Seeking Balance

“Artists of Color” exhibition opens at the NACC



NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK – The Niagara Arts and Cultural Center is celebrating Black History Month with a new art exhibition.

“Artists of Color: Freedom” is the eighth iteration of an annual event honoring Black artists. This newest exhibition features pieces from local artists, particularly the cities of Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester.

Ray Robertson, the curator of the exhibition, believes that “Artists of Color” is a way to give a voice to the often silenced Black art community.

“I started this show eight years ago trying to solve the problem as to why African American artists do not show as often as maybe we should,” says Robertson. “There’s a reluctance to show.” Robertson explains that many Black artists do not consider publicizing and selling the art that they make.

Robertson says that he strategically placed pieces on life in Africa at the entrance of the new permanent Underground Railroad exhibit donated to the NACC by Niagara University.

“I want to show the experience of how we were before the slave experience,” says Robertson. “I want viewers to see how we were in Africa, how we were as slaves, and how we are now in modern times.”

In addition to being a curator, Robertson also works in painting, photography and sculpture. His distinct wood sculptures, 3-D collages, are on display in the current exhibition.

Unlike many other art shows, “Artists of Color” is not restricted by the skill level of the artists. Robertson says that the NACC helps artists with the presentation of their pieces.

“I found that many artists don’t think about presentation,” says Robertson, explaining that how the painting is displayed is as important as the painting itself. “You have to dress up a painting in its best clothes.”

Robertson has also learned to accept people that are only interested in his art for its casing.

“I don’t get hung over that,” says Robertson. “Maybe that housewife saw the frame that matched the furniture, but who knows who will be in her house.” Robertson realizes that anywhere that his art is presented, he has the ability to make a statement.

While art is Robertson’s passion, he does not believe in starving artists.

“I don’t believe in that concept,” says Robertson. “I don’t know where it started, and I don’t know why it’s been perpetuated.” Robertson feels that the Hollywood image of the suffering artist does not work in the real world. “The average artist, like anybody else, needs to be comfortable in his pursuits.”

Robertson is also adamant that art is not a way to make easy money.

“A lot of artists think that they’re going to get rich painting,” says Robertson. “That concept needs to be trashed. If you’re painting for money, you need to do something else.”

A distinct point that Robertson recognizes is the lack of importance America places on art.

“There are many Third World countries where artists feel needed,” says Robertson. “They feel like they are part of the society, and not someone on the fringes.”

Robertson is also not afraid to point out a severe problem with art in America.

“There’s a lot of classicism in art here in America,” says Robertson. “In terms of this show, there’s no restrictions.”

The artwork on display is truly universal: everything from novice works and works by children are placed alongside professional pieces with expert care.

“The kids’ work is going to be presented in the same manner as the pros’ work,” says Robertson, who explains that the NACC believes that everyone’s work deserves to be presented in the best way possible.

The Niagara Arts and Cultural Center is the largest multicultural nonprofit institute in the state. It is located at 1201 Pine Ave. in Niagara Falls. “Artists of Color: Freedom” runs through March 19 in the Townsend Gallery.

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