‘The Circle of Mothers Project’ kicks off the season at Gallery Josephine

Constance Malcolm —Sylvia Maier

In 2012, Trayvon Martin, an innocent black teenager, was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer. The acquittal of the boy’s shooter precipitated the official launch of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Shortly after her son’s death, Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton established the Circle of Mothers Network which, according to the website, was begun “as a way to empower women who have experienced the loss of a child, especially due to gun violence.”

Sybrina Fulton — Sylvia Maier
Sybrina Fulton — Sylvia Maier

To honor members of the group, Brooklyn-based artist Sylvia Maier created a series of oil paintings titled “The Circle of Mothers Project.” Half a dozen of the paintings — portraits of mothers of slain black men — will be featured in a solo show at Gallery Josephine from May 28 through June 13, with an opening on May 28.

Each of the six paintings in the exhibit depicts a mother with the image of a U.S. coin as a circle framing the woman’s portrait. The coin images include the words “Liberty” and “In God We Trust,” the writing found on all U.S. coins. The words serve as a challenge: the ideals of our nation juxtaposed with the reality of discrimination in this country.

The images are powerful, highlighting the faces of proud women surviving tragedy and using their experience to honor their sons and raise awareness.

The subjects include Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton, the mothers of Mohammed Bey, Amadou Diallo, Ramarley Graham, and Sean Bell — all unarmed men who were gunned down by police officers — and the mother of Eric Garner, who died after being put into a chokehold during an arrest in Staten Island.

The artist’s website includes a video in which each of the mothers lovingly describes her son.

The Circle of Mothers Project is a continuation of Ms. Maier’s Currency Series, portraits encircled by the coin image. As she writes on her website, “This work initiates a conversation about individual value and our sense of self-worth. It explores how seeing ourselves in a positive light can increase our value as helpful members of society. The work poses several questions. Can achieving our highest self be our maximum currency? Can everyday life be thought of as spiritual currency?”

Ms. Maier is an award-winning artist whose work has been shown in various galleries and venues around her native New York — including at Lincoln Center — and at selected shows throughout the U.S. and Germany. According to her website, “Maier has created an extensive oeuvre over the course of her 25-year professional practice that seeks to delineate the dualism of Western identity politics in the public and private spheres.”

The upcoming exhibit will kick off Gallery Josephine’s second season. The gallery was established last year in the building in the Oak Bluffs Arts District that formerly housed the Dragonfly Gallery.

The Gallery Josephine season will include four shows spotlighting the work of five artists. Each show (three solo shows and one two-man show) will feature portraits, either paintings or photographs.

“All five deal with the black figure,” gallery manager Lydia Nichols said in a phone interview. “Given the history of the way in which the black body has traditionally been represented, there is inherent value in representing the black figure in an economy that does not place as much value on it as the figures of others who are represented in western portraiture.”

Gallery Josephine was established with a very specific mission. According to the website, “the gallery exhibits and sells the original work of artists who address sociopolitical realities through painting and sculpture. Committed to engaging diverse communities of collectors and art appreciators, Gallery Josephine provides a platform for examining the exchange between aesthetics and advocacy in fine art that is both technically and conceptually rigorous.”

The gallery will also continue an initiative to host talks and readings with social and political relevance. In July, Pulitzer Prizewinning author Junot Diaz will read from his book of short stories, “This Is How You Lose Her,” a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award.
Sylvia Maier’s “The Circle of Mothers Project” will be on view from May 28 through June 13 at Gallery Josephine. The opening reception will be held on Saturday, May 28, from 6 to 8 pm.