“Relevance,” the relationship of art to social issues, is increasingly part of the art world’s language. Amani Lewis’ “The Conversation” examines the current status of African Americans. The central figures in her creation appear to be involved in a calm exchange, but are superimposed over images of angry protest. Protesters can be seen through the figures themselves, illustrating how social upheaval penetrates individual existence. Digitally cut and pasted images printed on canvas worked over with paint evoke the screen printed posters of 20th Century protest movements.
While artists have strong points of view about the governing abilities of our politicians on both sides of the aisle, the most thought provoking section of works revolves around how we as individuals define and uphold the sanctity of our very bodies. This push for dignity of personhood is at the center of a woman’s right to control her own body and has gained new traction with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Baltimore artist Kelly Burke’s third place winner Black Lives Matter is an historical primer in flag form that delineates for the uninformed why exactly our brothers and sisters of color sometimes fear for their very lives. This sense of dread is echoed in two other works which received honorable mentions: Ann Stoddard’s installation Black Angel gives new meaning to the chant “hands up, don’t shoot!” and Janathel Shaw’s sculptural work Still a N____/No Entry, revisits Jim Crow era barriers to full participation in national life. Amani Lewis echoes a similar sentiment, but suggests a change is in the air with her graphically powerful Fight Back. Cathy Wilkin brings a feminist perspective to this issue with Help Yourself, inviting the Supreme Court, including Justice Scalia in ghoul form, to weigh in on her self-determination.
"EJS: I haven’t seen a lot of Amani’s work before, however I was speechless when confronted with the beautiful overlay and composition present in these portraits.
CT: Amani Lewis’ ability to combine imagery, color, shapes, and photography has a seemingly-magical way of falling into perfect place. Her installation was ingenious as well; walking up to her space, I was immediately captivated–excited to stand and stare at her work. Ms. Lewis is definitely an artist to watch.
AFO: This piece is so “of the now” but speaks to something that has hardly changed over the past 60-70 years, racism in America."
The group that did the best job uniting form and function was CLR’D, a collective from Baltimore run by four young women. “CLR’D Collective strives to bring people of color’s experience to the forefront,” says Amani Lewis, co-founder of the collective. “The diversity CLR’D collective wants to see in the art scene in Baltimore is the diversity we want to be.”
Murjoni Merriweather created stunning ceramic sculptures of men and women with African American hairstyles. Some don jewelry also made from the collective, and most of the heads tilt their chins to meet your gaze. Their back wall featured two digital paintings made by Amani, each bright and glaring, with beautiful portraits eclipsing most of the frame.
In neon text that resembles a restaurant window sign, the words “DON’T SHOOT!!” lie beneath the neck. The spectacle of skill, from the largeness of these ceramic faces (physically and metaphorically) to the tiny details of the jewelry, speaks loudly on its own, but feels especially calling in the context of their mission.
“We not only want to make art around our communities’ voices and put them in shows for people to talk about, but we also want our communities to be participants in the creation of these works. We want them to feel like they are a part of something larger, something that will be a direct change/experience that they will never forget,” says Amani.
As a whole, this year’s Artist-Run Art Fair, housed in the Charles Street Garage, communicates Amani’s message: “We want our communities to know that who they are and what they have to say is important.”
We all know the saying, art imitates life. But, there is something all too fantastic about seeing ‘our’ selves in art – especially when it’s celebrating aspects that are far too often ignored or not realistically captured. Budding artist and college student Murjoni Merriweather has created stunning ceramic works of art that celebrate the kinks, curls and coils of natural hair life. Let’s be clear, these are not your grandma’s art figurines. Her pieces incorporating natural hairstyles, including afros, braids, cornrows, puffballs that are modern, elongated and empowering. And, you just might want to copy a style for yourself.
Natural hair has always held a fascination for Murjoni Merriweather, who incorporates African American hairstyles – afros, braids, cornrows, puffballs -into her gracefully elongated ceramic figures. “I come from a majority black community so I base a lot of my art work around my own culture,” says Merriweather, 19, who resembles her creations. She is a sophomore in the ceramics program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).
Most of us grew up seeing African inspired sculptures in our aunties’ and grandmothers’ homes, but none of those sculptures look quite like 19 year old artist Murjoni Merriweather’s ceramic sculptures of women and men with African American hair styles. According to The Dark Room, Merriweather is a sophomore at Maryland Institute College of Art and she incorporates cornrows, afro puffs, braids, and locs into her work. Growing up in a black community, Merriweather centers her artwork around her culture.