In 2020, the tragic killing of George Floyd by police officers led to a tumultuous period in the Minneapolis community where it happened. Lamar Peterson, a local artist specializing in contemporary art, lived close to the epicenter of the unrest. The atmosphere was thick with smoke and tension, making it feel like an apocalyptic scene. Amidst the chaos of protests and looting, Peterson faced another personal challenge: the pandemic-induced lockdown cut off his access to his studio at the University of Minnesota, where he also teaches. For Peterson, who primarily works with oil paints, this was a significant setback. Art serves as his emotional outlet, and being unable to create was a heavy burden.
Fast forward to today, and Peterson has successfully concluded a recent exhibition at Fredericks & Freiser art gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. The art pieces showcased are a stark contrast to the grim period he experienced in 2020. They feature vibrant landscapes and Black figures, drawing inspiration from the cartoons of the ’70s and ’80s that shaped his childhood. The art serves as a tribute to the transient beauty of life, influenced by his passion for gardening and the recent passing of his father. The exhibition, named “Proud Gardener,” was a commercial success, with artwork prices ranging from $15,000 to $60,000.
Peterson’s journey reflects a broader shift in the art world. Following the events surrounding George Floyd’s death, there has been a noticeable increase in institutional support for Black artists. While the market for Black American artists has grown significantly since 2008, it still represents a small fraction of global auction sales. However, the interest in African American artists is genuine and growing, according to industry experts. This change is part of a larger effort to correct historical oversights and to diversify the artists represented in museums and galleries.
This brings us to the significance of the 2023 “Outlined In Black Art Exhibition,” presented by the Akron Black Artist Guild in partnership with The University of Akron. The exhibition, on display at the Bierce Library from October 14th to November 18th, is a monumental step in the right direction. It serves as a platform for Black artists to showcase their work, thereby contributing to the broader narrative of contemporary art. The exhibition not only offers these artists a chance to gain visibility but also provides the community an opportunity to engage with diverse artistic perspectives.
The Akron Black Artist Guild’s initiative is particularly timely, given the increased attention and support for Black artists. It’s not just about representation; it’s about creating a lineage and legacy. Artists like Kehinde Wiley and Hank Willis Thomas have gained prominence, influencing a new generation of artists. For instance, Xavier Daniels’ recent show “Cry Like a Man” features portraits of Black men in vivid colors, aiming to convey complex emotions and experiences, including the mental health struggles that many Black men face.
The “Outlined In Black Art Exhibition” is more than just a showcase; it’s a statement. It’s a testament to the resilience, creativity, and diversity of Black artists. It serves as a reminder that art can be a powerful tool for social change, for healing, and for celebrating the richness of human experience. In a world that is slowly but surely recognizing the value of diverse voices, this exhibition stands as a beacon for what is possible when those voices are not just heard but celebrated.