Art students Malik J. Norman and Ajané Williams are among the eleven artists featured in an exhibition at Gallery C3, a gallery in Charlotte’s South End district. Curated by Janelle Dunlap, the show H20/20, Elemental Retribution includes work by professional artists from Charlotte; Chicago; Columbia, South Carolina; and Pasadena, California. The exhibition opened June 5, and the gallery has hosted small-group guided tours with the artists. The two students spoke about their work at an event on July 17.
Inspired by the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the show was originally conceived to focus on the socio-political issues connected to water. But with the onslaught of the coronavirus, the perspective widened to explore “the conflict between humans and catastrophic disasters born out of the natural world,” says the gallery website.
Malik’s work, Ebb and Flow of Rural Black Spaces, is a collection of small prints on Stonehenge paper that combine monotype and Van Dyke brown printing techniques, allowing for the integration of photographic images and abstract designs. The work, he said in the artist talk on July 17, is part of his ongoing artistic exploration of “the evolution and deterioration” of the rural Union County town that is his family home – aptly named, for this show, Mineral Springs. Among the narratives that float through this work are two fires – one that destroyed his grandmother’s house and one that burned Western Union Elementary School, the nucleus of Western Union Park, the Black community within Mineral Springs.
Malik recently won a national competition in support of his senior photography thesis project, Visual Waters of Mineral Springs, in which he is further documenting his community and its history.
While the water theme is evident in both the title of Malik’s work and its appearance (the monotype prints combine an aqueous blue with the Van Dyke brown), the thematic connection in Ajané’s piece, Pandemonium II, is less obvious. In her artist talk, she described creating the large-scale, mixed-media abstract work as an act of defiance against the boundaries imposed by the academy. Instead of teaching students to be the innovators and agitators of the art world, she said, she believes there is too much emphasis on creating work that is “acceptable” to the art world. She also expressed her "frustration with the academic and professional art worlds subtly projecting limits onto Black artists" – in particular the expectation that they create work that addresses the Black experience. Pandemonium II is her response.
“I put everything of myself and what I wanted to do to this piece, not what the institution instilled in me to create as a Black woman” she said, comparing her creative process to water’s flow. “Water does not discriminate among surfaces. It goes through everything. I didn’t want to restrict myself on what I could create.”
H20/20, Elemental Retribution will be on view through August 2. Gallery C3 is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Read more about the exhibition in this article in CLTURE.