin, red as blood,
green as land and yellow as gold.

These colors were widely displayed throughout the exhibit.

There were pieces that portrayed the “lies and secrets of
America, the possible hope for the future and the pride of
pan-African culture,” said Gilford-Beard.

Events that occurred over the summer, such as Michael Vick’s
conviction on animal cruelty charges stemming from his dog fighting
operation, Barry Bonds’ involvement in the Major League Baseball
steroids scandal, and the young woman from West Virginia who was
kidnapped, raped and tortured in a hate crime, were a major
influence in the messages conveyed.

Inspired by the Nas song “What Goes Around,” the first section
of the exhibit featured images of gas masks and skulls and
crossbones, where the skull was replaced with a drawing of
President George W. Bush.

“[The song] talks about different things in our society that are
poisonous, such as racism, capitalism, war and poverty,” said
Gaither. “Some of the lines in the song are ‘George Bush killer’
and ‘George Bush kills me.'”

This side of the exhibit featured a compilation of spray-painted
drawings and messages by black students in response to the
question, “Are we free?”, which was spray painted several times
using a stencil – a popular technique used in New York subways,
according to Gaither.

In addition, students and visitors who attended the exhibit were
invited to take part in the interactive experience where they could
write or draw their own responses to the question.

One response was a large, sprawled message that read, “Not as
long as we still defend the ideas of the rich and elite.” Other
responses were, “We’re free when people stop dying of starvation,”
and “No freedom, just free trade.”

In contrast to gas masks, Bush and crossbones, other images
featured on this side of the exhibit were drawings of peace signs
and hearts and messages of liberty, freedom and unity.

The second section of the exhibit displayed portraits of various
musicians such as Tupac, Aaliyah, Warren G, Alicia Keys and Lil’
Kim by student-artist Erich Peeler, a senior communication
student.

These portraits, which were detailed pencil sketches, took
Peeler approximately one to three weeks to complete. He chose to
focus his portraits on these artists based on their ideals and the
way they present themselves to the public.

“They’re good artists with positive images, and I wanted to
embody that in [my] artwork,” said Peeler. “For example, with
Tupac, he was poetic and his music touched on life and issues, even
though it was controversial. His music was raw – anybody could
understand it.”

As for the female musicians, Peeler admired their honest nature
and respect for themselves, two characteristics that make them
timeless artists, according to Peeler.

“They’re classy and understand how to get a message out there
without having to take their clothes off,” said Peeler.

The third section of the exhibit featured artwork by Gaither and
Yoshan Kennedy, a Claremont McKenna student.

Gaither’s artwork was a collaboration of pan-African colors that
featured graphics of African land and tribes, cityscapes, people
and prominent leaders, all related to “Are We Free?”

Kennedy’s drawings captured a feminine theme and featured images
of flowers and portraits of notable female figures and women donned
in gowns.

“It was great to interact with students from Claremont, being
that it’s a privileged college,” said Gaither.

“A lot of times we don’t interact with them, even though they’re
right down the street. Also, just to get another African-American
artist to contribute to the gallery was something good for us.”

The “Are We Free?” exhibit benefited students because it allowed
them to learn about black themes, artwork that they might have not
yet been exposed to and the notion that pan-Africanism and hip-hop
are “of the same cloth,” according to Gilford-Beard, Gaither and
Peeler.

“We want to show everyone that this is a universal theme and
that it doesn’t just pertain to black people just because it’s
black history month,” said Gaither. “We’re trying to get everyone
to see that our history is your history as well.”

Next year, Gaither hopes to create an exhibit with a 1980s
hip-hop theme.

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