LAUREL – Visitors at the Montpelier Arts Center were able to celebrate the first week of Black History Month at the public reception for the exhibition, “Narrative in Black Identity” on Feb. 6 in Laurel. Baltimore-based artists Antonio McAfee, Tiffany Jones, and Stephen Towns had the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences on defining […]
LAUREL – Visitors at the Montpelier Arts Center were able to celebrate the first week of Black History Month at the public reception for the exhibition, “Narrative in Black Identity” on Feb. 6 in Laurel.
Baltimore-based artists Antonio McAfee, Tiffany Jones, and Stephen Towns had the opportunity to share their thoughts and experiences on defining African-American culture and identity through their artwork and paintings.
McAfee used historical portraits from W.E.B. Du Bois, “The Exhibition of American Negroes” from the year 1900. He manipulated the portraits to depict the complicated presentation of historical portraits.
“I really was aiming for a more complicated, inexplicable presentation of historical portraiture,” McAfee said. “Primarily black individuals. These images come from a Du Bois exhibition that he put together in 1900 for the Paris War Expo. It’s called the “Georgia Negro” and it was a survey of middle class blacks in Georgia.
“Part of that survey was 363 studio portraits, along with other portraits of houses, social groups, huge papers, and so forth and that exhibition archive was aimed to articulating their lives, economically, socially, and pictorially. I wanted to challenge myself in making an exhibition. I wanted to create a body of work that made the presentation of these individuals inexplicable.”
Visitors enjoyed how McAfee was able to alter the portraits to provide a meaningful message of the people in the portraits.
“Particularly in the works of McAfee, where he talks about having different types of identities and being perceived differently. We found that very intriguing,” said Yvonne Johnson, a Charles County resident.
Jones also used historical photos that inspired her artwork, with her art series, “BLACK, 2012.” She paired self-portraits with photos from the Civil Rights Movement to portray the connection of history to current times.
She explained that artwork is a way people can express themselves when words are unable to do so.
“With my artwork in general, I want people to understand there’s something to be said,” Jones said. “There’s something to be discussed. There’s something to feel. I want people to know this is a conversation piece.”
Jones also had another art series on display, named “BLOCK STITCH: Hair,” which celebrates the beauty and celebration of hair among women of color at Lexington Market in Baltimore.
“The series, ‘Hair’ talks about hair culture,” Jones said. “It talks about women of color and how they celebrate their hair and what their hair means to them. Not necessarily natural versus synthetic or natural versus straight, but just women and hair and how it is such a big part of our identity.”
As a Charleston, S.C. native, Towns said the inspiration for his work came from growing up in the south.
With his work, Towns strives to promote self-acceptance and self-knowledge within African-American culture.
“Often what I recognize is images of whiteness, and so for my work I try to contrast that with images of blackness,” Towns said. “In much of my research, I researched images of black people in media and mass media and how people were portrayed. I noticed there were a lot of negative images and at some point in my life, I realized how that negative imagery had impacted me personally.
“So I feel like my work is a counteractive to that. It creates a counteractive narrative, so I like to see beautiful positive images of people of color in my work.”
The artists personally spoke with visitors about how they connected their photos and paintings from contemporary times to historical moments in African-American history.
“I am really impressed with the black art,” said Margaret White, a resident of Capitol Heights. “Coming from the south, we didn’t have black art. I am very impressed with the progress we have made as black people.”
Donald Johnson, Yvonne’s husband, came with his wife as a way to kick off Black History Month.
“I came because I am interested in art and this is a very good way to start Black History Month,” Johnson said.
Individuals are encouraged to come and view the pieces inspired by African-American culture and look more in depth in understanding black identity. The exhibition has been on display since Jan. 9 and will continue to be on display until Feb. 28 at the Montpelier Arts Center.
“I think people should come out because we have some really, really strong artists here and support these artists and view their work,” Towns said.