WILMINGTON — With the 2022 Lumina Festival in full swing, two of its visual arts events are embracing the theme of diversity in local exhibits “Protest Signs” and “We Are One.”
Curated and judged by Dr. Travis Williams, “Protest Signs” is hanging in UNCW’s Cultural Arts Building through Apr. 1. It features artists’ interpretations of racism, inclusivity, and other controversial events through mediums, such as painting, photography, archival pigment print, collages, mixed media, digital print on fabric, batik on silk, and framed digital prints.
This Friday, Mar. 25, another exhibit will open featuring four artists representing their culture at the ACE’s Gallery. “We Are One” will have an artist opening from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m., featuring paintings from artists Cammeron Batanides, Nii Narku Thompson, Nduhira Sadat, and Maximillian Mozingo.
UNCW Cultural Arts Building, 5270 Randall Dr.
Dr. Travis Williams — a sociology professor from Virginia Commonwealth University who teaches classes on race and racism in the South — was integral to the exhibit “Protest Signs,” which helped kick off Lumina Festival last week. The professor hosted a lecture about race, racism, equality, philosophy, and inclusion to complement the exhibit.
Keltsey Mattachione — the Cultural Art Building gallery director — and the Department of Art and Art History at UNCW asked Dr. Williams to be a juror of the exhibit because his sociology background and areas of research would provide an interesting dimension to the jurying process.
“From the artwork submitted to the open call to artists, Dr. Travis Williams juried and selected the artwork accepted into the ‘Protest Signs’ exhibition,” she said.
Forty-six nationwide artists showcase 77 pieces. Each tackle issues of racial injustices.
“I’m so fascinated with Wilmington because both its racial history and its ecological habitat are super interesting and they’re very intertwined with one another,” Dr. Williams said during a lecture he gave ahead of the art exhibit.
He was referring to events like the 1898 Massacre, wherein white supremacists with the Democratic Party overthrew the local Wilmington government, then led by an unofficial Fusionist party of Republicans and Populists, made up of both Black businessmen and white allies. Historians have called the massacre the only successful coup in U.S. history.
“You can look at [racism] sociologically, philosophy, philosophically, rhetorically, poetically, visually,” he explained during the lecture. “A lot of those can get there through radical performance … So I’m really, really honored today to participate in events like this because it allows for truly expansive engagements with race and racism and resistance and protest.”
Many of the submissions were inspired by protests in 2020 for the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd’s murder. “By July 3rd, 2020, an estimated 15 to 26 million people had participated,” Dr. Williams explained.
The exhibit aims to provoke discussion around issues central to the demonstrations, while also creating a sense of inclusivity for UNCW students and other Wilmingtonians.
Durham artist Toya Wallace, a student at Duke, submitted “Wall of Protest.” Created out of recycled boxes and paper, the piece features hand-drawn clenched fists raised in objection, alongside words like “Stop Killing Us” and “Black People Matter.” Individual, smaller signs were mashed together as one piece.
Wallace was inspired by the viral videos of George Floyd’s last minutes. She said his death conjured memories of numerous other Black men and women who were victims of police brutality, despite being unarmed.
“It is important for artists to use our platform to speak out against any injustice that we see in our communities and in communities worldwide,” she said.
Wallace pointed to statistics revealed by the organization Mapping Police Violence, showing 1,136 people were killed by officers in 2021; 23% were Black people, which make up less than 13% of the national population.
“Something must be done,” Wallace explained. “I hope that my artwork will make viewers realize that Black people are human beings and should not be allowed to be used as shooting targets.”
Also on display is a series of paintings, titled “Targets and Signs,” created by Mark Flake. He said he always was attracted to a more graphic, commercial style of art.
Using acrylic paint on canvas, Flake created a painting of a curvaceous woman lying on her back, with the outline of a large, white target surrounding her. A road sign takes up the other side of the canvas: “Dangerous Curves Ahead.”
“It may be a joke that some people would consider demeaning, but the fact that it makes some people uncomfortable is why people laugh,” he said.
He explained the work is “about different levels of trespass, and what is acceptable and what isn’t acceptable.”
My hope for the series is that people will see enough of the content to talk about these ideas and explore that, rather than just be offended.
The idea of targets and signs have multiple meanings, Flake continued. It’s representative of a point of no entry, but it also stands for people being “objectified or demeaned to the point where they become targets of violence.”
Originally from Statesville, N.C., Flake grew up in Memphis, which he recalls as a divided city with prevalent gun and racial violence. His painting “One Way” was inspired by a slogan he said he would see on religious tracts as a boy.
“The message of the designs was there is only ‘one way’ to heaven, [through] the message of whatever church it was advertising,” he said. “Unfortunately, now, the church can be seen as another way to the afterlife because people are being killed there.”
“Reggae Redemption Rising: We Are One Exhibit”
ACES Gallery, 221 N Front Street
On Friday, Mar. 25, ACE’s Gallery in downtown Wilmington will host “Reggae Redemption Rising: We Are One,” an exhibit by African artists Nduhira Sadat (Elseed Art) and Nii Narku Thompson, as well as North Carolina artists Maximillian Mozingo of Goldsboro and Cammeron Batanides of Wilmington.
