17 artists from the Midwest offer a glimpse into the art of black abstraction in the SooVAC exhibition

Sometimes an artist finds a community, but other times the community finds the artist.

In the case of Twin Cities-based artist/curator Gregory J. Rose, he wanted to find other artists working in Black Abstraction, so he put out an open invitation for an exhibition to focus on just that.

“Since the uprising and George Floyd, art has been at the forefront of the past and healing and communication and community,” Rose said. “I wanted to know who my peers are because I’ve lived here since 2001.

His responses are collected in the group show “Change Is God—Put Root Among the Stars: Black Abstraction in the Midwest,” now on view at the Soo Center for the Visual Arts in Minneapolis. Seventeen artists who call the Midwest home—with one in Oklahoma featuring that state as part of the region—compose a mix of two- and three-dimensional work in this show that includes painting, installation, quilting, video, and sculpture.

Abstract power

Abstract art feels more like music in the sense that one will look and feel, rather than immediately recognizing faces and places and then assigning meaning. In an academic study published in 2020 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers found that abstract art can help people understand things more conceptually instead of realistically, inducing “distant” feelings.

Eight of the artists in the show call the Twin Cities home. Stephanie A. Lindquist’s four abstract photographs and lightboxes, arranged on the floor like a spawning organism, are actually mold growing from Minnesota to West Africa.

Sarah White’s dynamic installation is a hanging white canvas with electromagnetic lines snaking across it, and a faint video projection of a black woman tying a rope around herself and then relaxing on the ground.

It was inspired by “what it feels like to put my hands on a body and feel their grief and think about how the heart has electromagnetic waves that go out 10 feet in every direction,” White said in a video on SooVac’s YouTube channel .

Recent Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Ta-Coumba T. Aiken, who recently closed a solo exhibition at Dreamsong Gallery in Northeast Minneapolis, is also in the show. Aiken, whose round acrylic-on-canvas works It’s Time to Stand Up! Tell the Truth” and “PRIZE KEY” are shown, noted how abstraction “is not new to African-American artists, let’s call ourselves black abstract artists.” He mentioned Alma Thomas, whose work is in the Whitney Museum of American Art, as early black female abstract artist.

“Then there are people like Norman Lewis, who was an abstract painter at the same time as Jackson Pollack, but art critics didn’t talk about him, probably because he was black,” Aiken said. “When I discovered his work, it was phenomenal.

Part of Rose’s desire for the show was to move the conversation around black abstraction beyond the Twin Cities’ best-known artists working in it, such as Aiken, Sethu Jones and Clarence Morgan, with whom he studied at the University of Minnesota’s art department.

Artist Alex Beaumont begins her work around a personal project exploring her Jamaican identity.

“Sometimes I’ve felt kind of weak or disconnected from not having a deeper connection to the island and part of my family,” Beaumont said.

“In the work I attend to these feelings of loss and feel this materially in the removal of threads from the work – this permeability of the cut canvas work – but also claim my embodied experience in my Jamaican nature.”

She uses fabric made from the sorrel plant. Her textile pieces also visually reference iron in her family’s home in Mandeville, Jamaica.

Beaumont grew up in South Carolina, but her father is from Jamaica and her mother is of German descent. She compares the way Jamaican culture spread to blowing dandelion seeds.

“It gave me a deep sense of comfort that the things I feel and experience as a part of [a Jamaican] the diaspora really has this connective tissue with other people in that diaspora,” she said. “It was a beautiful experience to be a part of this show.”


Change Is God—Put Root Among the Stars: Black Abstraction in the Midwest

When: Ends Sat. July 30 with a reception and panel discussion from 5 to 8 p.m

Where: Soo Visual Arts Center, 2909 Bryant Av. S., No. 101, Mpls.

O’clock: 1-6pm Wed-Fri, 11am-5pm Sat-Sun.

Information: 612-871-2263 or soovac.org.

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