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St. Louis Curators Examine How 2020 Inspired Black Artists With International Exhibit

060321_Mawhyah Milton_ Alien Painting 01.PNG
Mawhyah Milton
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The painting "Alien" by Mawhyah Milton is one of many pieces included in "Curating the End of the World: Red Spring." The online exhibit was created by Harris Stowe State University professor Reynaldo Anderson.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last spring, Reynaldo Anderson feared that many Black people would die and that an unequal health care system would exacerbate the community’s pain.

Anderson, an associate professor of communications studies at Harris Stowe State University, wanted to document those experiences through art.

“I just kind of forecasted based upon what I was seeing as these existential threats, like, plague, systemic racism, crashing economy,” Anderson said. “I guess for some people, this is going to probably feel like the end of the world.”

The result is “Curating the End of the World: Red Spring," an online exhibit led by Anderson and New York Live Arts, an arts organization that focuses on elevating the human spirit. It features the work of more than 50 Black singers, poets, painters and others.

The exhibit shows how a traumatic year inspired artists to reflect on what happened to Black people during the pandemic, Anderson said.

He draws parallels between the coronavirus pandemic and the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic, when many Black artists thrived during the Harlem Renaissance.

The past year was especially hard for Black artists who lost income at a time when they also had to endure constant images of police violence.

With that in mind, he said, the exhibit takes a historic approach that examines how Black artists are responding to the fight for Black lives through art and how the pandemic affected Black artists.

“This documents the social revolution that has been taking place since the killing of George Floyd in the context of the pandemic and how this became a worldwide movement for justice for Black folks,” Anderson said.

The exhibit includes pieces submitted by artists from around the world, many of them associated with the Black Speculative Arts Movement. Anderson co-founded the movement in 2015 as a traveling celebration of Black films, music, graphic design and poetry. He wants people to look at Red Spring as a historical artifact.

“We just thought it'd be the responsibility of the Black Speculative Arts Movement to chronicle for future curators and scholars, you know, what was on our mind and what we were thinking about at the time during the pandemic,” Anderson said.

Red Spring includes Black artists from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe and is curated by writers Sheree Renée Thomas, Danielle L. Littlefield and St. Louis-based poet and artist Dacia Polk. Many of the pieces spring from Afro-Futurism, a movement that combines Black society with technology and African culture. Submissions that draw on science fiction include space and robotic themes.

The exhibit also explores police brutality and systemic racism and the protests that erupted after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered Floyd and Louisville police killed Breonna Taylor.

Polk said many of those submissions reflect the trauma Black people faced this past year.

“In some ways, the current climate has had its placement in a lot of the submissions from there being this kind of very apocalyptic feel,” Polk said.

But the exhibit also focuses on work that honors African and African American history and African pride.

St. Louis visual artist and writer Taylor Deed submitted a written piece for the exhibit that reflects reflect on the origins of creation and the nature of blackness. She wants people who look at the pieces to recognize that Black struggle isn’t always solely rooted in pain.

“Struggle doesn't inherently mean pain and suffering, the way that a lotus comes up from the ground or, you know, things grow, it's a struggle you push through,” Deed said. “We don't have to have pain as a pain and suffering as a pillar.”

"Curating The End of The World" will continue with Dark Winter this fall and New Horizons next spring. Anderson said New Horizons will focus on the aftermath of the pandemic and what comes next. He wants people who see the exhibit to leave with a sense of hope while also highlighting a new cadre of rising Black artists.

“On the other side of this thing, there are going to be some people that you thought were significant before the pandemic,” Anderson said. “After the pandemic, there'll be some unknowns that are going to really be making a name for themselves artistically and creatively that I can see now that are going to be emerging.”

Follow Chad On Twitter: @iamcdavis

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