Art of the Africa Diaspora, Including Collage, Assemblage, and Mixed Media, Featured in William Paterson University Galleries Exhibition

Artists of the African diaspora will showcase collage, assemblage, and mixed media artworks in an exhibition at the William Paterson University Galleries in the Ben Shahn Center for the Visual Arts from October 31 through December 9, 2016. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on November 6 and 20, and December 4 from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free. An opening reception for the exhibition will be held on Sunday, November 6 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. A performance by Nyugen Smith and William Reese will take place during the opening reception. An artist talk by Ben Jones is scheduled for Wednesday, November 9 from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m.

Collage Effects: Art of the African Diaspora, on view in the South and East Galleries, explores how techniques of collage and assemblage can be a means for rewriting history and reframing identity and representation. Exhibiting artists Chakaia Booker, Victor Davson, Ben Jones, Nyugen Smith, Shoshanna Weinberger and Adrienne Wheeler transform everyday materials or consumer products such as paper, fans, branches, rubber, and album colors into mixed media artworks, sculpture, or installations. Through the amalgamation of found and handmade objects, the artists convey social and political commentary and nuanced perspectives on topics such as history, representation, and spirituality.

This exhibition is inspired by an article by Kobena Mercer titled “Romare Bearden, 1964: Collage as Kunstwollen.” Mercer describes the techniques of collage and montage as the cutting and splicing of carefully selected elements to create new meaning. Mercer asserts “the formal dynamics of collage [are] especially relevant to the hyphenated character of diaspora identities historically shaped by the unequal interaction of African and European elements.” Informed by Mercer’s analysis, this exhibition reveals the lasting relevance of collage in contemporary art of the African diaspora.

Chakaia Booker repurposes discarded materials such as tires, wood, and metal in her assemblages that comment on race, gender, and environmentalism. As evident in her wall sculpture, Untitled (2007), she slices, twists, and reworks rubber into dynamic forms that evoke skins, feathers, or scales. Her use of recycled tires draws associations between rubber’s different tones and patterns and cultural diversity. In Mother and Child (1994), she combines scrap wood and metal as a portrait of a mother carrying her child, a stroller, and numerous bags. Based in New York City, Booker earned a BA in sociology from Rutgers University and an MFA from the City College of New York. She is the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Grant and Guggenheim Fellowship, and she has exhibited and lectured nationally and internationally.

In his “Fan” series (1998-2002), Ben Jones adapted cardboard church fans into portraits that celebrate African American political and cultural leaders such as Ella Fitzgerald, Fannie Lou Hammer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sarah Vaughan, and Malcolm X. These fans, which are used in a spiritual context, become powerful emblems of worship, devotion, and respect for the individuals depicted on them. In his large paintings, Truth, Clear Truth (2010) and Malcolm and Fannie Lou – Freedom Warriors (2010), Jones paints with stencils to create layered compositions that address social and environmental justice. He intends for these paintings to be displayed in a domestic setting, which he envisions as a site for political awareness. Jones earned his BA from William Paterson University, MA from New York University, and MFA from Pratt Institute. He has exhibited his artwork internationally for more than 40 years and he is an emeritus professor of art at New Jersey City University. Among numerous other awards, he received the William Paterson University President’s Medal in 2009.

Victor Davson presents “Dub Factor: Heroes” (2013), a series of paintings on long play record album covers. Each cover commemorates a different musician who the artist admired when he was growing up in Guyana. The series represents a kind of dubbing or sampling of visual culture since the artist has appropriated record albums for his mixed media artworks. Their surfaces are coated with black rice, which is a staple in Guyanese cuisine and frequently employed in spiritual rituals and marriage ceremonies. In another mixed media series, “This Twittering World” (2011), Davson depicts landscapes on record album covers, drawing inspiration from T.S. Eliot’s poems, The Four Quartets.  Davson is a widely exhibiting artist who served for more than 35 years as founding director of Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, New Jersey.

In 2014, Nyugen Smith wrote a poem about his relationship to his Haitian ancestry, which then inspired the artworks, “masta my language” (2015). Smith transformed the poem’s text into visual forms, integrating strips of rubber and Zambian soil with oil pastel and graphite. He is now investigating these collages as the basis for a musical notation system, which will be presented as a performance with musician William Reese. Smith seeks to interrogate Western pedagogical approaches as a response to the legacy of European colonial rule in his native West Indies. Smith received his BA in art from Seton Hall University and his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He recently received a Lenore Annenberg Fellowship.

A self-described “visual anthropologist,” Jamaican American artist Shoshanna Weinberger explores the female archetype and notions of beauty. In her collages, she portrays disembodied female figures with exaggerated lips, breasts, and buttocks. She explains that she is “displaying only the parts that are desired…reducing the most sexualized and then repeating it.” As evidenced by her carefully crafted titles, her tone varies from a light-hearted humor to assertive statements and solemn commentary on societal norms and stereotypes. Weinberger earned her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her MFA from Yale University. She is currently an artist in residence at The Gateway Project in Newark, and recently received a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship.

In her site-specific installation, When the Saints… (2016), Adrienne Wheeler creates healing bundles drawing upon various Central and West African ancestral spiritual practices and cultural traditions. Wheeler gathers branches and limbs, which she carefully selects for their anthropomorphic and sculptural qualities. She then wraps and binds them with richly colored fabrics and other materials to create healing, guardian, or carnival figures. In addition to her artistic practice, Wheeler is an independent curator, arts educator, and advocate for social justice. She earned her BA in sociology at Northeastern University. Her recent projects include 42 Dresses (2016), a 418-foot-long mural of repeating images of dresses along Highway 21 in Newark.

The exhibition is one of two on view concurrently in the University Galleries. The Court Gallery presents the Art Department faculty exhibition. This exhibition is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The William Paterson University Galleries are wheelchair-accessible. Large-print educational materials are available. For additional information, please call the William Paterson University Galleries at 973-720-2654.