A new exhibit at the Strivers Gardens Gallery in Harlem, New York City, focuses on works that have been repurposed from ordinary materials like buttons, vinyl records, thumbtacks and QR codes into fine art. “EMerge: Danny Simmons and Artists on the Cusp,” which runs through Sept. 7, features the work of abstract-expressionist painter Danny Simmons and creations by nine contemporary artists from New York and London. Exhibit co-curator Lisa D. Hayes, manager of Strivers Gardens Gallery, describes the show as a multimedium exploration of form, portraiture and abstract expressionism using a variety of forms.
Co-curator Souleo (aka Peter Wright), of Souleo Enterprises, says the aim of “eMerge” is threefold. “One, we want to create a platform for emerging artists working to break through into the global arts discourse. Two, we want to support innovative art and create an environment to sustain its development. Finally, the aim of the exhibit is deeply personal as it is my chance to carry forth the legacy of my brother, Glenn “Spoof” Wright, and to promote our shared passion for using the arts to engage, enlighten and empower.” Souleo’s brother was murdered at the age of 21, in 2009.
The “eMerge” show presents 17 disparate works. Among the highlights is “The Door,” a 1989 creation by Simmons that is a fusion of painting and poetry covering a wooden door. “My pieces in the exhibition are varied, but the title of one of those pieces sums up my career and the work — “The Complicated and Ongoing Search for Suitable Objects of Worship.” I have always looked to connect with spirit through my art practice,” says Simmons, co-founder of Rush Arts Gallery and Resource Center. “The aim of the exhibit is to show emerging artists that a career in the arts is possible, that their artistic voice matters and that the creative process is a continuum. It is also to expose the public to an artist whose expression is constantly changing over time and how those changes have evolved and what ties them together.”
Other works in the exhibition include “Until We’re Free,” a work by Beau McCall that imagines W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness and combines decorative buttons with glow-in-the-dark thread to transpose the American flag over the color pattern of the Pan-African flag; Laura Gadson’s “Old School Hip-Hop,” the artist’s take on the tradition of art quilting; London artist Shirley Nette Williams’ “Nice Cup of Tears,” a tribute to iconic women of song in which she stitched together tea bags to create portraits; and Andre Woolery’s “The Tackover,” thumbtack portraits of Jay-Z.
“My piece in the show is a dedication to the struggle of people of color past, present and future. It is a reminder that we should not forget our past, “says McCall. “Simultaneously, the piece is a celebration of our history. My decision to create a hybrid of the American and Pan-African flag in the shape of crowns is meant to demonstrate that we are descendants of royalty. So the piece reminds us that the struggle continues but we must walk it with our crowns on and heads held high.”
The “eMerge” exhibit exposes the public to a new artistic experience. As our society becomes more globalized, as the creative energy of different cultures continues to leave an impression on people around the world, the purpose of art and works by all artists serve many roles. “I believe the role of art in today’s globalized society is simply to allow people to take the time to see,” says Williams. “Not just to look or glance, but to stop what they are doing and really see. The line between fine art and ‘street art’ has become increasingly blurred. The artwork that I’m showing originated from taking the time to observe the interesting coloration on a used tea bag.”
Laura Gadson says, “As artists, we are in a position to speak our personal truths. By speaking our truths and telling our stories we give voice to people, issues and history that may not have a platform to reach others. Artists are always finding new ways of being cultural griots, while also staying relevant.”