York Features Southeast Queens Artists’ Work in Fine Arts Gallery

Photo by Whitney Browne

By Danielle Cruz

The Southeast Queens Biennial: A Locus of Moving Points art exhibit opened to the public on Feb. 10 in the York Fine Arts Gallery.  

Curated by the No Longer Empty Lab (NLE), a non-profit group of emerging curators and art professionals that focus on community inspired projects, the exhibit brought together nine Southeast Queens artist to highlight the diverse cultures throughout Southeast Queens.

“Two of the things that we really wanted to program in the show was a representation of a lot of the diasporic communities that exist in queens, specifically in this part of southeast queens, as well as a generational dialogue,” said Anastasia Tuazon, one of the five curators from NLE. “We have three generations of artist represented in the show and you can see that in the works and in the concepts that are being explored.”

A Locus of Moving Points exhibit is filled with a diversity of artwork from sculptures to videos but has a uniting theme of reclamation. Some of the artwork is made out of material that would normally be tossed away and others take negative or derogatory concepts and make them into something that empowers rather than dismantles.

The artwork by Okechukwu Okegrass Ofiaekli for instance, embodies the idea of reclamation as he uses discarded materials and dead parts of trees that no one wants to make his art. His artwork consist of hats, bags and briefcases woven together using different parts of trees and other natural resources.

“I used the materials around me to make what I needed.” said Ofiaekli. “The first thing I created was a hat to cover my head when I used to go to work. I used a coconut broom… it was from the tree that was inside my fathers compound.”

Ofiaekli’s showcase also included pictures from the villages that he visits in Nigeria in order to teach them how they can use their resources to make what they need and sell it for a profit too.

In middle of the far right wall lies a piece entitled Democracy by Janet Henry. Henry explains that this piece is an observation of how our democracy is being destroyed and is meant to pose the question “What is democracy?”

The purple script  is meant to symbolize the combining of the two primary colors of the United States flag, red and blue.

Upon closer inspection, you can see that the white beading is actually white skulls strung together to showcase that democracy has been whittled down to the bone. The placement of tools of violence throughout the artwork is also meant to represent that democracy has always been plagued by violence, which is why she put placed weapons throughout the piece starting off with a sword to represent how violence had been carried out back in the day.

“This piece puts the word democracy in tangible form for us to see what it has become,” said Henry.

One of the artworks is by Sana Musasama. It’s a combination of  two ceramic sculptures called Stop and Sugar vs. Sap and is meant to bring awareness to the Maple Tree Movement that took place during the 18th Century.

 “It’s about the maple tree movement,” said Musasama. “Which was a social political movement in the 18th century, where people spoke up about the exploitation of people working on the sugar cane plantations in exchange for a maple tree that made the same product without harming anyone.”

In the middle of the exhibit is an unfinished piece by Odathrowback called DNA- York: A Portrait in Southeast Queens, which is made out of wood blocks covered with different patterned fabrics. Underneath the fabric are the signatures of those who have donated fabric for the art piece. Once the piece is finished the artwork will include the signatures of york students and faculty that have visited and written their signature down in the exhibit.

Besides Odathrowback’s artwork is a table covered with the literary works from various artist who all have roots in Southeast Queens. For example, one of the writers of Black Panther, Christopher Priest, is a Southeast Queens native.  

The exhibit also feature artwork by Shervone Neckles and Natali S. Bravo-Barbee.

Neckles’ has four pieces in the gallery three of which are embroidered works, and one which is a sculpture of a hatchet. The artwork is meant to be a representation of the spirit of black womanhood.

Bravo-Barbee’s work, 1986 is meant to represent how she felt as a little girl as she faced her moms expectations of her fitting into the “gendered norms” of society. The artwork includes a mannequin of a little girl looking on as her shadow is cast over a watercolor version of the collars her mom had wanted her to wear once she had grown up.  

The exhibit also featured two videos by Damali Abrams the Glitter Priestess titled Escape and Baby It Couldn’t Have Been You That I Feared. Both videos show women being confined to images on a paper or misconceptions of others.

Playing to the song Get In Shape Girl, Escape is a an almost 2 minute long, stop-motion that shows paper women from books leaving the confines of their pages and travelling to help Cinderella get back her slipper. Baby It Couldn’t Have Been You That I Feared is a nine minute long video playing with a song sung and written by Abrams called Let the Boys be Boys. The video includes clips from various television programs that all profess the reasons why black women are unmarriable. She takes the clips and uses it say that these misconceptions take the blame away from “patriarchal violence” and instead place them only on the characteristics of women.

“We’ve come 35 years but a lot of the conversations around misogyny are still the same.” said curator Anastasia Tuazon.  “We connected it to the conversations that are happening now about sexual harassment in the workplace like the #MeToo movement”

On of the more interactive artwork in the exhibit is Rejin Leys’ ArtBoxNY. It’s a gumball machine filled with various kinds of artwork, the viewer can then put fifty cents into the machine and be able to receive a piece of artwork from inside the machine. Eventually the gumball machine will be filled with the artwork of students from York College Fine Arts department.  

Elizabeth Velazquez’s artwork, Innumerable Voids, is made up entirely of black fabric and is the only artwork from the exhibit that is dispersed around the York College campus. One of the pieces from her showcase is hanging inside the exhibit while the other three bizarre pieces have been placed on fences around the campus.

The exhibit will be open for viewing until Apr. 21 and a second exhibit will open at the Queens Central Library from Mar. 3 to Apr. 21.

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