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WEB EXCLUSIVE From August 10 through September 18, Raleigh Arts will showcase work from four Black artists—Clarence Heyward, JP Jermaine Powell, William Paul Thomas and Telvin Wallace—in a new exhibition titled Breathe: Life After Death in the Block Gallery located inside the Raleigh Municipal Building. The exhibition is an exploration of American life during and after the pandemic, the recent worldwide protests for justice and racial equality and how social distancing has affected each of the artists’ personal lives.
City of Raleigh curator Stacy Bloom-Rexrode says that after another artist cancelled a show at the Block Gallery, she reached out to Mike Williams of the Black on Black Project, who told her about the Breathe: Life After Death concept the four artists already had in the works. Bloom-Rexrode says that it was important for her to be able to offer the artists a place to showcase their work, as Black artists are often underrepresented in museums, galleries and other cultural institutions all over the country.
“I can’t claim to share their experiences but I can definitely help get their voices out there,” Bloom-Rexrode says. “Hopefully, the exhibition will start some much needed conversations.”
Artist Powell says that Breathe: Life After Death “exists as a source for creative, individualized problem solving during times of unrest and instability.” He says he hopes the collection will encourage authentic conversations, both during and after the COVID-19 crisis, and around the fight for social justice and racial equality. “The artworks featured in [the exhibition] serve as visual examples for the continued enrichment of the quality of relations of both Triangle individuals and local communities,” he adds.
Each of the four artists featured created three pieces for the show. Two of the works are personal reactions to, and interpretations of, the COVID-19 pandemic and the theme of racial inequality.
Wallace’s paintings are unfinished works in progress, tying back to the feelings of isolation he experienced while living alone during the pandemic and his creative struggles during such a tough time.
Meanwhile, Clarence’s work addresses the outcry over racial inequality following Geroge Floyd’s murder and how, even after so many decades, Black people and other people of color are still facing injustices such as police brutality.
Additionally, Heyward, Powell, Thomas and Wallace each painted a portrait of one of their fellow artists to reflect the ways they personally see one another and to speak to the topic of being seen, another important message of the exhibtion. “One of the themes that’s really prominent throughout this body of work is about Black men not being seen as a threat or vicious, but to be seen and recognized as fellow human beings,” Bloom-Rexrode says.
Bloom-Rexrode and the contributing artists say they hope that Breathe: Life After Death will encourage people to listen to the stories of injustice Black people are sharing and documenting, both within the exhibiton and across the globe, and spark conversations around change.
The Breathe: Life After Death exhibition will also be available to view online through Raleigh Arts’ website; keep an eye on the Instagram, Twitter and Facebook acounts for information about related virtual events.
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