By Emerson Andrews
Pittsburgh Current Intern
BREATHE, a new art exhibit opening on June 29 at City Books’ Iamb Gallery, holds a couple of different meanings to its curator Grits Capone, aka Corey Carrington. The first is a reference to the last words of Eric Garner: “I can’t breathe.” The second is the glimpse of a world Carrington hopes the exhibit provides.
“Sometimes you call it a sigh of relief…I was thinking about it like that. Breathe. A relief from stress,” he said. “This was a way for me and other artists to conceptualize a world where black people are free from oppression…It’s just about being able to live.”
The exhibit, created by and featuring all black artists, accepted a variety of submissions, from paintings to digital illustrations to mixed media and performance art. DJs Eyejay and Arie Cole also provided a playlist and mix for the exhibit’s opening. Contributing artists had different reasons for why they felt such an exhibit has importance.
“I believe an all Black show adds context to my work because it shows that I am just one thread in a much larger fabric of culture,” said AiM$, whose painting “FREE THE GUY$” will be on display. “Whereas if I was the only black artist in an exhibition, my work would be looked at as a representation of all blackness for those outside of the culture.”
BREATHE at Iamb Gallery, begins tomorrow and runs through Aug. 24. An opening event will be held tomorrow, June 29 from 7-9 p.m.
For Patience Lee, who created the mixed media piece “Colored Girls” for the exhibit, it was about her work as a whole. “I work with black women. I like to make black women feel like what they see in the magazines…I just always felt like being in mixed gallery shows and things like that, I feel like my work was always kind of overshadowed.”
Carrington himself has wanted to prioritize black voices ever since his first show, Electric Koolaid. “The show didn’t have any black artists, so in the future I just told myself that I really wanted to do a black-focused show with only black artists that was about telling black stories in a space that was indicative of my background,” he said.
Carrington also takes some pride in opening an exhibit in his own neighborhood, the North Side. “It’s been one of my hopes to do something from my side of town.”
“I want people to understand, too, that you don’t have to leave Pittsburgh to be successful,” he added. “It can be a very hard city for black people, so a lot of younger black people like my age or my age group…it can be like ‘how fast can I leave Pittsburgh? When can I escape?’…so I think that’s important, too, letting people know that you don’t have to leave Pittsburgh to be happy. You don’t have to leave Pittsburgh to follow your dreams. But there’s nothing wrong with that either.”
The exhibit itself features artists from Pittsburgh and the tristate area. How contributing artists interpreted and expressed the theme of BREATHE is as varied as the submissions themselves.
“FREE THE GUY$” takes inspiration from AiM$ own personal life. “It was inspired by my friends and family in Allegheny County Jail, and their loved ones on the outside upholding their legacy,” AiM$ said. “Black people make up 13% of the county and 49% of the jail. That statistic was what moves me to make this piece for the show.”
Lee wants to show the world how vibrant black people, and black women in particular, can be. The process to making “Colored Girls” included painting on the models themselves before photographing them and then adding paint to those photographs. “When you see black people, you think of like the sultry colors,“ she said. “That’s kind of what I want people to see, you know, black people in colors…those primary colors.”
Carrington sees the exhibit as an opportunity for people to think about and feel things they might not ordinarily consider. “I’m not trying to make anybody think anything, but I want people to think,” he said. He’s hopeful that the exhibit will reach a wide range of people, whether they know of him and his work or not.
“Pittsburgh is a white city, but there are so many voices that need to be heard,” he added. “The human experience is valid no matter who you are…so, if anything, I think that BREATHE is just a celebration of humanity, but it’s told through black voices.”
Though he describes the world depicted through the artwork of BREATHE as an alternative reality, Carrington believes it is a world that can exist in our reality. “I think it’s very important for art to be that catalyst for people to see a world that’s better. Because if we can see it we can create it,” said Carrington. “We can do it now.”