*Photos by Emily Van de Riet
Seven Webster University art students collaborated to produce a show reflecting a variety of black life experiences. Using different mediums, the artists displayed a peek into their lives in their show titled The Black Experience.
The seven students who were involved with the show include Lauren Caskey, Vaughn Davis, Maxine du Maine, Cameron Estes, Destini Johnson, Chelsea McDaniel and Amanda Miller. The show was on display Feb. 12 – 17 in the hallways of the Visual Arts Building.
Davis said the students wanted to let people in on the ‘experiences of blackness.’
“We dream, we sleep,” Davis said. “We wanted to put it out in front of everyone to visualize these things through art. We see ourselves in such a multifaceted community.”
The title The Black Experience came from the idea that the show would not just be about art. The students’ vision was to accompany their art with food and music at the opening reception Feb. 12. du Maine said Davis’ mother made soul food and a DJ played what she called ‘black family reunion tunes.’
“At the end of the day, ‘black experience’ is a very broad term,” du Maine said. “We’re all different people. We all come from different areas of the world. You really get the full experience through different mediums.”
More than 150 people attended the opening reception of The Black Experience. Some of the artwork was sold at the reception, Davis said. More of the artwork is still on sale.
“[The artwork that sold] was a great thing for the artists who were here to be able to get the recognition they deserve, but also to be able to get compensated for their efforts as artists,” Davis said.
du Maine’s “Fatherhood Study”
One piece of artwork displayed was du Maine’s “Fatherhood Study” paintings, two separate paintings juxtaposed next to each other, one with a white father and infant son and another with a black father and infant son. du Maine said the inspiration for these paintings came from her own relationship with her father growing up.
du Maine said she does not have a good relationship with her father, but she took comfort in hearing other people’s stories and knowing her situation could be worse.
“[The artwork] is all about fatherhood and how we can’t choose our fathers,” du Maine said. “If you have a nonexistent dad or bad father, we can’t determine who they are. We just have to deal with the outcome.”
du Maine describes the blue color behind the angry, white-supremacist-tattooed man as “intense,” in comparison to the subtle tones behind the black man whose face she describes as “stoic.”
She also said she understands not every artist who is a part of The Black Experience has encountered the kind of people she depicted in her paintings, but that she grew up seeing those people.
“I feel like my job as an artist is to put the truth out there, and this is my truth. It’s my authentic truth,” du Maine said. “Despite anything, this is what I grew up seeing. And it does exist.”
du Maine said she plans on continuing her “Fatherhood Study” series by include paintings of Hispanic and Asian fathers with their children. She also had other artwork in the show, including a large painting of a black woman.
“I feel like black women in society are looked down upon, and they’re not really regarded as strong female figures,” du Maine said. “Growing up, that wasn’t my experience. These women are strong, gorgeous, regal, sexy. They have class. I wanted to reiterate that with these strong, bold colors.”
Johnson’s glittery women
Johnson displayed her artwork at The Black Experience as well, most of it covered in glitter. She said she uses glitter as her voice and to portray black women as goddesses, and that it draws attention and comes off as something positive. She said growing up, she always heard negative, derogatory ways of describing black women.
“I grew up in a predominately-white neighborhood, and if I went to my friends’ houses they said ‘my parents were scared because you’re black, but you’re actually one of those cool black girls, you’re not black at all,’ and I would always say ‘but I am black,’” Johnson said.
Davis’ distressed work
Davis, whose artwork in the show uses many fabric mediums, said he is focusing on the ideas of distressing work and using natural colors.
“I like the idea of things looking like they’ve been around for centuries,” Davis said. “My work is an extension of The Black Experience as well. It’s this idea of being distressed, being broken down, which is very much a commentary on life.”
Continuing the show
Davis said The Black Experience is the first of many shows by the same name. The students plan on continuing the show and are attempting to host it next year in the Hunt Gallery.
“We want this to be something that happens for the next five years, 10 years. All in the name of The Black Experience,” Davis said. “I also truly believe that a lot of the artists in this show will be showing their work across the country in the next few years.”
du Maine said although all the artists come from different backgrounds, they all have some of the same experiences growing up.
“We just wanted to show people that this is our voice,” du Maine said.
Johnson said it was great that the artists could come together to make a show to fill the entire hallways of the Visual Arts Building. She said being a part of The Black Experience was a lot of fun and that she is hoping to do it again.
“It’s always different having people who aren’t around you every day come in and see your art,” Johnson said. “People had so many nice, positive things to say and it’s like ‘wow, people actually like our work.’”
Davis said black art is alive, well and happening here in St. Louis and across the nation.
“We wanted to be able to show people our experiences,” Davis said. “No matter who you are, we wanted people to come in here and enjoy the work viewing our lives through our lenses and letting you see who we are.”