Upcoming

In Time and In Tide

Armisey Smith

Curated by Evonne M. Davis

After reading about the physical indicators of Covid-19, as reported in the initial phases of the pandemic, Armisey Smith writes, “I reached out to women of color in my personal and artistic circles and requested a selfie with the side-eye as a prominent feature. I painted each subject’s likeness, studying their features and what they were telling me behind their eyes.” 

In Time and In Tide is a unique and powerful reflection of an artist’s deeply brave commitment to expressing and exploring her own times through familiar and visceral visual cues that underscore the causal relationship between the Covid-19 pandemic and systemic racism. Smith’s artwork often takes a critical view of social, political and cultural issues of African-American women and other women of color, including referencing her personal experiences to articulate the weight of America’s social ills.

To bring the artist’s voice directly to the forefront, and to accompany In Time and In Tide, the gallery will be publishing an intimate conversation between Smith and Gallery Aferro co-founder Evonne M. Davis. This artist-to-artist and woman-to-woman interview will provide insights into the remarkable new body of work Smith began in 2020, during the start of the pandemic, the Side-Eye, Pink-Eye series, as well as her overall motivations and philosophy at this point in her career. 

A Brooklyn native now residing in Newark, Smith earned a BFA in Illustration from Parsons School of Design and an MPS in Arts and Cultural Management from the Pratt Institute. In her role as an arts administrator, educator, illustrator, and curator, she has collaborated with essential stakeholders and community-based organizations throughout New York and New Jersey, serving primarily marginalized communities. 

A curatorial statement in three movements, for In Time and In Tide

First Movement:

When an artwork reaches out and grabs you from the inside.

“Sometimes you see an artwork that grabs you, holds you and in some small, almost imperceptible but still measurable way, changes you.

I’m wasting time on social media, when I’m confronted by a face. A woman staring intensely, giving the side-eye, a powerful and knowing presence. She is in a painting by Armisey Smith. I have to know more, I want to see more. I have known Armisey socially for a very long time, I have seen and followed her work for years, admired her work from the sidelines. I ask for a studio visit and am granted one. I have known Armisey’s work to be bold, constructed masks, as well as painted vaginas reminiscent of Virgin Marys, and amazing murals bringing color and beauty to communities all over Newark. Now I know her new works that explode and destroy the “strong black woman” stereotype and instead redefine the local Black woman neighbor and friend as a demigoddess archetype.

This body of work is not simply masterfully crafted. It is a story, a song, and a warning shot. 

Armisey has created beautiful, knowing, and inspiring images of women of all ages that stare intensely from the canvas directly at us, their eyes telling us:

We Know Exactly Who You Are.

We Know Exactly What You Have Done.

Second Movement:

The context of community, and Covid

As the Covid Pandemic developed and took shape in early 2020, as with all things in our society the truth of privilege and safety belonging more to some than to others became apparent. Black communities saw disproportionately high death rates and yet white pundits dominated the air waves with misinformation and gave platform to hateful and dangerous sectors of America. White people evidenced their privilege in their reaction to being asked to wear a mask, or to even acknowledge what was happening.

Frustrated and isolated, Armisey reached out to her community for support and collaboration. She asked other Black women she knew to send her pictures of themselves giving the side-eye, and used those pictures to create this important new series. With daily accounts of another Black person shot or choked by the police, the series surged forward as Armisey used each brushstroke as a meditation to prevent herself from being completely consumed by rage held in. Memories of traumatic childhood experiences, like routinely having rocks hurled at her schoolbus by groups of white people, pushed up.

I find it really notable that at this moment of crisis, she was able to draw on other memories, of her mother and of other important older women family members, and in her words, “the side-eye as a talisman.”

During summer 2020, artist Simone Leigh posted photos from the history of the movement for racial justice, from the mid 20th century. Each photo had a short, devastating caption: “We have tried everything.” When I look at Armisey’s work and listen to her speak about it, I see women who have been tried, and who, in Armisey’s words, “stand their ground” in their humanness, their wholeness, and their glorious layers of individual complexity.

Third movement:

Is it a long arc of justice or a flatline of racism?

As part of a long conversation I had with Armisey recently, we found ourselves talking about “The long arc of Justice.” We talked about Gladys Barker Grauer’s long life, and the sense that the arc of justice is so long, that is longer than one lifetime for sure. Gladys lived to be in her late nineties and fought for justice continuously. What is the shape of the arc? Is it reaching us?

Armisey’s use of the word “flatline,” in answer to that question remains in my mind. It is a visual descriptor for what it feels like unacceptable things keep happening, because they are being allowed to keep happening.

