If you analyze media from the last few centuries, the Black and immigrant experience in America are two themes that have always been the topic of discussion. There are entire films, works of literature, songs and visual art pieces that revolve around these topics, and history has an odd way of repeating itself.
You can hear the voices of disenfranchised youth speaking up against these unfair conditions on a variety of platforms: social media activism, physical protests, music and of course, visual arts.
Renzo Ortega and Antoine Williams are two of those young people sharing their experience in the visual arts field, and their works are currently on display downtown at the Greenhill Center for North Carolina Art.
Williams, aka RAW, is a multimedia artist and an Assistant Professor of Art at UNC Charlotte whose works focus on the Black experience in America. He attained an MFA from UNC Chapel Hill in 2014, and is a founding member of the God City Arts Collective which focuses on combining activism, individuality and accessibility with art.
He utilizes wheat pastes, a short film and paintings to convey his ideas and perception of what that means to him. His works depict black bodies with obscured faces or torsos that look almost monstrous and out of this world. According to Williams’ biography on his website, he is heavily inspired by the sci-fi literature of H.P. Lovecraft, and believes that “themes in science fiction can be analogous to the many Black experiences in America.”
Many young black people have feelings of alienation when in a primarily white space and this alienation is a result of America’s systems and society failing to fully integrate us into its world. This anxiety can be felt by Williams’s works because of its ability to make its viewers feel anxious and uneasy, like the people he bases his characters on, and thus opens up a dialogue for those who identify with his characters as well those who don’t.
Ortega is an artist who emigrated from Peru to the United States, and has lived and worked in New York for over 16 years. He has outstanding academic credibility in the visual arts from several international universities and is the founder of Local Project, a nonprofit in Queens that focuses on educational dialogue between artists and their community.
Renzo utilized canvases that cover entire walls to tell stories of immigrants, as well as a series of stacked blocks that revolve around a variety of topics that pertain to the struggle of immigrants, as well as a large papier-mâché airplane depicting a variety of passengers in various positions. The tapestry that intrigued me the most is a group of aliens flying above a scorched landscape that is running rampant with devils.
Conversations of race and racial identity continue to dominate the airwaves and social media feeds of many everyday people, but this is especially the case for people of color and non-US citizens. Last week I wrote an article discussing UNCG’s attempts to fight against white supremacy and racism in the classroom but these types of systems extend beyond the confines of a desk.
White supremacy, police brutality, xenophobic anti-immigrant reform and biased mandatory minimums – all of these ideologies and events are forms of oppression that dictate the lives of millions of disenfranchised minority groups. It is not only an environmental condition of living in the United States but has become an extension of our identity. It’s a struggle that many of our ancestors have dealt with and will be one for generations to come.
“Two Artists – One Space” will be on display until Nov. 5, at the Greenhill Center for NC Art. As always, admission is free, but five dollar donations are suggested to help keep Greenhill alive and well.
If you are interested in participating in a community discussion about the systematic oppression that these works center on, Greenhill is hosting an Artist Talk with Ortega and Williams on Oct. 25, 2017 from 6-7.30 p.m. Those who have a membership at Greenhill are invited to arrive early at 5:30 p.m.
For more information regarding “Two Artists – One Space,” visit the Greenhill Center for NC Art’s website at www.greenhillnc.org. Williams’ and Ortega’s websites can be found at http://rawgoods.org/home.html, and http://renzoortega.com/.