By Lyn Dobrin
In welcoming the visitors to the Opening Art Exhibition Reception of Westbury Arts’ Black History Month Fifth Anniversary Weekend Jubilee celebration, Creative Visions of Community and Cultural Reflections: Connecting the Community Through the Arts, president Julie Lyon noted that the opening date of Feb. 4 was very fitting because it was the anniversary of the birth of Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks. Many of the paintings displayed on the walls of Westbury Arts gallery paid homage to the heroes of Black culture and activism.
The juried artwork submitted by local artists was curated by eight board directors serving on Westbury Arts’ working exhibit group, led by long-time Westbury residents Jacki Beder; Alex Nunez, a founding Member; and Stanley Turetsky, program and planning chairman, founding member, and 54-year resident. Pat Jenkins Lewis, board director, organizer, and founder of the Black History Month Celebration, took great pride in how the event has developed over the years. “I’m glad to see the many people who came and the response to the call from the artists,” she said.
Vivid portraits by Dr. Nichelle Rivers, of NiRi Art, which included James Baldwin and Thelonious Monk dominated one wall in the gallery. Dr. Rivers is a multi-media artist, educator, and activist who was raised in Memphis, Tennessee. She says she has been a social justice activist “since I can remember,” and uses her voice as an artist to convey the pain, turmoil, anger, misunderstanding, and lack of acceptance that exists in our society.
Connecting to the past and those forefathers and foremothers, famous and unknown, was a theme woven throughout the evening, which was punctuated with the drumming of the Akoben Wisdrum and Dance Passages beating out tradition West African rhythms in memory of “our African ancestors to invoke and evoke their presence.” A land acknowledgement to the indigenous people of the Algonquin and Shinnecock was part of the tradition libation. Says leader Kamau Ptah, “We want to help our community remember and recognize our collective stories and legacies.” His daughter, 8-year-old Tseday Amma Ptah danced to the drums. “She was dancing from the womb,” says Mr. Ptah.
The emcee for the event was fiber artist Alicia Evans, who also exhibited her visual works. Ms. Evans paid homage to Joysetta Pearse, a powerful force whom the Long Island Press called “an icon of the history of the Black community on Long Island” in her obituary in June of 2021. The African American Museum of Nassau was renamed “The Joysetta and Julius Pearse African American Museum of Nassau County” in honor of the late Mrs. Pearse and her husband Julius. Ms. Evans recalled the many lessons she learned from Mrs. Pearse over the 20 years she knew her. “She was a jewel to the community with her passions for culture, arts and sharing the hidden history of African Americans,” says Prof. Evans.
At one point in the evening the audience listened attentively as the artists introduced themselves and spoke briefly about the inspiration for their work. Many paid tribute to their mentors and those who had gone before them. Andrew Joseph Culbreath, a senior BFA major at Five Town College, talked about the richness of Black History. Two of his drawings were of Frederick Douglass and Shirley Chisholm. Louis Francois, a Haitian immigrant, worked with several artists where he studied Fine Art and Technology at Bloomfield College, where he learned about cubism, architecture impressionism and classicism. Marsha Odle-McNair, of Westbury said, “A lot of my influences are from African textiles as well as icons in history who have followed the path in abstraction.” Eric Engles offered from his collection of poems titled, Words In A Box “The artist at work is courage, filtering and expanding one’s sensitivity, fortitude and creative expression, it’s that spark of inspiration amid kindlings of doubt which becomes a raging inferno of discipline to be different.”
The gallery will be open Fridays 2 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays noon to 4 p.m. for additional viewings of this exhibit. The exhibit runs through Feb. 26.
Bringing together past, present and future as part of the tribute to Ms. Pearse was a poem written and read by Deirdre Amukowa, a senior majoring in creative writing at Nassau Community College.
by Deirdre Amukowa
This skin is made from the stories we forgot.
Spoken in aged whispers from the ancient Elders,
Bellowed atop tin rooftops from the lively youngsters,
Whispered in hushed tones from a mother’s lips.
It is skins made of rebellious rumbles
At the back of the throat.
Skins that will talk back, talk strong, and survive
While dripping with tales of the past into the future.
Skins that once danced around fire
Praising the gods, the land, and the soil.
Skins that knew when to bow down to Nature’s wrath
And celebrate the gods for rain and good harvests.
Skins that had been uprooted from its land
Taken advantage of by cowards with guns.
Skins that slowly started to forget their stories
As time wore away their pride and splendor.
They glistened, these skins, under cold moonlit nights
And scorching midday suns. Terrifying was their treatment, but they never lost hope.
Even as the midday sweat dripped from their blackened necks
And scarred bodies, their melanin proved strong.
They became legends, these skins.
Legends that took the form of
Our forgotten history.
Swirling in white-washed scenes of the Lone Ranger,
Pushed to the side by Americas fragile system
Of hiding and washing away these truths.
But still their stories thrive, you see,
Built within museums showcasing such greatness
Such pride, such beauty.
Flowing between you and I.
We, the future storytellers.
The Black History Month Celebration is the first in the series Be The Color of This World, which include a Women’s History Month art exhibition opening March 4, an Asian American Pacific Island Heritage exhibit opening May 6, and LGBTQ+ Pride Slam celebrations on June 17 and 18.
These events are made possible with funds from the Statewide Community Regrant Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature and is administered by The Huntington Arts Council, Inc, and donation from The Islamic Center of Long Island.
For more scene & seen event photos visit longislandpress.com/category/scene-seen.