Edinboro's Bruce Gallery Features Erie Artists of Color
CHROMA Guild members highlighted at current exhibit
In the midst of Northwestern Pennsylvania's green pastures, the Bruce Gallery at Edinboro University presents "Let's Pretend," an art show curated by Dr. Leslie C. Sotomayor II. "Let's Pretend" is believed to be the first regional show exclusively created and designed by artists of color. A multimedia exhibition, "Let's Pretend" features members of Erie's CHROMA Guild including Antonio Howard, Lourdes Jasso, Shelden McNeill, Esther Ortiz, Emidays Serrano, Danielle Slade, Roland Slade, Armando Reyes, and Marquis Wallace.
"Let's Pretend" is a response to Aruna D'Souza's book Whitewalling: Art, Race, and Protest in 3 Acts. In her book, D'Souza revealed a troubling history of racist incidents in major arts institutions and sparked a national dialogue about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the art world. Inspired by Whitewalling and discussion groups held in Edinboro and Erie, Dr. Sotomayor's exhibition examines the historically fraught relationship between gallery spaces and artists (and people) of color. The title suggests that a museum is a space of racial privilege: a world where the art gallery is open and inclusive does not exist. Pretending, in a sense, is about storytelling, and "Let's Pretend" serves as a platform for artists of color to tell their stories of both systemic issues and cultural pride.
Chicago-born, Erie-based artist Armando Reyes's giant, wall-mounted game of Scrabble sets the tone for the exhibition: the experiences of people of color is not a game, and advocacy is not a choice. Reyes's handcrafted wooden sculpture, Words Matter, materializes the concept of reclaiming space. The white walls of the gallery have historically been occupied by predominantly white artists. Reyes challenges that narrative by claiming an entire wall of the Bruce Gallery. Using English and Spanish, words like cages, ghetto, protest, cultura (culture), and justicia ( justice) physically intertwine to demonstrate the connections between them. This game is a reality for people of color: some words perpetuate harmful stereotypes or connote trauma. White individuals, however, can treat their allyship as a game. It's not their reality, but this exhibition urges them to pretend that it is.
Painter, writer, and spoken word artist Antonio Howard received the Erie Arts & Culture Emerging Artist Fellowship Award in 2019, and serves as the current president of the CHROMA Guild. Howard's painting Juvenile Life was made while he was in prison, where he had been incarcerated since he was 15. Juvenile Life depicts three Black children, each reflecting Howard: one dressed in pajamas holding a stuffed bear, another dressed in a collared shirt and tie that are too big, and the last one dressed in the unmistakable orange prison uniform. A giant handcuff binds them all to a brick wall. Howard was paroled at 41, after spending almost 27 years in prison. Painted in 2003, Juvenile Life represents contemporary issues that plague the United States prison system and urges viewers to care about imprisoned youth.
Danielle Slade is a hairstylist, small business owner, community leader, and activist in Erie. Her work, Erie Crown, is a part of her #ErieCrown project featuring the styling and photographing the hair of women of color in Erie. The photos will be displayed on billboards to celebrate the beauty and pride of women of color. Slade's work challenges current beauty standards and shifts the focus of white trends to a more diverse and inclusive definition of beauty. Like museums and galleries, beauty standards have a racist history of favoring a Eurocentric perspective. Slade's work conveys the beauty of textured hair with a project that transcends the gallery walls and flows into the community. The themes of specific, racially-informed perspectives, systemic issues, and cultural pride evident in "Let's Pretend" represent the complexity and multitudes of experiences within the CHROMA Guild and the Erie community as a whole. The CHROMA Guild is still a new organization, embracing the opportunity to educate their area about their experiences as artists of color. "Let's Pretend" encourages the audience to think about the ways in which people of color have been left out so often that they needed to be given their own space in order to have their voices amplified. Let's Pretend asks just that — for the viewer to pretend that the gallery walls are always fair and equal. Let's Pretend is not a quiet, modest art exhibition. It demands to be seen, heard, and celebrated.
"Let's Pretend" curator Dr. Leslie C. Sotomayor (formerly a professor at Edinboro and now a faculty member at Texas Tech University) served as the president of Erie's CHROMA Guild, a group of creative professionals founded by Erie Arts & Culture that works to provide access and opportunities to creative professionals of color in northwestern PA.
Heather Amancio, a junior art history student at Allegheny College, is pursuing a career in museum curation and can be reached at email@example.com.
Join an online Zoom webinar on Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. by following this link https://edinboro.zoom.us/j/
Let's Pretend can be seen at Edinboro University's Bruce Gallery. www. BruceGallery.info. Summer hours by appointment with the Director laustin@ edinboro.edu. Open 3-6pm, M-F from August 23 — September 24. Closed Labor Day. Reception and conversation with curator at 6pm September 1 in the gallery at Doucette Hall, 215 Meadville Street.