‘Black Life as Subject Matter II’ ranges from everyday life to protest

Exhibit features 32 artists at Springfield Museum of Art.

If you’re looking for an inspirational and educational way to celebrate Black History Month, head to the Springfield Museum of Art where a special exhibit, “Black Lives as Subject Matter II” is on display through Feb. 27. The show, which first opened at the Ebonia Gallery in Dayton, will move to the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery in Columbus April 30-July 8.

It’s a wonderful exhibition, beautifully displayed in Springfields’ spacious and airy McGregor Gallery. It reflects – in both the art and accompanying wall text – a wide range of subject matter and the personal convictions and intimate feelings of the 32 African-American artists who participated.

It all began when Willis “Bing” Davis, whose work has recently been shown at The Contemporary, invited a group of artists to examine any aspect of the black experience that reflected on “the joy, the pain, the sorrow, the visions and the hopes for today and tomorrow.”

Curator Davis made clear the artists had free reign of theme and media. “The stimulus may have been Breonna Taylor or George Floyd or they could have chosen to respond to a leaf or a haystack or a bird. I was concerned with what’s happening socially but if someone wanted to paint a pretty bowl of fruit, that was fine too. I told them they could zero in on what’s happening on the street or what happens when they just go for a walk.”

In addition to the core of Dayton artists Davis has worked with for years– many of whom are his former students –he’s been acquiring new people along the way who are represented in the current show, folks from Cincinnati, Hamilton, Cleveland, Columbus.

The 59 pieces that resulted range from charcoal and pencil drawings to textiles, clay, photographs and digital art. Subject matter ranges from everyday life and relationships to protest. Artists range in age from 20-80.

“Some people say art can’t change anything,” notes Davis. “It can’t change things but it can cause people to think about change and give thought to changes that may make a difference in their lives, someone else’s life or life of the community. Change doesn’t happen abruptly, it may happen slowly and gradually and we need it all. Just to get people thinking differently than how they thought before is a starting point for change.”

This exhibit will definitely prompt discussion and reflection. As part of the show, the museum has been hosting a series of community conversations about some of the issues it raises.

Elizabeth Wetterstroem, Springfield’s collections and exhibitions manager, says the response to the exhibit has been amazing. “We’ve had an uptick in attendance and some great feedback,” she says. “There’s a wall where folks can write down and post their reflections about the exhibit.”

One visitor wrote: “We need to learn to be comfortable with being wrong. That way when our predetermined values and ideas are contradicted, we can honestly and openly confront our biases and problematic values. Learn to adjust when you have been wrong, embrace change and work for a better world for all.”

Another wrote: “The power in this room of incredible art is palpable. Hope stands out with the love and sorrow, anger and awareness, Bravely shown in this day and so needed.”

Another interactive area invites visitors to sit in two chairs, take a question and talk about it, then submit their own question.

Wetterstroem says the museum really wants to make sure what it has in its galleries reflects the community, whether it be the artists themselves or the subjects on the walls.

“Recognizing we have a diverse community in Springfield, we want to represent all aspects of race, gender, folks of different capabilities, and sexuality,” she adds.

Artists responses

Yvette Walker Dalton’s “Celebration of American Women” features 26 framed paper collages of American women. “Some are dressed in ancestral attire and all are masked as President Biden dictates for Americans to guard against giving or getting Covid-19,” says Dalton. “Many of these ladies remind me of a relative, friend or famous person. All remind me of days gone by when as a child I had imaginary friends, maybe not 26, but a few to keep me company. Likewise, creating these women during the pandemic kept me company and joyfully creative during this stressful time.”

One of Greg DeGroat’s paintings is a sweet portrait of a mother and child. Another inspired by DeGroat’s granddaughter doing ballet on the street, shows a professional dancer in her beautiful tutu and ballet slippers demonstrating steps to two young children on a neighborhood sidewalk

Derrick Davis’s textile drawing, “Kente Spirit, “celebrates the heritage and cultural aspects of black life.

Here’s one example of the kind of heartfelt artist statements that accompany each of the art pieces. This is from Deborah Dixon whose mixed media work is entitled “Black Spirits Matter.”

“What can I possibly say that has not already been said about Black Lives Matter? But in truth, black lives have mattered since we were stolen from our ancestral lands and forced upon ships to endure the Middle Passage, the horrors of slavery, Reconstruction, forced segregation and a myriad of different forms of violence perpetrated through economic, medical, and social means.

“Today the blood of our people that have been callously spilled at the hands of those who took an oath to serve and protect, is a special travesty. For years, African Americans have borne the brunt of racism in law enforcement; too often equal treatment under the law has been a grim joke to many poor people of color.

“Many black men, women and children, have been shot dead running away or attempting to comply with officer commands with hands up pleading for their lives… Rage is what I and many people of color have known and felt for years. But I have found my years of anger to be exhausting and I want to lay this rage down for a while and contemplate another reality.

“My submittal, entitled “Black Spirits Matter” speaks to the collective resilience of my people. I hope my art sculpture evokes thought, acknowledgement and appreciation in the viewer of the eternal light of spirit. We have endured much and have overcome the odds by drawing upon this light, and it is my honor to share my visual representation of this life force with you.”

Wetterstroem says for so long black artists have been overlooked in the traditional canon of art history. “It’s so important that we make sure we represent everybody coming to the museum, make sure folks feel welcome, can be inspired and want to come back and revisit.”


This story kicks off our coverage of Black History Month, which begins Tuesday.


What: “Black Lives as Subject Matter II”

Where: Springfield Museum of Art, 107 Cliff Park Road, Springfield.

When: Through Feb. 27. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. 12:30-4:30 p.m. on Sundays.

Admission: $5 for adults, $3 for seniors. Free for members, youth 17 and under, EBT card holders, Blue Star families and Dayton Art Institute members at the Reciprocal ($150) level. To inquire about group rates, please contact the Museum at smoa@springfieldart.net or (937) 325-4673

Parking: Free

Related programming:

A free Community Conversation entitled “Social Identities and Systems” will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb 12. Visitors can attend in person or register to participate on Zoom via the link on the museum website at www.springfieldart.net.

Gallery admission is free on the day of the event.

This conversation will feature Chelsea Craig, one of the artists from “BLACK LIFE as subject MATTER II,” and Karlos Marshall, founder and President of The Conscious Connect in Springfield.

Come Find Art!

Come Find Art Sundays are FREE family events, open house style, with an artist in the gallery and a hands-on art experience. Artists are creating art and invite visitors to chat with them and watch as they create art. The hands-on studio experience is in a physically distanced studio setup, or via a take-home art kit.

For January and February the Come Find Art events feature “BLACK LIFE as subject MATTER II.”

Sunday, January 30, 12;30-4:30 p.m. with artist Cedric Cox

Sunday, February 27, 12:30-4:30 p.m. with artist Cynthia Lockhart and Yvette Walker Dalton

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