In a Pair of New York Shows, Artists of the African Diaspora Reflect on Resilience and Innocence
Portrait of Mashonda Tifrere with, from left to right, Lauren Pearce, Just One More Sleep, 2021; Lauren Pearce, What We Will Remember, 2021; and Ronald Jackson, The Magnificent Johnnie Mae King, 2021, in “Be of Good Courage” at NYC Culture Club, 2021. Photo by Parker Calvert. Courtesy of Mashonda Tifrere and NYC Culture Club.
The New York– and Los Angeles–based curator and art advisor Mashonda Tifrere has long been dedicated to amplifying the voices of artists of the African diaspora. In 2016, she founded ArtLeadHER, a nonprofit that seeks to support the work of female-identifying creators; and more recently, she created Art Genesis, a platform dedicated to supporting emerging artists. “It’s important to center Black femmes simply because they have been denied access,” Tifrere said in a recent interview. “Giving artists an equal opportunity to thrive and create art, also to build sustainable careers, is central to the work that I do with ArtLeadHER and Art Genesis.”
This December, Tifrere unveiled her latest project: a dual exhibition presented by Art Genesis and the NYC Culture Club. These shows, titled “Small Wonders” and “Be of Good Courage,” feature an array of portraits and abstract works by esteemed and emerging diasporic artists; proceeds from the former show will benefit Children’s Aid NYC. “[All] of these artists are genius storytellers,” Tifrere said. “Their way of rendering the Black figure and celebrating their own personal heritage and experience is very inspiring to me.”
“Be of Good Courage” features a dynamic range of emerging artists—Ronald Jackson, Lauren Pearce, Alanis Forde, Akilah Watts, Robert Peterson, Jaqueline Suowari, Jewel Ham, and Ikeorah Chisom Chi-Fada—who present works addressing the notion of “a life lived fearlessly.” These works unpack themes of personal identity and courage in the face of adversity—narratives that feel particularly relevant within the context of the pandemic. In Forde’s Discourse (2021), the artist weaves a compelling visual narrative around the dual nature of her identity, depicting two identically dressed figures with blue-dotted skin facing one another. Other pieces, like Ham’s Heard You (2021), deftly employ color as a vehicle for storytelling; in this case, vibrant reds and oranges convey a moment of joyful respite.
“Small Wonders,” in its theme and purpose, is focused on children. The featured artists—Derrick Adams, Hugo McCloud, Patrick Alston, Ferrari Sheppard, Amani Lewis, Nate Lewis, and Tariku Shiferaw—present works that reflect on the “inner child” within all of us and consider the genuine innocence that children bring to their experiences. Fittingly, the show will benefit underserved children of New York City: Tifrere partnered with the NYC Culture Club on the show to raise funds for Children’s Aid NYC.
“The seven artists in Small Wonders are all brilliant minds and incredible humans that I’m either friends with or a collector of their work,” Tifrere said. “I wanted to exhibit them together on one wall with works that are of smaller scale to represent the perspective of a child.”
Some pieces on display in “Small Wonders” take a more abstract approach to the central theme: Alston’s The Rose That Concrete Grew (2021), for example, layers acrylic, enamel, gouache, oil, and paper pulp on canvas to create a compelling abstraction that conveys resilience. Nate Lewis’s Signaling (2021) shows a figure with sinuous lines and unidentifiable faces, inviting the viewer to fill in the blanks of the subject’s story, or reflect on their own.
“It’s so important for me to present these works that bring awareness to the issues at hand,” Tifrere said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be in this space and to be trusted with presenting this work to the public.”