Historically, studies of early 20th-century Pueblo painting focused on the role non-Native anthropologists, artists and patrons played in fostering and marketing Pueblo art. In the last two decades, there has been a shift in approach spearheaded by scholars in the…
‘carry the wait’ Exhibition Celebrates and Honors Black Women and the Black Experience
During the month of February, the Syracuse University campus community comes together to celebrate Black History Month. In March, the attention shifts to celebrating Women’s History Month on campus.
But in the third week of January, thanks to the visionary work of Shanequa Gay, an artist from Atlanta, Georgia, the seeds for an art exhibition honoring both Black women and the Black experience in America were planted at the Community Folk Art Center.
This new and visually stunning art exhibition, “carry the wait,” is Gay’s latest installation merging her affinity for her Black roots with her love of storytelling and mythology.
Gay’s exhibition depicts using art to facilitate improved wellness and self-image for members of the Black community, touching on the important issues of home, discovering community and celebrating Black culture.
“To carry the wait is about all that you carry with you that encompasses Blackness. You carry the expectations from your community, your individual expectations, your hopes and dreams. You carry the wait of the expectations and burdens people put on you and project on you because of your race and your gender. But you carry the wait in a way where you are affirmed in who you are within your community. This is a celebration of being Black, but it also addresses the burdens that come with being Black. It’s about how as a people we persevere,” says Tanisha Jackson, Ph.D., executive director of the Community Folk Art Center.
Throughout the generations, Jackson says Black people in America have been able to define who they are for themselves as a position of self-determination. Especially in the South, with its troubling history of slavery and racial injustice, and in Syracuse, which has its own checkered history of dealing with racial inequalities, Jackson says the exhibition should resonate with the Black community and with Black students, faculty and staff on campus.
“Shanequa’s messages resonate well with what residents in Syracuse are dealing with when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, the calls for social justice, the I-81 issue and urban renewal. We’re hoping that with this exhibition, people can really come together to talk about the issues they’re facing in their communities, and that we can continue that conversation through this shared experience,” Jackson says.
That shared experience started back in January, when, over the course of four days and four nights, Gay completed the exhibition—featuring a mural she painted live along with other paintings—before an audience of curious on-lookers.
“It was amazing watching Shanequa work. It’s very rare that the public gets to be inside the studio as the artist works. But when Shanequa was painting in our gallery, I think it was very cathartic. We invited the community to watch, and there was a curiosity about her exhibition. There was an anticipation of what her final product would look like, which really demonstrates what the Community Folk Art Center is all about: community engagement,” says Jackson.
Like much of her previous work, Jackson says “carry the wait” emphasizes themes of joy, play and cultural representation of women, from both a historical and a contemporary perspective. Gay also taps into the spiritual and mythological realms, painting girls wearing deer heads, with hooves for feet
The impact of blending the human form with animals, according to Jackson, is to elicit feelings of connectedness, demonstrating the power, bravery, speed and elegance of these half-person, half-animal subjects.
“By viewing the hybrid beings in Shanequa’s art, these figures, called the devout, they represent how we exist both in a temporal and a spiritual world. There is this shared reverence for spirituality within the African diaspora, where people coexist and create worlds where they are empowered to set a vision for themselves. Through these devout creatures, Shanequa is recognizing the divinity of Black people while making Black people feel empowered,” Jackson says.
Gay’s exhibition is part of CFAC’s ongoing series on wellness, with various Black women artists telling stories of how they use art to facilitate wellness for themselves and their respective communities.
“carry the wait” is on display at the Community Folk Art Center through April 29. Admission is free. For more information, visit the CFAC website or call 315.442.2230.