Dialogue and collaboration at the heart of annual “Perspectives on African-American Experience: Emerging Visions” residency and exhibit

Story by RCAH alumna Christina Igl. Photos by RCAH student Samantha Kinjorski.

The current exhibit in RCAH’s LookOut! Art Gallery, The Fire This Time, opened on Martin Luther King Jr. day and is part of the 6th Annual “Perspectives on African-American Experience: Emerging Visions” Artist’s Residency and Exhibition.

The artist, Antoine Williams, spent five days in residency where he spoke to several RCAH classes and worked with a group of students to install his exhibit.

His work is rooted in his experiences and understanding of the world around him. Williams says that growing up in a small town where very few people attended college and then making the transition to college life himself impacted him in significant ways. He realized that some of his friends who were not able to attend college, but worked in factories or elsewhere were just as smart, if not smarter than the other students in his class. Williams began asking questions that “come out of the heart” about access to education, race, class, and power.

He furthered his own education on these topics by reading works of literature by authors such as Octavia Butler, H.G. Wells, and more. Most recently, the concept and practice of fear has interested Williams.

With these concepts in mind, Williams begins his art-making process with an ink drawing on vellum, photographs the work, then enlarges it and prints it. He then adheres the image to a larger surface.

For his exhibit in LookOut! Art Gallery, he used this technique and the theme of perception to demonstrate the hierarchies of power as they exist in the Black experience in America. “The indifference around Black bodies,” he says, “is dehumanizing and the signifiers of a Black male distort the human form.” He draws on these observations in his work. Depending on how the viewer sees his art, the figures could be chasing or catching up to or moving way from something or someone. This perspective echoes the American political and cultural climate in regard to Black males.

For Williams, one of the more powerful moments of his visit was when a young Black man in one of the classes he was visiting asked him how many times he cried while working on the exhibit. “It made me feel hopeful,” Williams said. “That’s not something I would have thought about at that age. The hyper masculinity that Black men feel is strong, but after that, I felt hopeful.”

In addition to visiting classes, Williams collaborated with RCAH students and LookOut! Gallery preparator Steve Baibak while installing his work. Second year RCAH and Studio Art student Meghan Hollister has been working in the LookOut! Gallery for over a year and a half and said “this show was probably the best experience I’ve had thus far.” She felt that she got a lot out of the experience due to the excellence of Williams’ work as well as the discussions she had with him during the installation process. She worked directly with Williams cutting out and wheat-pasting drawings to the wall and hanging the focus lights. Hollister herself has a concentration in painting and recognized similarities in their work. “I loved being able to talk about painting with an accomplished artist,” she said and altogether got a lot out of the experience.

Williams’ advice to aspiring artists is to “keep making work.”

“First look at what you are able to do then plan how you will do it and do what you are interested in,” he says. Williams also hopes that people are not afraid to draw their own conclusions about his artwork and other art. He encourages all people to ask “why?” and engage in discussions with other people about tough topics.    

The “Perspectives on African-American Experience: Emerging Visions” exhibition, The Fire This Time, will be open through February 10, 2017. LookOut! Art Gallery hours are Monday-Friday noon to 3 p.m.

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