By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the arts at nearly every level, forcing everything from the visual to the performing arts to move online or pause programming entirely. Now, well over a year later, the arts community is finally experiencing the rebirth its been waiting for.
Starting June 4, SPACE Gallery in the Cultural District will reopen its doors after shutting down in response to the pandemic. “We Are The Global Majority,” an exhibition by the #notwhite artist collective, will first occupy the space upon reopening. In addition to SPACE, all four of the Cultural Trust’s downtown art galleries will simultaneously reopen to the public.
“Wood Street Gallery, 937 Liberty Gallery, and 707 Penn Gallery are all opening at the same time as well, so there will be four galleries opening at once,” said Murray Horne, head curator for SPACE Gallery.
Like so many arts organizations in the wake of the pandemic, the Cultural Trust had no choice but to shutter all of their public facilities once state restrictions became widespread. This June’s events will be the first for the downtown galleries since restrictions were enacted.
“We shut down immediately, and haven’t been able to open up because of the severity of the situation,” said Horne.
The decision to reopen has been one carefully considered as vaccine availability increases and case numbers in Allegheny County stabilize. Despite that and the lifting of state mandates at the end of May, COVID safety remains paramount at the downtown galleries.
“We’re still going to be very cautious and require masks inside the gallery and practice social distancing, as some people haven’t been vaccinated. We need to look after everyone who comes in the gallery,” said Horne.
#notwhite, an artist collective comprised of 13 women of color, will fill SPACE Gallery once it reopens. All of the artists are multi-racial women, working in a non-hierarchical, collective fashion. The work of #notwhite focuses on their experiences and stories as immigrants and the descendants of immigrants.
“The #notwhite collective is a group of 13 women artists whose mission is to use non-individualistic, multi-disciplinary art to make our stories visible as we relate, connect, and belong to the global majority,” the collective states on its website.
Artist Sarika Goulatia said the common experiences she shares with her fellow artists was part of what attracted her to the group, highlighting the difficulties all women of color face, regardless of background.
“Some of the artists are born here, raised here,” said Goulatia. “They speak with the American accent, but they’ve had the same experience as me, who immigrated. It was quite an enriching space to have these shared experiences.”
While not all members of #notwhite will be explicitly featured, the collaborative environment they create means that all 13 have some hand in the work presented. In addition to the artists of the collective, outside artists whose work falls within their framework were invited to participate in the exhibition. The diversity of artistic media featured in “We Are The Global Majority” reflects the diversity of the exhibit’s creators, ranging from two-dimensional paintings, to photography, to performance art.
For her part in the show, Goulatia is creating a 2D composite piece entitled “I Am Speaking,” which examines the ways society expects women of color to fit in, and how they are treated when they do not conform. The work’s title came from the Vice Presidential debate prior to the 2020 general election, where then-VP candidate Kamala Harris was repeatedly interrupted and interrogated by then-Vice President Mike Pence.
“My work is based on Kamala Harris, because when she was elected, being an Indian, I was really proud, like ‘whoa, this really happened,’” said Goulatia. “There’s a role that society has designated to women, and some women themselves feel guilty when they’re not filling those roles. There’s so much baggage there in itself.”
Goulatia also invited Pittsburgh-based artist Tara Fay Coleman to work with #notwhite in creating this exhibition. Coleman’s display for “We Are The Global Majority” combines simple elements to create a photograph that makes a powerful statement about racist historical standards, as well as their reprehensible effects.
“What she did is about the one drop of blood, [the trope in] American racism, that if you have one drop of blood that is black, you are black. It doesn’t matter what you look like,” said Goulatia. “She took these carnations, and she took a drop of blood and painted the edge of the carnations, and then photographed it.”
Through work like this, Goulatia hopes that viewers are able to connect with the idea of the global majority on a deeper level, and plants the seed to elevate the stories of women of color every day of the year.
“My hope is they start seeing the other,” said Goulatia. “Art is a medium through which, if you do it right, people can enter in and understand the other. Maybe by understanding the other, the othering ends.”
“We Are The Global Majority” will run at SPACE Gallery from June 4 to August 1.