CHAMPAIGN, IL. Four black art and design faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are collaborating at the Krannert Art Museum on a new approach to the School of Art and Design’s annual faculty art exhibit. Black on Black on Black on Black features visual artist and art studio chair Patrick Earl Hammy, graphic design professor Stacey Robinson, art education professor Blair Ebony Smith, and graphic design professor Nequita Thomas.
The exhibition opens on September 24 and will last until December 10.
The exhibit’s opening celebration will be an all-day Saturday event with music, food trucks, activities for all ages, and an artist panel discussion. It will feature live jazz by Reginald Chapman and a reading by author Nabil Ayers, presented in partnership with PYGMALION. The evening reception will feature food from local black-owned business Neil Street Blues.
“We were determined to get as many black people as possible to support and sponsor to show the active black community here,” Robinson said.
The exhibition is traditionally a way for teachers to show current work and for art and design students to understand the creative practice of their teachers.
“It started almost a century ago when few teachers were speaking in other places. It was difficult for students to see the work of their teachers,” said KAM director Jon Seidl.
Students can now see the work of teachers in many ways, including digitally. Inspired by conversations with former dance professor Endalyn Taylor Outlaw, then an FAA research fellow in black arts, Seidle said he and Alan Mette, director of the School of Art and Design, envisioned this faculty show focusing on the distinctive power of blackness. art teachers. They created a one-year project to open up new opportunities for collaborative research and deeper public engagement.
“Each of these artists has a special reputation far beyond the UI for their cutting-edge practices, and it has been exciting to watch the important new works they have created alongside each other develop,” Seidl said.
The four artists, who represent half of the black faculty in art history and design, have not worked together before, but their individual practices bring together the themes of black quantum futures, music, time, and memory.
“We want people to have an idea of how our work looks at the full spectrum of black life and what that means to us and how we experience that in our communities,” Hammy said. “We want people to be able to walk into different spaces in the museum and see that we occupy the space, we’re here, and every time they turn a corner into a new gallery, the breadth and depth of who we are as artists and people shows what can be Black.”
Community programs related to the exhibit include a series of guest lectures, tours of the exhibit for community leaders, collaboration with educators who want to use the exhibit for teaching, and interactions with middle and high school students who come to see the exhibit.
“We do a lot more than exhibit work in a museum,” Hammy said.
Hammy’s installation “I… Night” combines images from “Soul Train” with images of vigilante mobs responsible for lynchings. The work explores the fear of the ‘Other’, disrupting Soul Train nostalgia and historical vigilance, and suggests how our personal connection to collective experience opens up a new space for empathy and action.
Images of “Soul Train” singers and dancers are combined with silhouettes and abstractions of lynchings, reminiscent of Rorschach’s ink blots. The combination gives viewers countless experiences based on their relationship to the past and the present, Hammy said.
Titled Black Audacious Freedom Dreams, Robinson’s work is a collaboration with psychologist and artist Kamau Grantham through their artistic partnership BLACKMAU. The idea of hope is embedded in the work.
The installation presents 10 banners with bright digital collages, which hang vertically in two rows. They are accompanied by a DJ video installation by Robinson and Grantham that was part of the Afrofuturism Festival at Carnegie Hall in February and March. According to Robinson, the collages are influenced by and mimic the low-cost mass production and advertising practices of hip-hop and house music in the 1980s and 1990s.
Smith is a sound artist and DJ known as lovenloops, and her work on the show “(Chorus) Turn Me On – Would You Come On Home?” uses sound and photos to create a family memory. The name is taken from one of her father’s favorite songs, “Love Will Bring Us Back Together”, by Roy Ayers. Smith created the soundscape for the installation using her father’s recordings of jazz, funk, hip-hop and soul mixes.
Her art installation includes collages of family photos; records, cassettes and compact discs; and a receiver and large speakers in the media cabinet. Smith uses these materials to explore love, the relationship between time and memory, and how music can be invoked to remember people.
Thomas’s installation, Protocols of Black Space, explores the places, settings, and objects that symbolize the black cultural experience. This reflects the isolation, disorientation, and marginalization of people of color, especially black women, in higher education. In response, her installation offers objects related to Thomas’s own experiences, including everyday clothes and items from the Bud Billiken parade in Chicago.
Thomas’s work is based on the idea that space is not racially neutral. The project is intended to be open-ended and to provoke discussion about African American spatial practices and how space can be designed in a way that is both empowering and liberating.
Artists have created Spotify playlists to accompany their work. They are available in the gallery using QR codes and on the exhibition website.