Black History Month exhibit opens tomorrow

Event celebrates African-American artists, features discussion, refreshments, light fare, free admission



Sidney Murphy, special projects curator and senior at WSU, explains pieces at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on Friday.

SARINA SHARPE, reporter and columnist

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on campus will host a reception Thursday 5-7 p.m. displaying work of four prominent black artists: Mark Bradford, Leonardo Drew, Julie Mehretu and Wangechi Mutu.

Museum staff will offer beverages and snacks while they hold discussion and events in the Pavilion, Bruce/Floyd and Borth Galleries, according to the WSU events page.

Sidney Murphy curated the event. Murphy is senior at WSU majoring in anthropology and history, and said she will be the first woman to receive a minor in exhibition studies, she said.

Murphy explained that art can celebrate culture. Murphy said it’s important that people of all ethnicities can connect with art. She said her young nephew’s reaction to works by black artist Kehinde Wiley inspired her.

“He was able to walk into space and feel like [the artist] cared about his identity,” Murphy said, “and they cared about the way he looked, and his curls and his skin.”

Murphy said the four featured artists are getting attention in art and ethnic art communities, but black artists as a community do not get the recognition they work for in the art world.

“Black artists and ethnic artists are the lowest-represented at art museums — and especially black women,” Murphy said.

The exhibit features two black women artists. Murphy said Black History Month provided an opportunity to shine a light on their work, although the focus of the month usually isn’t on art.

“I don’t think people tend to think of Black History Month with artists,” said Murphy. “There’s a lot of black artists who have been fighting to get their way into art galleries — and we’re finally seeing that happen.”

Each of the works in the gallery shares a message for the viewer. Murphy said Mark Bradford’s works use curling paper, as a reference to hair.

“[There’s] this kind of expectation in the Black community about hairstyles and making it look nice or straightening it, but he’s doing the other side, the curling side,” Murphy said. “Not straightening your hair, [but] making it kinky and making it big and beautiful.”

Murphy said some of the pieces address issues of living conditions in predominantly black neighborhoods.

Murphy said Leonardo Drew’s works incorporate found objects from some communities, to demonstrate burns, pollution and dirtiness in some areas.

Black artists are rarely acknowledged as important when celebrating Black History Month, said Murphy.

Murphy said the pieces could be intimidating for people who are uncomfortable with art or social critique, but anyone can benefit.

“You shouldn’t be afraid of the pieces you see,” she said. “This is a social, abstract art exhibit, so a lot of the work is abstract, and it is really hard to pull apart and understand some of the things you’re seeing.”

Murphy said it can be helpful to stay vulnerable and open. Your own life can be a reference.

“Maybe try to make some connections with some personal experience,” said Murphy. “Come in here and just try to understand.”

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is located at 1535 Wilson Road, across from the CUB.