On July 16, Cincinnati’s arts, business, cultural, and political leaders cut a ribbon on the second floor foyer of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The 2021 Truth and Reconciliation Artist Showcase was now underway. The three-day event ran from July 16-18 and featured art exhibits, performances, and films by local Black and Brown artists, recipients of ArtsWave’s Truth and Reconciliation Grants.
ArtsWave and the City of Cincinnati established the Truth and Reconciliation grant program in 2020 to support and elevate local Black and Brown artists. 2020’s COVID pandemic and the massive protests against systemic racism and police brutality inspired the Truth and Reconciliation theme.
Attendees of the opening ceremony got a sneak peak of the Truth and Reconciliation Art Exhibition at the Freedom Center. Artwork by Brent Billingsley, Michael Coppage, Gee Horton, Tyra Patterson, Rebecca Nava Soto and Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi with Kathy Wade was featured. Mazloomi’s “Story Quilts” features commissioned quilts that engage with the history of civil rights, police brutality and racism in America, one of the more emotionally heavy and sobering of the artworks. Annie Ruth’s “On Her Shoulders” series will be exhibited at the Cincinnati Museum Center through August 30.
Rebecca Nava Soto’s “The Edge” is a mixed media work inspired by Mesoamerican floor installations and the connections between contemporary ecology and indigenous science and spirituality. The title refers to “the Edge effect” in ecology: sharp boundaries between two or more habitats where diversity increases. She also uses this concept to engage with her own artistic practice and history, making “Mexican paper flowers, piñatas and wood shaving ritual art” with her family and community and studying painting in graduate school: “The synergy within me can be seen in my artmaking practice. Bringing together the knowledge and experience between these two artmaking historical lineages, processes, and ideologies.”
Twelve Truth and Reconciliation artists produced short films for the Artist Showcase, projected in the Freedom Center’s Harriet Tubman Theater. Derek Snow’s “Silas: The Uninvited” opened the showcase. The film follows Silas, a man who travels through time after he is lynched, only to find the threat of racist violence is not limited to one era. Snow explains, “the tactics may have changed over time, but the trauma remains the same.”
“Silas: The Uninvited” employed part of Cincinnati’s homeless population for its production crew. Snow mentions his “continuing goal is to bring more of the marginalized citizenry into my work and add another career option to their futures. I am honored to do my part to advance those efforts.”
Live performances closed out the Truth and Reconciliation Artist Showcase, featuring nine artists at Memorial Hall. World-renowned concert pianist Awadagin Pratt’s "Black in America" used music and lecture and David Choate’s “Liberty: Injustice for All” used lecture and dance to foreground Black people’s anger, resignation, and rejection of a racist society. Choate asked audience members to hold their arms up while he explored the stasis of justice and pain through the word “still.”
Darnell Pierre Benjamin’s “13th and Republic: All Us, All Love,” also called for audience participation, as dancers solicited applause and exaltations to highlight the necessity of fun, joy, and exuberance while living in an unjust society.
Some Truth and Reconciliation projects did not fit the Artist Showcase’s format. Siri Imani uses spoken word and music to explore economic and racial inequality in “Black Unicorns, White Tears, Rainbows and Other Uncomfortable Truths for Uptight Wypipo.” Phrie’s “East Side X West End” examines historical patterns in how Black people migrate to Cincinnati. Deqah Hussein-Wetzel’s “Urban Roots” podcast offers a dive into Black history and culture in the Cincinnati region. TT Stern-Enzi’s “Critical Reflections” is a series of essays and podcasts where he approaches film and media through the lens of representation. Prince Lang created wood sculptures for the St. James Community Garden in Walnut Hills; on the north facing wall at 1626 Race St., near Elementz, you can find “Envision Findlay,” a new mural by Brandon Hawkins. Lorena Molina’s “Reconciliation Garden” is an immersive installation that centers injustices stemming from coffee production in El Salvador. It is on display at The Welcome Project until October 2021.
The Truth and Reconciliation Project Grants and Artist Showcase was made possible by the City of Cincinnati, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Duke Energy, Fifth Third Bank, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and ArtsWave’s Arts Vibrancy Recovery Fund. Toilynn O’Neal Turner, founder of the Robert O’Neal Multicultural Art Center (“The ROMAC”), chaired the community-based artist selection process and served as an indispensable project advisor.
To support projects like these in the future, visit artswave.org/give.