February is Black History Month and, although it’s coming to a close, there is still time to visit an art exhibit at Pathways Gathering Space, specifically honoring the national observance.
For the next two weeks, a show featuring the work of three African American artists, plus paintings of renowned black musicians by Basia Jaworska, will continue to hang at the Chilmark venue.
Jaworska is known for her large-scale portraits of some of her heroes. In the past she has exhibited paintings of people who are leaders in civil rights initiatives from all over the world. For the Pathways show, the artist chose to show her series of African American musicians who have had a profound impact on American music.
“All of these people are major contributors to the musical DNA of the music we hear today,” says Jaworska. “Their contributions are enormous.” For example, as the artist explains, Ma Rainey was the first professional blues singer to record. Sister Rosetta is considered the godmother of rock ’n’ roll for playing electric guitar in its early days. Some of Jaworska’s subjects are well-known, like Thelonius Monk and Tina Turner. Others, like Big Bill Broonzy and Big Mama Thornton, are not such familiar names.
Jaworska creates her images in a fairly primitive folk art style, yet her skill as an artist is in evidence in her use of light and shadow to bring her subjects to life, and her use of colors and patterns in the background to represent each musicians’ style, image, or personality. She often incorporates the artist’s names in the images.
As well as a number of galleries and other spaces around the Vineyard, Jaworska has shown her work in New Orleans and in Western Massachusetts. The “Roots Music” series is one she has a very personal connection to, as she was married to the late Maynard Silva. The two shared a love of blues, roots, and jazz music, especially the work of some of the pioneers in those fields.
Well-known Island artist and gallery owner Suesan Stovall is showing a selection of her mixed-media collage assemblages on wood, paper, and wood panel.
Using historical photographs, old newsprint, and various found objects, the artist builds up striking images that invite close inspection. The multimedia process allows her to explore both her own personal journey and the journeys of others in the African diaspora. For example, she is showing a couple of images representing Yemaya, mother goddess of the ocean in the Yoruba religion, which has its roots in Nigeria. Stovall explains the historical significance of these paintings. “When slaves were brought to the Americas by Catholic slavers, the Africans would hide their saints in their artistic representations of Catholic images, so that they were still able to worship their own saints.” Stovall’s assemblages are both beautiful and very personal and soulful.
At 27, Shavanáe Anderson is the youngest of the artists represented in the show. However, her work exhibits maturity as an artist and the talent and skill of a professional, even though she has only recently dedicated herself to creating art. Born in Jamaica and raised between that Island and Martha’s Vineyard, Anderson has already accomplished a great deal for someone her age. At 16 she won the Stone Soup Leadership Institute’s Walter Cronkite Award for journalism. Upon graduation from MVRHS, Anderson went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in film studies and communications from Suffolk University, and pursued a career in broadcast journalism. During the summer months, the teenager worked on the Island for the African American Film Festival and for MVTV, an organization that she still contributes to as a freelance videographer. Currently, Anderson works at the Martha’s Vineyard Bank, after working for a broker and dealer in Boston. She is now studying to become a financial advisor.
“I love art, I love film, and I love finance,” says Anderson. So far, she’s been able to pursue all three passions simultaneously. “I’ve always been an artist,” she says. “It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I started doing portraits. I first did a portrait of myself, and then thought, Let’s see what else I can do. I ended up loving people’s facial expressions.”
The examples of Anderson’s work on display at Pathways clearly show her mastery of faces and personalities. Among the selection are portraits of some of her heroes, including Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, and actress, writer, and producer Issa Rae. One of the people who often features in Anderson’s work is Frida Kahlo, an artist she greatly admires.
Anderson creates with a combination of pencils, markers, and paints to create vivid portraits that benefit from both exacting detail and a very effective, expressionist quality. “I’m all about expressive art,” she says. “And anything that brings me joy.” She exhibits a love of bright colors and patterns in her work. Of her use of a variety of media, Anderson says, “I can never choose just one. I just say, ‘If it works, it works, and I’ll keep it.’”
In a similar fashion, Anderson continues to be pulled in multiple directions — and is finding success in all three of her chosen fields. “It’s the Jamaican in me,” she says with characteristic humor. “Jamaicans tend to be hard workers. Whatever I’m very passionate about, I go for it.”
Also included in the show are ceramics by Chioke Morais. Although best known as a painter and mixed-media artist, Morais has recently launched a line of one-of-a-kind utilitarian ceramics. The name of his newest enterprise, Bent Wing Pottery, refers to the unique addition of a nontraditional, ladle-style handle that distinguishes his coffee mugs.
Black History Month art will hang at the Pathways Gathering Space at the Chilmark Tavern through March 8. Artists include Shavanáe Anderson, Basia Jaworska, Chioke Morais, and Suesan Stovall. You can check out more of Stovall’s work at the Groovy Sue Gallery in Oak Bluffs by calling ahead at 323-842-1076.