There’s nothing like Christmas morning on an August afternoon in Southern University’s Visual Arts Gallery.
Randell Henry and Addie Dawson-Euba are opening packages. They’ve seen the pieces in photos, but there’s nothing like seeing them in person, especially for the first time when composition and color overwhelm the senses.
“Beautfiul,” Dawson-Euba says as Henry unpacks Ricky N. Calloway’s painting, “Courageous Black Women: The Forgotten Backbones of the Reconstruction Period.”
The painting is one of 30 by members of the National Alliance of Artists from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which will conduct its annual conference on Southern’s campus from Wednesday through Sunday, Sept. 4-7. The artwork will be featured in the coinciding exhibit, “The Importance of Art to Historically Black Colleges and Universities in This New Millennium,” which opens Wednesday, Aug. 27 and runs through Friday, Oct. 31.
Dawson-Euba is both coordinator and juror for this show, Henry is the curator and both are two of only three professors in Southern’s cash-strapped Department of Visual and Performing Arts.
“We have no budget, so we had no money to bring in this conference and show,” Dawson-Euba says. “The alliance wanted to come here, and I told them we had no money to bring them here. But they said, ‘Addie, we want to come anyway.’”
Alliance members are funding the conference, and exhibiting artists will pay their own expenses to attend the opening reception on Friday, Sept. 4.
“They wanted to come here — they wanted to see Southern,” Dawson-Euba says. “And we’re going to give them first-class treatment.”
That begins with the exhibit. Dawson-Euba composed its catalog, featuring photos and artists’ statements.
Calloway’s 2013 painting is described as oil on masonite, 60-by-26-inches. But when Henry unboxes, it’s suddenly clear that Calloway’s piece isn’t one painting but several, creating a layered, three-dimensional effect. When Henry grabs each side of its massive frame, the piece is as tall as he is.
Only the actual artwork can tell the whole story. Take Lee A. Ransaw’s piece, for instance. He’s chairman of the alliance’s executive board and a professor of art at Morris Brown College.
His piece, “Ms. Foxx and Mr. Hare,” dominated by an early 20th-century African-American woman in elegant party wear. Watching her from within the impressionistic background is an equally elegantly dressed man.
The woman’s lines are long; she is both beautiful and strong.
“Since one of the courses that I teach at Morris Brown College is ‘The Art of the Harlem Renaissance,’ I wanted to experiment on canvas with the way they combined the fashion of the day with, in some instances, the elongation of the human figure, which often captured a special moment in time and kept the viewer engaged,” Ransaw writes in his artist’s statement.
Henry also has a piece in the show, and Dawson-Euba has two. Gallery Director Robert Cox also represents Southern with a paintings.
Artists’ work also represent historically black colleges and universities Alabama State Univeristy, Bowie State University, Clark/Atlanta University, Dillard University, Fort Valley State, Johnson C. Smith University, Kennedy King College, LeMoyne Owen College, Morehouse College, Central State University, North Carolina A&T University, Norfolk State University, Prairie View A&M University, Savannah State University, Spelman College, Stillman College, Southern University-New Orleans, Talladega College, Tuskegee University, Virginia State University and Winston Salem State University.
“This is a great opportunity for anyone studying art history,” Dawson-Euba says. “This is a national show, and we have a wealth of art representing some of the finest African-American artists from HBCUs here.”
Dawson-Euba is developing a traveling schedule for the show after it closes at Southern. She’s already in contact with museums throughout the nation and will re-tailor the catalog for the run.