Co-Curated by Damien Davis and Alaina Simone
The exhibition continues through August 19, 2023
Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling announces its Fall Exhibition in the Legacy Gallery: MVP: A Selection of Sculptures From Melvin Van Peebles Blue Room, co-curated by Damien Davis and Alaina Simone. This exhibition runs through August 19, 2023.
In celebration of the life of Melvin Van Peebles, we will present a selection of art objects, artifacts and ephemeral materials, contextualizing his legacy as a filmmaker, activist, and visual artist. As an extraordinary individual who kept a child-like sense of openness and curiosity to the world around him, the exhibition will feature a recreation of Melvin’s living room (The Blue Room) with original objects from his home. Images of the living room were photographed by artist Lyle Ashton Harris and featured in a New York Times article from December 3, 2021, which were a major inspiration for the vision of this exhibition.
Melvin Van Peebles was an artist, in every sense of the term. From portraiture to novel writing to filmmaking and more, his interdisciplinary relationship with composing art is unique in nature. He moved, jumping from Chicago to Mexico to Amsterdam and finally Paris, in order to chase his dream of working in the film industry. Once achieving accolades in Paris and being invited into Hollywood with open arms, rather than taking up the space he had always wanted to, he created space for other Black artists, allowing a platform where there was none. This was collaborative yet disruptive, in a time when Hollywood was exclusive to anyone but people of color.
The Blue Room served simultaneously as a source of Melvin’s inspiration, and an amalgamation of his childlike state of curiosity and creativity. Similar to Matisse’s “The Red Studio,” his blue-walled apartment was filled with a myriad of odd, yet somewhat functional objects. From the back end of a Volkswagen that doubles as a filing cabinet to a giant sculpture of a hot dog, the artist’s joie de youth saturated his life with whimsy and wonder. “He had this fanciful, wily sense of humor, and a love of the everyday,” shares Mario Van Peebles, filmmaker, actor and son of the artist. “He would sit in the Blue Room and look out through the windows onto the wonderful view on the street and watch the light play across. He passed away in that apartment — he wanted to be back in a space he had created and enjoyed, in which he’d given birth to so many of his projects.”
In tandem with his impact on history through his work, this would become his legacy. Melvin, forever young and building off of his joyful perspective on life, wanted to live alongside these items– items that made him happy to repurpose and collect. His many roles throughout life: astronomer, playwright, a stint on Wall Street, a portrait artist, writer, filmmaker, composer and producer, Melvin lived a boundless life, celebrating Black culture and appreciating human beings without being bound by skin tone. His loving collaborative perspective on life and of the world allowed for this duality, his many lives as an artist and creator instilling in him a vast love for life and all of its oddities.
Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling and their Fall 2022 Group Show COMBINATIONS, featuring artists: Elia Alba, Nicole Awai, Alteronce Gumby, Forrest Kirk, Tyrone Mitchell, Sable Elyse Smith, Chris Watts, and Ye Qin Zhu, curated by Damien Davis and Alaina Simone. This exhibition runs through Feb 2023.
Through unique multidisciplinary practices, COMBINATIONS juxtaposes works by artists who leverage disparate materials, processes, and concepts. Through intentionality and material, these artists repurpose what we can do, reinventing limitations and redefining the intended meaning of various mediums and symbols.
Drawing from their personal experiences and the collective experience of being artists that give meaning to objects and ideas, the eight artists are in conversation with each other and the divine idea of humanity as a whole.
Elias Alba inquires into the self and human relationships through her sculptural ritualistic objects, photography and video. Nicole Awai dissects meanings behind words and symbols through her exploration of her identity as a Black Caribbean woman. Through Alteronce Gymby’s fluorescent and chromatic spectrum of color, the artist engages with us and expands the notions through which we perceive form and color, subjectivity on identity, materiality on earth and in cosmic space. In tandem, Forrest Kirk’s paintings use a variety of media, from oils and acrylics to bubble wrap, fabric and gorilla glue; his images capture the anxiety-inducing power structures in contemporary urban settings.
Multidisciplinary artist Tyrone Mitchell has shown the vast influence of his extensive travels through his integration of various media in his practice, from stone and wood carving, tapestry, installation, performance and objects. Sable Elyse Smith is well-versed in protest art and has been one of the leading artists in wrestling with the thematic concepts of prison reform and social change in her work. Chris Watts interrogates social and personal narratives around embodiment and visibility through his collection of pigments. Finally, Ye Qin Zhu references eastern mythology through his mystical creations; driven by his personal experiences of home-seeking, he is in conversation with the movements of dualities, such as belonging and displacement.
The artists featured in this group exhibition conjoin their unique narratives that speak to history, African diasporic and Eastern culture, mythology, visibility and identity to explore the dualities of humanity and meaning. Through this dissection, they are not only defining but celebrating what it means to be human and exist in a world full of complexity and dichotomies.