PLATTSBURGH — The “NoCo” (North Country) arts scene heats up with the arrival of “Sweet Music Never Heard Until Diversity Plays Catch-Up: Contemporary African American Thought” at the Strand Center Gallery in Plattsburgh.

Curator Donna Mason introduces artists Theda Sandiford, Al Johnson, Sadikisha Saundra Collier, Otto Neals, Eric Pryor and Dr. Myrah Brown Greene at Friday's opening reception.

CHANGE UP

Mason met her cadre of artists in New York City while plying her trade as a free-lance journalist with a niche for covering African American and Caribbean artists. 

“Now, I have moved my platform on to social media," said Mason of Sunshine Media and Communications, who represents local artist Gharan Burton.

"So, I'm a social media strategist, where I do the same thing. I go out and cover arts shows, and I blast it. Because there are so many different networks, I can expand their audience."

Mason navigates artists' studios and openings as a witness, patron, friend and curator.

About “Sweet Music,” she writes:

“My title and thought centers around the notion of African-American artists of scholarship working and toiling in their field and are often never co-opted into the museum system until later in life usually at the end of an arc, (death bed) when major museums realize that there is a gap in their collection and they have neglected a whole school of contemporary thought that ran concurrent with their collection.  

“And a full historical purview cannot be told without that inclusion.  Thus always the diversity rush and inclusion- playing catch-up.

“My conversation uses this assemblage of current Contemporary African-American Thought and speak again to the gate keepers, major museums etc., with a gentle nudge saying to cast a wider net; for the serpent is already eating its tail, with its current bent on elite university diversity picks.

“Scholarship and intelligence can be found off the beaten path. And sometimes refreshingly so.”

SONGS OF FREEDOM

In "Sweet Music," Neals's “Uhuru," a viscosity etching, depicts the arc of the African Diaspora from a regal past to slavery and the mid-century identity politics. It's title means freedom in Swahili.

Born in Lake City, S.C., Neal lives in Crown Heights where the largely self-taught artist works in watercolor, oils, pastel, wood, stone, and bronze.

Neals was among a collective of artists, Weusi, who established Nyumba Ya Sanaa, “The House of Arts” in Swahili, a “Black is Beautiful” pre-cursor.

Art just happened to him.

“All my life I believed that it was a cousin of mine that was the influence behind my ability to paint and draw,” said Neals, a retired Brooklyn Post Office employee who rose from clerk to head illustrator.

“He was eight years older. He cared for me while my parents were working. When we came to New York, we stayed with his family. I pictured myself looking over his shoulder as he was drawing and painting.”

Neals recalls the influence of his cousin, David, in numerous print publications.

His cousin retired, returned to their Southern roots and built a house.

On a visit, Neals presented his cousin with Elton C. Fax's “Black Artists of the New Generation.”

“I said, 'David, look,'” he said.

''There's a part about you in the book.' He said, 'What are you talking about? I never drew.' But all my life I believed, I pictured myself looking at him as he was drawing but most likely it was a dream or something mystical, spiritual. Something happened.”

 

WOMAN OF THE CLOTH

Greene's fingers have touched fibers ever since she can remember.

Her young foot pumped her mother's old Singer sewing machine in her native Cambridge, Mass.

“When I was growing up, I used to make a lot of my school clothes,” said Greene, a professional quilt maker, art historian, lecturer, arts consultant, independent curator and author.

“I used to make take my baby siting money and buy fabric. It became addictive, actually.”

“Sweet Music” includes three of her works, “Night in Tunisia,” “The Eye of Heru-I See You” and “King Mother of the Music World.”

The former was a commission for a jazz exhibition, and its free-motion quilting details reveal her interest in world symbols.

The crescent and star is not just about Islam per se, but symbolizes the masculine and feminine.

In the upper right quadrant, a bent trumpet is a nod to Dizzy Gillespie, who is known for blasting the jazz classic.

The quilt is a wash of color juxtaposed with black-and-white images of her, at age 6, tap dancing.

She superimposes multiples of the image in a grand, Tunisian edifice.

“If I had put a Brooklyn brownstone, it would not say Tunisia,” Greene said.

“Because I do that, it takes you somewhere different.”

 

 

ART ON HOLD

“Sweet Music” conjures Eric G. Pryor's past as a working artist.

The show includes “Talking Drum #2,” “Looking East-1993” and three works from his “Lake Erie Series,” when he was a visiting professor at Buffalo State College.

His works reveal his layered process, call and response, addition and subtraction, paint in and scratch out, control and discovery.

Music, his mother's jazz and his Detroit-infused R & B and funk, inform his aesthetics when he was an disenchanted artist, who segued into arts administration.

 

“Sweet Music” pokes his creative pulse.

“For me, I like my work to have places to live," said Pryor, who is president of the Harlem School of Arts.

"For me, you create something and then all of a sudden it gets a home because someone falls in love with it. That inspires me to make more work. It's like my kids; I want them to see them do well in the world. I want to see them go out and spread their wings and have independence, and I think of art in the same way. When I make my work, I really want to see it hopefully attract someone and go home with them. It doesn't need to stay with me because I end up falling in love with the next thing I am making anyway. “

Email Robin Caudell:

rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

Twitter:@RobinCaudell

 

IF YOU GO

WHAT: The Strand Center for the Arts hosts “Sweet Music Never Heard until Diversity Plays Catch-up: Contemporary African American Thought” curated by Donna Mason. Featured artists are Otto Neals, Dr. Myrah Brown Green, Eric Pryor, Al Johnson and Sadikisha Saundra Collier.

WHEN & WHERE: The Strand Center Main Gallery. Opening reception 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday. The show runs through Jan. 26.

PHONE: 518 563-1604.

 

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