By: Graciano Clause
2016 marks the 40th anniversary of February as Black History month, since it was acknowledged by the federal government in 1976. This year, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning will showcase work by Weusi artist collective members. The month-long exhibit of the Weusi story emphasizes the importance of African American imagery in a modern setting.
Weusi comes from the Swahili word meaning blackness. The well known 14 artists of Weusi surfaced in Harlem during 1965, against the backdrop of the Black Arts movement making African iconic imagery the premier part of their work.
Directed by artist and educator MLJ Johnson, the exhibit presents work by Weusi artists Che Baraka, Stanyck E. Cromwell, Robert Daniels, Taiwo Duvall, Gaylord Hassan, Rod Ivey, MLJ Johnson, Dindga McCannon, Karl A. Mclntosh, Otto Neals, Ademola Olugebefola, Okoe Pyatt, Ed Sherman, and Emmett Wigglesworth.
“What this exhibit shows is the continuum of the struggle to get our personal culture to continue,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who is curating his second exhibit at JCAL, said his work highlights pictograms of life phenomenon. The way he operates when getting his idea across is using a word allowing it to morph into the images he creates. The technique is called “transparentinism,” said Johnson, where images come into being by transposing dots, and as the dots build up the image appears.
“The power of African imagery is as relevant today as it’s ever been, and it brings a message along with a story that needs to be heard,” Johnson said.
As an artist and educator, he has curated his works for 30 years in the United States, London, Spain, South America, Puerto Rico, and throughout the African Diaspora. With the Black History month exhibit now open to the public, Johnson would like his audience to understand his message with significant value.
“Although times have changed the message is the same which is blackness. I heard a story with people saying that there are no more black leaders. The black leaders are still there, they’ve gone into academia now by teaching classes. If you wanted to see Dr. King you had to make appointments in order to get to him, now he might be standing in front of your classroom teaching,” Johnson said.
Weusi art is not just limited to one platform. It can be found in different types of scenery such as schools, prisons, on the streets, and art shows.
Ademola Olugebefola, one of the original founders of the Weusi artist collective framed what is expected in a symbolic way.
“What we’re doing is giving the viewer the ability to grasp our reality. We are trying to remind people about the human touch,” Olugebefola said. He mentioned that what the members of Weusi are offering is organic in the times where technology is moving forward. One of the many highlights displayed in the JCAL-Robert Miller Gallery at 161-04 Jamaica Ave., is a light sculpture made by Olugebefola himself. He made it back in 2009 out of plexiglas, electrical apparatus, and neon lights. The light sculpture is suppose to be embracing the new consciousness that is evident in society today.
“One of the beautiful things about art is that you can go to any museum and look at something that is 2,000 years old. We trust that hundreds of years from now people will look at what we did as a testament to the time we are in,” Olugebefola said.
The opening reception is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 19, but the exhibit will be on view until Mar. 24. There will also be an artist talk at 4 p.m. which is free on Feb. 20.
“Our focus, as it has always been, is in creating images that compliment and support people of color in terms of culture, but our audience is global. We want the world to see what we’re doing,” he said.