One of Lumina Festival’s coordinators, Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith, asked Batanides to curate the exhibit with artists who portray aspects of inclusivity, diversity, reggae, and “oneness.” McLaughlin-Smith — known as the Night Nurse on the 20-plus-year radio program Reggae Redemption — chose the theme based on Bob Marley’s “War.” The song was inspired by Haile Selassie’s 1963 address to the League of Nations, calling for world peace amidst the fascist regime of the second Italian-Ethiopian War.
“It seems the world is at war with itself,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “I believe speaking ‘oneness,’human solidarity into the ethos is a powerful yet nonviolent tool for change. It is also the foundation upon which true roots reggae is built.”
Batanides and McLaughlin-Smith have been friends for years. “I have painted people from all different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences,” Batanides said.
She works in watercolors and acrylics, her signature style presenting faceless images of people with vibrant colors and energy. She often set up at reggae events to live-paint the surroundings.
“My inspiration for this exhibit has come from my experiences with my reggae family,” Batanides said. “They are a part of my chosen family and so these pieces document some of the most memorable moments in my life.”
Batanides — also known as Artbycammeron — has exhibited throughout the city in local galleries. Her journey to live-paint began at Paleo Sun (today the location of Bourbon Street) during a reggae show with local musicians Sai Collins and Sunny Gaerlan. Since then, she has painted at concerts with Jamaican artist Edge Michael, as well as The Wailers.
“Reggae music brings so much light and love into the world,” Batanides said. “I feel that my body of work has embraced this theme for quite some time.”
She said all of the artists in the exhibit showcase a variation of styles to celebrate the theme of diversity: “But I believe they will complement one another very well.”
Texas artist Nii Narku Thompson, originally from Ghana, Africa, will present two pieces of work, “Twins” and “Together for Humanity.” “Twins” is acrylic on canvas and features two bold and colorful Cubist-style faces beside each other. Thompson describes this 27-inch-by-37-inch painting as “an alternate advantage. With two, there is always an availability of choice. Good for equilibrium.”
“Together for Humanity,” also done in acrylic, is featured on a 30-inch-by-30-inch canvas. There are five human-like figures standing side-by-side, all different colors – red, yellow, brown, olive, orange. Thompson aims to create a sense of variety and inclusion.
A graduate from the Ghanatta College of Art and Design in Ghana, his work has been displayed worldwide, from Ghana to Italy, and in the United States. Living in different places across the world has contributed to his inspiration, he said. “Traveling in general helps one’s mind to experience growth. Not just Texas but the few places that I have traveled have influenced my thoughts, perception and approach, and have helped me evolve immensely with my style.”
An artist for more than 20 years, Thompson explained life and death are two of his biggest influences.
“Both living and dying are the definition of life itself,” Thompson said. However, in “Who We Are,” he demonstrates ideas of “love, healing, oneness, and some of the injustice systems that challenges our daily lives to remind us of who we are as people.”
From Uganda, Nduhira Sadat (a.k.a. Elseed Art) works in multimedia and is self-taught. He got his start over a decade ago doing street murals in “the slums of Kampala.”
“Art has the potential and opportunity of communicating to communities social positive change,” Sadat said.
It’s the first exhibit the young artist has had stateside. He said his work symbolizes the “We Are One” theme by showing respect for “nature, love, freedom, peace and unity.” Sadat dedicates his talent to representing wild animals in bright acrylic and oil paintings.
Sadat will have a piece featured in the exhibit titled “I Gotta Lot of Love For You,” a black-and-white acrylic painting on a 18.3-inch-by-34.9-inch canvas. The painting is of a chimpanzee with wasping white hair in a zoo, “hunched, miserable and without hope, staring out with dead eyes, sitting in metal prisons.”
“The most important message I am trying to portray in this exhibition is the awareness of endangered wild animals that need protection, and for humans to really understand that we need each other,” he said.
The fourth artist featured in “We Are One” is Maximillian Mozingo. Mozingo works in oil and acrylics, as well as mixed media. Though he always dabbled in drawing, he said he began focusing on art full-time after becoming a “divorced, homeless veteran dealing with PTSD.”
”My life experience and imagination come into play to share truth, love, pain, overcoming and spirituality. Art saved my life,” Mozingo stated.
He wants to demonstrate real-life experiences, specifically in areas viewers can relate to. One of his pieces in the show, “Alone With the Gods,” hangs 48-inches-by-60-inches and is a representation of light and dark, light and unity.
“The imagery demonstrates the human condition,” Mozingo said. “The joy and pain that we all deal with and the sacrifices we all give and the power and knowledge that comes from that. This piece was created from the effect of a dark time in my past and the revelation I received coming out of the other side of it.”
“We Are One” will host an artist reception Friday, Mar. 25, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. The exhibit will remain on display at ACES Gallery through Apr. 29.
Additional reporting by Shea Carver
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