Artists Featured in ‘Black Joy’ Art Exhibit Encourage Students to Find Their Own Sense of Joy Within Black Culture

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Featured in Hale Hall and the Thompson Library’s Special Collections Gallery, the “Black Joy” art exhibit selected works by 12 local artists who elevate black culture and celebrate the joy of blackness. Credit: Zachary Rilley | photo editor

Through the lens of three local artists, joy can be found in many common aspects of black culture.

The “Black Joy” art exhibit, on display at the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center and Special Collections Gallery at the Thompson Library, selected works by 12 local artists who elevate black culture and celebrate joy of darkness. According to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s website, the exhibit follows the Black Joy: Expansive, Unfiltered, Unapologetic exhibit which highlights the heights of the Black Lives Matter movement created in August.

Nzuri McCree, a third-year landscape architect and featured artist, said for her that joy can be found in the cultural habits of black family ties and childhood upbringing.

McCree’s acrylic painting, on display at the Hale Center, depicts her baby cousin, Ava L. Garner, who is one of her family’s first grandchildren. McCree said building families is a core value of black culture and seeing new generations grow up is of utmost importance to older family members.

“Personally, for me, a lot of my family members never saw their kids grow up,” McCree said. “That being said, my grandfather got to see his baby’s baby take his first steps before he died.”

McCree said she finds joy in the legacy black people, like her grandfather, leave with their families and how the community comes together to help care for children. She said she aims to express this joy in her art.

“They always say it takes a whole village to raise a child,” McCree said. “I feel like the black community as a whole, you’re coming together to raise our children. There’s something very beautiful about that.

McCree said joy in life also comes from small moments in daily struggles. She said she encourages students to seek out these moments even during painful times.

“Life can be very black and white sometimes, but there are also those things that are worth living for,” McCree said.

While happiness for McCree means staying true to your inner child, artist Afua Dankwah-Boakye said she defines joy in beauty.

Boakye, a fourth-year health science major, is exhibiting two pieces — a ceramic piece at Thompson and an acrylic painting at the Hale Center. She said her two pieces show black women covered in gold to connect her Ghanaian roots to her ideals of beauty.

“The story behind Ghana is one of the countries where our main resource is gold,” Boakye said. “It also has to do with the fact that black beauty is priceless.”

Boakye said it was important to illustrate the joy of black female beauty for young girls, as it is often sexualized in the media, and she encourages black students to see the beauty in themselves and the joy that accompanies him.

“I feel like a lot of black girls struggle to find beauty in themselves,” Boakye said. “Let’s put it on a pedestal as an art form.”

Annie Chrissy Burley, local visual artist and resident of the Culture Arts Center, said joy often comes from struggle, something the black community knows all too well when it comes to the ongoing fight for racial equity, a- she declared.

Burley said her art on display, which is an animation based on Michelangelo’s famous painting “The Creation of Adam,” is a reflection of her faith, which she says guides her to create and understand that struggle is often a necessity for joy.

“Ironically, in our world, we get happiness confused with joy,” Burley said. “In the Bible, joy is always correlated with suffering.”

McCree, like Boakye, said she hopes that through her art, students will see the child in themselves and reflect on what joy means to them.

“I hope when you look at my art you remember you were a kid,” McCree said. “You will always learn something new. Listen to your inner child, take care of yourself.

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