Ships at the Savannah Arts Cultural Center
When a 2019 study found that African American artists made up just 1.2% of all works in the collections of America’s top museums, it clearly conveyed what many people of color already know, which is that the Racial inequality persists in institutions across the country. A further breakdown of that 1.2% showed that African American women in art barely registered.
But in Savannah, the face of fine art is changing.
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Founded in 2006 with Telfair Museums, Friends of African American Arts (FAAA) has consistently focused on raising the profile of local black artists. Since the beginning, the organization has organized and presented two shows a year. This year, the FAAA launched a third exhibit. “Vessels,” which opened last weekend and will run until October 8, features 31 artists, two-thirds of whom are women.
“Vessels” is also the first themed show among the FAAA exhibits and explores “the things we hold and the things that carry us.” The concept originated when Sharonna Ray, vice president of the organization, collaborated with Antonia B. Larkin, visual arts specialist at the Savannah Cultural Arts Center. The women, keenly aware of the dire performance statistics, sought to create another opportunity featuring local artists. With the full support of the FAAA, Ray went to work as a curator while Larkin took on designing the show.
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“We wanted to give our members a platform to amplify their voices and showcase their talents as African American artists,” Ray said. “We wanted to see what the artists would create by critically examining what a ship means to them, as each would approach the theme through a unique lens showing how what they carry shapes who they are.”
The FAAA is a member-driven organization. Not all members are artists, although many are, and all of the current 142 members are strong supporters of art. Membership is surprisingly affordable – at most $85 per year – and opens doors to a community eager to uplift Black creators and expand knowledge of local African American history.
Olivia Johnson, a 2020 Savannah State Fine Arts graduate, joined the FAAA two years ago and enjoys art education opportunities that have presented themselves directly through her membership in the FAAA. organization. Earlier this year, Johnson also attended an FAAA-sponsored trip to Dorchester Academy in Liberty County, birthplace of artist William O. Golding and where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent much of his time. time during the civil rights movement.
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Johnson’s work featured in the “Conversion” exhibition is a 15 X 16 X 16 inch bronze-colored clay sculpture of a nude pregnant woman with her legs bent and seated on the ground. The figure’s head is tilted forward in meditation while its open belly reveals a seemingly satisfied fetus with closed eyes. The work transmits the heavy and ponderous contemplation of carrying a child.
“My art often explores the magic of the connection between humans and nature,” Johnson said. “This sculpture is about transformation, and how clay is earth and reminds us of our bodies. When you work with it, clay stretches and cracks and resembles how our bodies bend and crack, like a woman going through the physical changes of pregnancy.
Johnson is giving a performing artist talk Saturday afternoon, September 24, at the Savannah Cultural Arts Center. In it, she will discuss the construction of the sculpture, focusing on the special armature she built to support the clay when creating the work.
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A self-taught collage artist, Nancey Price grew up in a close-knit farming family in Girard, Georgia. After earning a BA in Women’s and Gender Studies, she moved to Statesboro to pursue a Masters in Public Administration at Georgia Southern University. But when she landed her first solo exhibition at the Averitt Center for the Arts in 2019, Price realized her creative spirit needed more time, space and community. Two years ago, while searching local museums for opportunities to connect, she came across Telfair Museums offerings.
It was then that she joined the FAAA.
Price’s artwork, “Things We Carried,” is a 12-inch by 19-inch collage on a wooden board depicting a vibrant blue ocean, a celestial background, and a trio of soft grass baskets presented as ships ship carrying precious cargo.
“This piece was a meditation on black people’s relationship with water and explores some of the things that stayed with us during the Middle Passage,” Price pointed out. “We brought resilience, creativity, matriarchal energy, resilience and a connection to the land and culture, not just our bodies.”
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Price is giving an interactive artist show-and-tell-talk on Saturday, September 17 at the Savannah Cultural Arts Center where attendees will have the opportunity to explore collage techniques and create their own artwork. Currently, Price is building a collection of collages further exploring black people’s relationship with water in anticipation of a solo exhibition next year.
The curator of the exhibition Sharonna Ray also worked in “Vessels”. Ray, a 2018 Savannah State Fine Arts graduate, often uses her art to explore the relationship humans have with cravings for sweets and comfort. “Cotton Candy No. 34″ is a 12″ X 36” mixed media of pastel pink, purple and blue mounds depicting cotton candy and puffed cupping – a work inspired by the angst and cravings she has felt when his older brother died of ALS disease.
“This piece shows what I’m wearing, how I’ve dealt with the grief of my brother’s death, and it gives a voice to the viscosity of overwhelming sadness when someone passes by,” Ray said.
“And that’s something that I hope this show will do is allow our audience to see and hear the authentic expressive voices of our members as they take up space in this exhibit. I am grateful to take on this curatorial role and look forward to further opportunities to stimulate local African American artists through performances and reporting at the FAAA.
The Friends of African American Arts, or FAAA, is a membership group of people of all genders, ethnicities, and ages united by their appreciation of the artistic and cultural contributions of African Americans.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
What: Ships: the things we carry
Where: The Savannah Arts Cultural Center Gallery, 201 Montgomery St., Savannah
When: The exhibition runs from September 9 to October 8
Artist Show & Tell: Nancey B. Pricey, Saturday, September 17, 3:00 p.m.
Artist Show & Tell: Olivia Johnson, Saturday, September 24, 3:00 p.m.
Round table of artists: Saturday, October 8, 3:00 p.m.
All events free and open to the public