Celebrating Black History Month through art
- The art of 13 black, female artists is on display at Marketview Arts for February.
- The curator, Ophelia Chambliss, wants to continue this effort to shine light on local black artists.
- While Black History Month is important, Chambliss said history continues to be made after February.
Ophelia Chambliss, a local artist and educator, has noticed a lack of representation of African-Americans in art exhibits, particularly female African-Americans.
She often gets calls from galleries asking for recommendations for this subgroup of artists, and it doesn't make sense to her, because there are a lot of talented local artists who are female and African-American.
"In addition to African-American artists not getting attention in art, female artists don't get enough attention," Chambliss said.
So in December, she decided she was going to do an all-black, all-female art show with artists from York County and Harrisburg.
Chambliss became the curator for an exhibit through the Pennsylvania Arts Experience, which has a space in Marketview Arts until the end of March. There are 13 artists of all ages and of all skill levels showcased in the exhibit. The youngest artist to have her work shown is 15, while the oldest is 65.
She wanted to use the exhibit as a way to teach and grow the black art community. The exhibit opened on First Friday in February, and the following day she had an artists' reception where young artists were able to meet and learn from older artists and vice versa. The exhibit showcases mostly paintings or drawings by the artists, though one artist has her work with miniature saddles and harnesses shown.
In the near future, Chambliss is going to repeat this type of exhibit and hopefully expand it. She's planning to have exhibits in April and June, which might include male and female artists and not only black individuals. At those exhibits, she wants to have sculptors, photographers and other artists as well.
Each artist has two works on display for the month, and already six works have been sold. Chambliss wants the whole process to be an educational experience, particularly for the younger artists. She taught them the correct way to submit art to a show — with a wire hanger on the back and in a frame — as well as how to make the work better archive quality so it doesn't fade after time.
Chambliss said for many of the younger artists the exhibit was their first showing, while for many of the more experienced artists it was their first all-black and all-female exhibit.
It worked out that the exhibit fell during Black History Month, though that wasn't her plan or necessarily what she wanted. Chambliss said she just wanted the art to be displayed as quickly as possible.
Don't get her wrong, she said: Black History Month is very important. The problem, Chambliss said, is it's typically the only time people focus on black history. She pointed to the higher number of events and the fact that newspapers will have photos of a different black individuals doing something great for every day of the month.
But come March, she won't see a thing.
"We don't stop making history after February," Chambliss said. "For some reason they think the only time to recognize our history is in Black History Month."
That's not the only issue; she said there are gaps in the narratives of black history.
"Our history did not begin at slavery or pick up at civil rights," Chambliss said. "There are all these spaces."
For her, art can start to fill in these spaces, which is why she'll continue to do shows like the one this month. It also helps change the narrative of black communities, which Chambliss said is often shaped by images seen in newspapers or on TV of crime or poor areas. In fact, she recalled one person who told her once that he didn't know black people were artists.
This grew worse during the election, when Chambliss said she watched President Donald Trump make statements about black people being poor or struggling, which isn't always the case. The black community, like all others, has people of all walks of life doing different things — like creating art. While Black History Month helps show some African Americans doing great things, she wishes the time and devotion to that narrative occurred throughout the year.
Through her art and by showcasing other artists, she said she will change this narrative.
"It's changing because I'm going to make it change," she said firmly.
The art can be viewed for the rest of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Marketview Arts is at 35 W. Philadelphia St., and the exhibit is on the first floor.
Artists included in the show area: