Black History/ My History, the latest Noyes Cultural Arts Center exhibit, shows Black history from the eyes of 22 Black artists. Artist and curator Fran Joy asked artists from Evanston to Chicago and beyond to share their personal history.
“I wanted to make sure people got a chance to express what they’re feeling being Black right now as either a personal experience or some significant experience in history they want to express,” Joy said.
More than 70 people walked the halls of the arts center gazing at the hanging art on Feb. 17, during the exhibit’s opening ceremony. The exhibit runs through April 10. Haitian musician Gerald ‘Toto’ Alfred played Haitian-influenced roots guitar music.
The opening ceremony was also a fundraiser for Lakou, a nonprofit based in Evanston that provides vocational training for people in Haiti.
Tasha Nemo is the daughter of two civil rights activists from Topeka, Kansas. She centers her artwork on Black literature and history. Her parents emphasized the importance of knowing Black history from the U.S. to Africa.
“You can’t be here in the United States and not know about Black history,” she said.
Now as a sixth-grade language arts teacher at King Literary and Fine Arts School, she includes Afrocentric books and Black authors in her teachings.
“It’s important that people, even kids, understand their privilege, and Black kids know that our history is not just slavery,” she said.
Her father inspired her painting at the exhibit. He was an avid reader who challenged her to learn about her history through the words of Black authors like Angela Y. Davis, Malcom X and Asa Grant Hilliard III, Nemo said.
When he passed away seven years ago, she began painting. Her work in the Black History/ My History exhibit depicts her son Jason Nemo Jr. in shades of bronze with his nose in a book. A stack of books Tasha’s father once instructed her to read sits in front of him.
“We are amazing people, and we contribute all things to the world,” Nemo said. “They and everyone should feel positive about that. Never negative.”
Debra J. Salter, another artist in the exhibit, used her art to highlight the issue surrounding the One Drop Theory. Salter is biracial. Her mom is Black and her father is a white Dutchman. She grew up in Black spaces and didn’t have a relationship with her father.
“It was a law that was legal to say that one drop of Black blood prevented you from having rights,” Salter said. “It almost signified that you’re inferior because you have one drop of Black blood.”
Her painting Perspectives depicts many skin colors blending together in people. The painting criticizes how the theory limited biracial people to only Blackness rather than recognizing the multiplicity of race.
“We are the human race,” Salter said. “It doesn’t matter what blood is in us. We should all be accepted.”
Jevoid Simmons, an artist and author, used the exhibit as an opportunity to tell history starting with colonizers arriving on the shores of the U.S. to today’s majority white Supreme Court with an upside down American flag. His unfinished piece shows historical moments in a series of rectangular blocks.
“This story is something that has kind of been on my mind for the past few months because the country is really in a troubled place right now,” Simmons said. “I tried to look at where does all this start? How did it get here and what continues to make it happen?”
Wonderful article! Thank you for lifting up the inspiring and motivating work of our young Black artists in Evanston.
Excellent coverage of this amazing exhibit by Ms.Castro. Her ongoing coverage of racial justice issues in Evanston is exemplary.