KOKOMO’S EMERGING MULTICULTURAL ART SCENE
By Maynard Eaton
It was a First Friday extravaganza – a fluky convergence of the 95th anniversary of the Kokomo Art Association, the annual Artist Alley unveiling, the debut of ARTSAPALOOZA, Mayor Tyler Moore’s live painting performance, the new Artworks Gallery exhibition, and the MLK Commission’s first ever First Friday participation.
The unofficial, yet omnipresent, theme of these synchronized events was multiculturalism. That’s why artist, J. C. Barnett III was holding class outside our Perspective N. Main St. office teaching young people and their parents how to paint their vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s face photo, and why that art lesson was instructive.
“Dr. King was such an incredible human being who led this country in civil rights, who had a dream, that we are all products of, and able to live in a certain way within America due to his work,” J.C. exclaims. “So, to be able to set that picture of him in front of those young people, and give them an understanding of who he was, I felt, was important to use.”
So too did former Councilwoman Janie Young, often the charismatic public face of Kokomo’s MLK Memorial Commission. “This was an opportune time for us to show our support for First Friday, be able to showcase the MLK Commission, be able to engage with people to enlighten them on the MLK Monument and what our goals are.”
Mayor Tyler Moore had a front seat to Barnett’s class, and he applauded his art education effort, while he was creating and crafting a canvas art piece about his Miami Indian heritage, that was later auctioned and purchased by an MLK Commission board member.
“It’s a great expression of people’s creativity and their individuality, but a way to bring the community together and also celebrate diversity through the expression of art”, Mayor Moore summarized the multicultural event experiences.
Araceli Munoz is a Latina photographer/ethnographer whose captivating exhibition ROAD TO MY ROOTS, A Mexican American In Search of Her Identity opened in the Artworks Gallery. September 15th kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month.
“I feel it’s really good,” opines Munoz. “It is showing multi-culturalism in Indiana, which we really need, and we really should show that we are open to new ideas, and new ways of viewing the world. This country is very diverse, and we should open our eyes to that. There is not just one way of seeing things. I hope my exhibition is visually stimulating in that regard.”
The popular Artist Alley venue has a new visual flavor this season. Never have four African American artists been featured concurrently, and their art displayed in the same season! It would have been five Black the artists in the Alley, but one pulled out over objections to her nude rendering.
Long overdue, I ask. “Definitely,” answers Janie Young, our city’s first Black female councilwoman, “but Kokomo is really being so much more progressive and more inclusive and that’s what we want.’
Although Blacks only reportedly account for about 10% of Kokomo’s population, I and others argue, it’s about time! Why were they not fairly represented in the Artist Alley until now? Is this the popular industry trend or respectful recognition of the intrinsic truth, inclusion, and uniqueness of Black Art?
“I think Black Art matters,” answers J.C. Barnett unequivocally. “I very much take pride in the fact that I am a Black artist, and that there is artwork that resembles Blackness in this community.”
J.C. continues, “Ramona Daniels, here at Artworks Gallery, is putting artwork in the Black community to the forefront, and I’m extremely appreciative of people like her paving the way for me.”
Daniels, is an African American Kokomo Art Association board member with an art studio on the second floor of the Artworks Gallery, adjacent to my Eaton Media Group/Fleur De Ligon workspace.
“I am just so proud to say that we have a very diverse group of artists this year at last,” she tells me. Daniels is again showcased on Artist Alley. Cedrick “Doc” Fields and Tashima Davis are also. “Everyone has the opportunity to apply. It’s always been open to the masses. It’s just this year the Gallery and the Association is getting more publicity, so people are becoming more aware of what we do here.”
Tashima Davis, has been a Kokomo professional artist for the past decade. This is her first time in the Artist Alley show. Her painting showcases “the beauty of childhood and having fun with your sibling that everyone can relate to.”
“This is the first time I’ve even seen Artist Alley, but I’m in it,” she says. “It means a lot. For me, art is for everyone. It’s our common thread that unifies us as humanity.”
Art is such an expressive medium, so anybody involved in art can be creative, can express themselves, their feelings, their emotions, their beliefs. As a journalist, art aficionado and collector, I assert that Black Art is culturally significant, unique, and extra special in its meaning, messaging, and visualization.
Davis does not! “To just categorize someone as a Black artist is very limiting,” she argues. “When people look at me, I want them to see artist, I don’t want them to see Black artist. When you look a Picasso, you don’t say white artist. You say it is a Picasso.”
Perhaps that’s because as experts believe, Pablo Picasso, appropriated African-created ideas, themes, colors, and influences in his artwork, and became famous for it as a result! In effect, it was Black art!