By Barney Blakeney
The artistic presentation “conNECKted: Imaginings for Truth and Reconciliation” opened at the City Gallery at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Waterfront Park July 22 and will be on exhibit through August 27. But to label the presentation an art exhibit is an understatement – it is an expression of art as activism.
The exhibition fills the two levels of the gallery with multi-media expressions of what it is to be Charleston, a city with a rich unique history that is time- warping into a modern landscape where the flavor of cobblestones and oyster shells are being replaced by concrete, steel and glass. The exhibition takes on a distinctive aura at City Gallery located on the banks of the Cooper River in Charleston’s harbor. Its theme provides a threshold between past and present.
Local artists Gwylene Gallimard and Jean-Marie Mauclet, social activists and educators Pamella Gibbs, Debra Holt and LaSheia Oubre who all are members of the Charleston Rhizome Collective, along with an ensemble of apprentice artists for the past three years have worked to create the platform where artists and activists can meet, discuss and share their perceptions of Charleston in transition. The gallery-wide installation explores the dynamics of artistic and cultural expression through an interactive dialogue that amplifies the voices of those affected by gentrification, displacement, crime and violence and other issues that impact a changing city.
The exhibition features uniquely constructed pieces that offer glimpses onto ‘Geraldine and Debra’s Street’, a work that tells the story of their family’s century-old freedmen’s cottage now threatened by runoff from a massive roadside bill board which channels drainage creating a flood zone in the neighborhood adjacent to I-26. It also features Latonnya Wallace’s ‘Purple Memorial’ booth that gives sound to the lives of loved ones lost to crime and violence through the recorded voices of those left behind. And the ‘Peace Scrolls and Peace Corner’ created by students at James Simons, Meeting Street Academy- Charleston and Sanders-Clyde elementary schools is a visual expression of the reality children are facing. The ‘Nautical Stories’ exhibit gives a personal view of Charleston’s Mosquito Fleet and one of its last surviving fisherman.
As engaging as the art, are the Saturdays and selected Tuesday and Thursday evening workshops, proposals and performances-in-progress conducted by the artists. Discussions will be led by the artists, educators, activists and citizens. A listing of the events is available on the gallery’s website at www.charleston-sc.gov/citygallery.
College of Charleston Professor George Hopkins said huge changes have occurred in the city since 1975, changes that affect its whole character. The exhibit illustrates that and the related events offer an opportunity to experience and participate in expressing those changes. Moreover, the exhibit raises awareness, he said.
From public transportation to architecture, the exhibit facilitates expression and dialogue, said Gallimard. Mauclet said the exhibit uses visual art as a revealer to the dynamics of the community. It’s a necessary expression of art and activism, said Oubre. The exhibit and all events are free and open to the public.