In honor of Black History Month, Community Works launches Weusi Revisited: 2010, part one (on view February 17 to September 3) of a stunning year long multi-media arts exhibit that celebrate the evolution and intricate history of Harlem’s Black Arts Movement. Weusi, a Swahili word meaning blackness, is a distinguished collective of artists established in Harlem in 1965. Considered the progenitors of the Black Arts Movement, the members of the Weusi Artist Collective were among some of the first artists in America to make African imagery a central part of their work.
For the members of the Weusi, the Artist Opening Reception on Tuesday, February 16 was both a celebration and a reunion. To pay tribute to their legacy, over 200 attendees packed the Dwyer Cultural Center, (253 St. Nicholas Avenue; entrance on 123rd Street), the newest addition to Harlem’s cultural landscape.
“The Weusi is a phenomenon,” says Ademola Olugebefola, a featured artist in the exhibit. “We were warriors. We are warriors. We believed and espoused the philosophy of black art for black people…So we set out to beautify the black woman, regalize the black men in our images, promote the culture, the beauty and brilliance of color within the African tradition.”
At the opening, co-directors of the Dwyer, Barbara Horowitz and Voza Rivers, unveiled an innovative year-long project that highlights the works of seventeen notable Weusi artists throughout two galleries, features a companion film about the artists, and hosts a series of public dialogues with key luminaries from the Black Arts Movement. “The goal is to explore the Black Arts Movement’s legacy and its historical and modern cultural significance in Harlem and beyond,” said Horowitz.
The premiere of the companion film,Weusi Revisited: 2010, is arguably the heart of the exhibit. Through in-depth artist interviews and intimate portraits of the Weusi artists and their work, the film explores the group’s roots during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s—an historically fertile and often turbulent period in our nation’s artistic, cultural and political landscape.
“When I started to do art, most of the models I saw were white figures,” says the Guyanese-born artist Stanwyck Cromwell who later moved to Harlem. “When I saw Weusi, I saw a Renaissance of black pride. It was like everything you saw had color. A blackness that could not have been kept down – it could not be suppressed.”
Organized by David Lackey of Whirlwind Creative, in association with the members of the Weusi Artist Collective, both the exhibit and the film portray the work of artists Abdullah Aziz, Ché Baraka, David Byer-Tyre, Kay Brown, Perry Cannon, Stanwyck Cromwell, Robert Daniels, Ogundipe Fayomi, Gaylord Hassan, M L J Johnson, Niiahene La Mettle-Nundoo, Dindga McCannon, Otto Neals, Ademola Olugebefola, Okoe Pyatt, Taiwo Shabazz and Emmett Wigglesworth.
Among the guests at the Reception were representatives from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ), Harlem Arts Alliance, National Conference of Artists, Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Hospital, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, Museum of the City of New York, and the Consulate General of South Africa. Weusi Revisited: 2010 is presented by Community Works and supported by the New York State Council on the Arts.
Complimenting Weusi Revisited: 2010 at the Dwyer is the harlem is…THEATER (also on view February 17 – September 3), which celebrates the rich legacy of Harlem’s theater movement from the founding of the African Grove Theatre in 1821 to Harlem’s Black Arts Movement to the present. The exhibit includes stunning portraits, rare audio clips, video montages and student reflections on the power of theater in Harlem. In conjunction with the exhibition, visitors view the harlem is…THEATER documentary, directed by Oscar-nominated songwriter, Professor Jamal Joseph, which contains rare archival footage chronicling decades of Harlem’s theater heritage and contemporary legacy keepers.
Weusi Revisited: 2010 and harlem is…THEATRE are part of harlem is… an award-winning public art series chronicling Harlem’s evolution over the past 100+ years. The public programs, in conjunction with the exhibits, spark enthusiastic and intergenerational dialogue on the importance of an historic period in Black history and culture. They are made possible with the generous aid of the New York Council for the Humanities with additional support from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
Both exhibits are on view from February 17th to September 3rd. Admission to the Dwyer Cultural Center is free. Visitors receive a poster with a suggested donation of $5. For more information, please contact the Dwyer at 212-222-3060, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.dwyercc.org.
Photo credit (l to r) 1. Barbara Horowitz and Voza Rivers, co-directors of the Dwyer; 2. Robert Daniels, Weusi artist, stands in front of his artwork; 3. Shavaughn Byrd, guest of the Dwyer, at Weusi opening; 4.Gaylord Hassan, Weusi artist, stands in front of his artwork