At one point Kay Reese, who like Armisey is an Equity fellowship recipient and a woman artist of color, joined the conversation we were having in Armisey’s studio at Aferro. She is older than us, in her mid-seventies. Here we are, three women, having a really raw and honest conversation where we are basically asking:

Will there ever be justice in this world?

It is unclear to me if the current upheaval in our society around justice and injustice will have a lasting impact on us all. As a culture worker, though, I feel cautiously hopeful that the emergent dialogues in our sector will have an impact on the art world.

If art is what we make to express our inner selves, I believe that everyone who wants to do it, should. I also believe that good art tells a story, and that really great art tells a very personal story in such a way that it can be accessed by a large audience. It finds what carries between different cultural traditions, and sometimes dramatically different life experiences. Another way of saying it is: sometimes when we are at our most nakedly idiosyncratic, our expressiveness is most accessible to others. That is the magic of art- it isn’t some salve we put on things to make them better- it’s when we can tell the whole truth.

This work is very specifically by one amazing Black woman, about her experience. There is something about it that touched me immediately. I hope you will spend time with this work, letting it get inside of you, and almost see inside of you.

In so many ways, since the pandemic began, the masks have come off.” -Evonne M. Davis

Image: After Mia X by Armisey Smith


Mt Rushmore by Caren King Choi

Drawn In: Caren King Choi

Curated by Caren King Choi & Candace Nicholson

Drawn In is an exhibition that presents two visually divergent bodies of work by one artist. Caren King Choi applies drastically different techniques from the meditative and studied Red Portraits to the quick and humorous Motherhood Doodles. Nevertheless, both are a part of the artist’s overarching attempt to truthfully portray elements of her identity which remain largely underrepresented in the dominant visual culture. 

As an artist, illustrator and writer, Choi’s multimedia artistic practice has taken many forms throughout her career: intricate portraits, personal essays, hand-sewn dolls, life-size drawings, flipbooks, and lots and lots of doodles. A sense of playfulness and wry observation often permeates her work, as do moments of stillness and reflection.

A native New Jersey artist of Chinese-Taiwanese descent, Choi’s artwork has appeared in exhibitions at the Pollak Gallery, Gallery at 14 Maple, William Paterson University Gallery, Express Newark, Akwaaba Gallery, and the Newark Museum of Art. 

After serving as an arts administrator, educator and program director at the Paul Robeson Galleries for a decade, Choi began a new career as a full-time mom and homemaker in 2018. The profound change led to a new creative chapter in her life and her art, captured irreverently in two self-published books: Every Day Something New: Doodles by a New Mom (2019) and Let It Happen: Doodles From a Parent’s First Year (2021).

Image: Mt. Rushmore (Nieces and Nephews) by Caren King Choi


Elevator Music 8: Boston Typewriter Orchestra

Curated by Juno Zago

Elevator Music 8: Boston Typewriter Orchestra, curated by Juno Zago, beckons visitors to walk inside a refurbished, early-1900s Otis Elevator and embrace the creative rhythms and playful whimsy of one of America’s most eclectic musical troupes.

Founded in 2004, the Boston Typewriter Orchestra (BTO) is a collective percussive ensemble for typewriter and voice based in the greater Boston area. Entertaining with collaborative rhythmic, comedic, and satiric performances, BTO seeks to educate and evangelize the archaic machines they use, and grant folks an opportunity to experience a visceral connection to history and industrial technology like never before.

In Elevator Music 8, BTO has taken their upcycled, recontextualized music, and returned to the office, this time in the warm, seemingly stale confines of an Otis elevator car. This original piece produced for Gallery Aferro’s unique installation harmonizes existing compositions with new evocative sounds, callouts, and textures, and explores the intimacy and anxiety we all feel when fleetingly sharing 150 cubic feet with a group of strangers.

In addition to their original works, BTO is pleased to include collaborations here from other sonic visionaries: interdisciplinary artist Brian Dewan of Catskill, New York, and grindcore legends Full of Hell of Ocean City, Maryland. Elizabeth Donovan of Brookline, Massachusetts, delivers the “next stop” announcements, a calming beacon amidst the irascible machines.

BTO has released several singles and five albums, the most recent of which is a collection of remixes entitled Delegation. The ensemble members included/includes: Derrik Albertelli, Jeff Breeze, James Brockman, Alex Holman, Chris Keene, Erik Lindahl, Steve Mazzulli, Jay O’Grady, Brendan Quigley, and Chris Webb.

Learn more about BTO at www.bostontyperwriterorchestra.com, then follow them on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, then purchase their work via their Bandcamp page.

Image courtesy of BTO

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