Local African-American Artists Portray the Black Experience in New Exhibit

Twenty-two African-American artists from the D.C. area portray the black experience in their artwork for a new exhibit on display in Maryland.

“The Elements That Define Us” at the Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center in North Brentwood includes a colorful selection of mixed media portraits. Its curator, Tomora Wright, is an artist herself.

“’The elements that define us is focusing on the artist’s hand, and that’s the one thing that sets them apart from other artists,” she said. “It’s how diverse their voices are and how diverse their work is.”

Artist Toni Bernadette Lane chose to show strength as an element that defines the black experience.

“This is called ‘Face me and however you face me I am strength,’ and that’s what I try to portray here,” she said.

James Terrell's painting is inspired by the face of a famous Afro-Caribbean artist of the 1980s known for his colorful graffiti.

“I was trying to capture a black painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat,” he said.

When he's not painting, he teaches art at Friendship Public Charter School.

“It’s very important because it helps build their self-esteem,” he said. “It gives them ownership; it gives them a voice to help express how they feel, what they've seen. Very important.”

Elana Casey, who heads the art department at Archbishop Carroll High School, said her portrait is one of several similar ones she's painted.

“These are all self-portraits because I'm representing black women growing in their self-esteem,” she said. “I'm representing them seeing themselves and gods and goddesses. “I did this for my senior thesis at the Corcoran School of Art and I was thinking about black women being empowered.”

Shawn Lindsay is trained in classic art, having studied fine arts painting at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, but he paints in what he calls his wild style.

“The wild style is I use all my knowledge but I don't paint in a classical or educated way,” he said.

“I'm a black artist, so anything I paint will be from the black experience because it comes from my hands,” he said about the exhibit.

“The Elements That Define Us” is on display through May 26.

Reported by Barbara Harrison and edited by Teneille Gibson.

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