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Art Exhibition: Story, Word, Sound, Sway

In visiting an art gallery as a novice, the inner workings of an amateur critic abounds as his or her own interpretations show through. In terms of coping with mental illness, art gallery criticism, viewing, or contribution represents one of the best outlets for mental acuities. The University of Michigan Penny Stamps art Gallery exhibition Story, Word, Sound, Sway sets forth the voice and brush of an accomplished community of black artists who formerly hung their hats at the University. Each piece delivers a separate comment on various intersectionalities and functions of what is the black consciousness. In a venture to illustrate the utility of black culture in a community where its presence has been stifled i.e. Ann Arbor, Story, Word, Sound, Sway serves as the watershed for the cascades of select and elite few. 

“What the Tide Brought In”

Right from the jump Carisa Bledsoe (BFA Interarts ’14)  affirms the purpose and title of the exhibit with her display “What the Tide Brought In.”  Inferentially, the piece comments on the repercussions of the African diaspora as per the ideal of the tide bringing forth Africans from the slave trade. Moreover, The underlying truth is the inability of identities familiar with the black experience to palette the aftermath of black displacement. Furthermore, she illustrates the story, African diaspora. This is done through various depictions of the word, chocolate. Also, with sounds or statements stating the aversion to this very matter, the chocolate of the diaspora, “I don’t care how dark it is. It all tastes the same and it makes my stomach hurt.”

Additionally, items coalesce or sway. This occurs in a way where the associations mesh in a likeness of the dissolute segments of blackness. Poverty– vagrant woman– criminal activity — gun– and systematic genocide– noose —  all eventually shine through as the disparities dealt to the black identity which wades on the shores of oppression.  

Photo by Alex Mertz on Unsplash

“14143 Bentler rePatched”

Yvette Rock (MFA ‘99) introduces her piece “14143 Bentler rePatched” as an homage to the artist or creator. Immediately as one observes the piece, the image of a sculpted hand juxtaposed directly outside of the woman’s stomach may allude to the ideal of the female as creator. The stomach, of course, houses the woman’s womb and reproductive organs i.e the system of which creations ebb through. In addition, as the piece progresses she continues in maneuvering the hand. This being, part of a process in which she states that the hand continues to create more beauty. The hand then scrapes the leaves on the ground and organizes it into a patched structure. Perhaps, imagery of slavery and its products eek through. Spotlighting creations of blackness that emanate through every patch attended to by the artist’s piece.

“Shift, Sift, Swoosh Bods”

Just as the scenes of the previously mentioned pieces attest to the practicality of black identity in a repressive society, Levester Williams’(BFA ‘13) piece “Shift, Sift, Swoosh Bods” grapples with ideas of black grandiosity. In modern society or even modern Ann Arbor, figures of any consequence usually are not black. Thus, Williams, in his piece perhaps explores the notion that black iconism resonates from a place of certain eccentricities found within each individual. An ideal which may comfort one with mental illness.

In short, if one is particularly unique with some defining and distinct characteristic, then one may transcend the captivity of the painfully mundane. Notoriety does not blossom as a consequence of environment or privilege. Instead, each character, imbued with separate frames of similar foreground or environment performs their movement and sound whilst invoking prominent yet subtle detachments from each other. The title of the piece straddles thematic uniformity as all three identifiers fall under the umbrella of “Bods”.

As the composition progresses pretenses associated with the word “Swoosh” come into view, possibly referring to Nike. Amateur interpretations considered, the work utilizes identical frames as a reference to a stage or field. Maybe depicting an allusion to Nike’s ties to black culture. Each figure allotted similar resources for background and sound diverge from one another in a nod to black celebrity. The inferred statement relays competition and success under the foreground of a commercially western fueled setting. All figures succeed in a display of unique voice through image as physical distinctions and characteristics remain similar. 


The final piece examined, “Undercommons,” fissures through the foundation of pop culture in Ann Arbor. It recries the tones and impact of black culture in the city’s  underground hip hop scene. Hip Hop’s existence as a social thread, inherently finds ground in its core, the archive of black identity. Wesley Taylor (BFA ‘04) makes certain that this archive attains refuge above the surface. He underscores the principal figures of this lesser known community in “Undercommons.”

The underlying affirmation, “The university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings,” reminds its audience of the fault of majoritave culture. “Everybody wants to be black but nobody wants to be black”. The former quote featured in “Undercommons” entangles itself about the notion that the university chooses to extract the produce and fruits of her, or the black community’s, bearings in which it sees fit. All the while actively refusing to facilitate a community for which these fruits and produces can actually bloom. Taylor’s ongoing archive recognizes the cultural powerhouse within the mechanism that is Ann Arbor. He highlights the centrality of underground hip-hop in the city’s thriving culture. In order for one to fully immerse themself in the piece, first hand viewing may be necessary.

Takeaways from Story, Word, Sound, Sway

If one intends in even whetting the satiety for black culture in Ann Arbor. Story, Word, Sound, Sway just serves as an appetizer. The appetite for change begins with a story. The story of how black culture exists in an academic setting based in progress requires deliberation. A deliberation grounded in prose, speech, and art represent the words, and sound central to this exhibit. In order for the hunger of enlightenment to be quenched the audience must in a concerted effort move as the exhibit does. They must venture to ascertain the gravity of another’s mind. In this process one may discover comrades in the daily struggle. Central to a sound mind is the intention of understanding not just the individual, but the undercurrent of society as a whole. In the exhibit Story, Word, Sound, Sway, stimulus for the mentally inquiring is absolutely promised.

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