Art Surrounds Me: Celebrating Black Print Makers & Black Women Artists

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I stopped into the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture after work for a look around and came across a few new exhibits, Ink Unshackled and Firelei Baez: Joy Out of Fire. I decided to write about these two exhibitions in my Art Surrounds Me series.

Ink Unshackled: Prints from the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop Collection is held in the basement of the Schomburg in the American Negro Theatre space. Curated by the Schomburg Center’s Teen Curators Program; an after-school program for high school students with an emphasis on art history. The young curators gathered a collection of works from Robert Blackburn and the artists that studied under him. In addition, the exhibit also includes a collection of work by the student artists to show that this craft and legacy continues.

Robert Blackburn was a master print-maker who founded a Printmaking Workshop in New York in 1948. It was a collective that welcomed artists from all backgrounds to work and study printmaking. Blackburn continued his work and inspired many black artists from the United States, and the Caribbean and Africa. Schomburg’s Bob Blackburn Printmaking Workshop Collection features a strong collection of known artists that studied under Blackburn.

The exhibit features beautiful works from Robert Blackburn himself and artists such as John Biggers and Aaron Pitts with themes that include the roots and struggle of the black community. There were beautiful and intricate portraits, scenes of black community life and abstract vignettes that speak to the spirituality and essence of blackness. The student collection, inspired by the original artists, were colorful and vibrant and offer a modern perspective of the black struggle.

I was truly moved by this exhibit. I did not know much about printmaking and I am sad to admit that I had never heard of Robert Blackburn or his workshop before. I wish that I had known about him and his work sooner. I’m interested in visual arts myself, not to be a professional or anything, but as another way of expressing myself; and this could be a form of visual arts that I am interested in studying.

Firelei Baez: Joy Out Of Fire is a stunning exhibit of works by artist, Firelei Baez. Baez’s works focuses on the legacies and representations of women of color, particularly black and Latina women. Displayed in the Latimer/Edison gallery, the exhibition combines beautiful portraits and murals with archival documents such as photographs, diaries and manuscripts. Baez pays tribute to women from all walks of life and include women that are well known and many that are not.

In this exhibit, I saw the familiar names of some of our more famous fore-mothers, as well as those that I’ve read about on my own. I especially liked that she included some of their personal writings and photographs into the artwork because it reminded me that these women were not just extraordinary but also authentically real. Sometimes it is easy to forget that the ones we read about or admire from afar are human beings who lived ordinary lives but did extraordinary things.

Baez’s murals, massive and vibrant with color and detail, are a worthy tribute to the women who paved the way for other women and people of color in their respective fields. I loved her use of color, her style of painting and the dreamlike imagery she used in some of her works felt ethereal and other-worldly. As a writer I am often inspired visually by color and art, especially if the work is good. Baez’ works spoke to me visually, creatively and spiritually.

I came across this article on Artnet about Firelei Baez and this exhibition. Read more about the artist and her work here.

I took a few pictures of both exhibits for my own records. Check out the gallery below.

Until next time,

Naj