SARATOGA SPRINGS — The latest Saratoga Arts exhibition carries both pain and hope sparked by recent Black Lives Matter protests.
“Black + Indigenous Artists of Color Matter” features 40 works from artists around the Capital Region. When it opens on Saturday, it’ll be the first physical exhibition that curator Becky Zeh has been able to install since mid-March, when Saratoga Arts had to close its doors because of COVID-19.
Since then, Zeh has organized and curated several online exhibitions, including “Breaking the Grid,” which is a digital rendition of the art center’s traditional “10x10” show.
“It’s exciting to be back in the Arts Center and be able to present artwork in person again,” Zeh said.
To Zeh, “Black + Indigenous Artists of Color Matter” is an especially important exhibit to present at this time.
After the death of George Floyd inspired Black Lives Matter protests around the country, including the Capital Region, Zeh put out a call for work by Black and indigenous artists of color.
“It’s a great opportunity in this crucial [time] to lift the artistic voices of these artists and bring them to the forefront,” Zeh said.
Some of the works, like one by Schenectady artist Bianca DiLella, are direct responses to the recent protests.
In DiLella’s mural, a Black boy and girl are featured with t-shirts saying “Hope 4 us” and “Help 4 us.” It was created after the protests in Troy when businesses boarded up their windows with plywood.
“We’re very excited to have that because it’s such a meaningful piece to have in the show,” Zeh said.
It’s both poignant and hopeful, a call to action for this generation to create a better world for the next one.
In another work, police officers are featured in gas masks and holding batons. The question “Who protects us from you?” spans across the top, bookmarked by two white stars. Created by Marcus Kwame Anderson of Vischer Ferry, the piece asks a question that many have been grappling with lately.
This painting by Vischer Ferry artist Marcus Kwame Anderson is among the works featured in the new Saratoga Arts exhibit "Black + Indigenous Artists of Color Matter."
Erica Miller/Staff Photographer
Other works, like the intricate drawings by Janel Crandall, celebrate the beauty of Black women. Crandall’s portraits feature women wearing vibrant headwraps, with their faces wrapped in pearls.
“She’s very inspired by Black beauty… I think the imagery is so beautiful,” Zeh said.
This painting by Albany artist Janel Crandall is among the works featured in the new Saratoga Arts exhibit "Black + Indigenous Artists of Color Matter."
Erica Miller/Staff Photographer
Beyond subject matter, the exhibition also features a range of mediums, including jewelry, photography, painting, collage and more.
“I didn’t give any parameters of subject matter or medium… I just wanted everybody to bring artwork that they feel very confident and strong about from their point of view as an artist,” Zeh said.
Though it isn’t the first time that Saratoga Arts has presented a show focused on Black artists, it’s not something the center has frequently done.
Maya Lewis, whose work is featured in the show, told Zeh that the exhibit should be a first step for Saratoga Arts. Zeh agreed.
“You can’t just have a show and then that’s it. Moving forward we need to acknowledge our shortcomings as an organization and try to do better. I think this is a good first step, giving these artists a platform to express themselves artistically,” Zeh said.
The exhibition has brought in local artists who had never been to the Arts Center, and Zeh hopes that continues to happen as the Center presents more Black artists and artists of color in the future.
At this time, gallery capacity is capped at 10 people due to social distancing restrictions. Its hours have been reduced as well, from Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Yet, interim executive director Meaghan Golden is just glad to finally welcome people back.
She stepped into the role on April 1, taking over for longtime director Joel Reed. At that point, staff members were figuring out how to get a full roster of classes and exhibitions online. While some classes will still be held online, they plan to present some classes at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center throughout August.
“It’s been tough in the ways that it’s tough for everyone but we’re pretty resilient, we made it happen,” Golden said.
During what continues to be a painful time for people, the arts are essential, according to Golden.
“I think the arts just keep us hopeful. To know people are still working to create and express themselves. It’s just important to continue to give them an outlet to do so. We can’t lose the arts in the midst of everything that’s happening right now. It’s what’s going to sustain us,” Golden said. “We have to stay relevant and we have to stay visible. We can’t disappear.
“Black + Indigenous Artists of Color Matter” will be open from Saturday, August 1 through Saturday, September 5. Saratoga Arts will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, visit saratogaarts.org.