Art Review: Ohio Diaspora – Art from the Collection of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center and Ohio Artists

I guess we take our art where we can get it now. Whether it’s the Short North hosting a virtual Gallery Hop, the Wexner Center stepping up its “Off Center” initiatives, or the Columbus Museum of Art featuring the hashtag #myCMAathomeinstitutions and arts advocates continue to adapt to the stay-at-home world by making art as accessible as possible with the tools at their disposal.

As for me, I have some really good art on my phone’s camera roll. It’s because I was lucky enough to arrive at the Ohio Arts Council Riffe Gallery and take in Ohio Diaspora: Art from the Collection of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center and Ohio Artists before the world begins its pandemic-induced shutdown. The show is beautiful and I found myself going back to the photos I took over and over again.

Ohio Diaspora brings together works by 17 Ohio artists with ties to African-American culture. Many artists are represented in the collection of the National African American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. All present something of themselves and the world they live in, and all present valuable perspectives on both art and history.

Tariq Tarey | Moambi & Child | 2019 | Polaroid

Works by Willis “Bing” Davis and Queen Brooks draw inspiration from traditional African patterns, textiles and abstractions while incorporating contemporary flourishes. This duality serves to create a connective tissue between the past and the present. Davis takes this connection one step further. By referring to his works as “dancing masks”, he suggests that the beliefs and traditions of his African ancestors may still provide meaning and purpose in today’s world.

Tariq Tarey offers a slightly different perspective on the African-American experience. As a photographer, immigrant and immigration advocate, Tarey’s work in Ohio Diaspora reflects the life he lived. His photographs of contemporary immigrants use the techniques and style of late 19th and early 20th century portraiture. The results are powerful images that are a poignant reminder that the United States was and remains a nation of immigrants.

Another perspective on the African American experience and history is presented by Tracy Ameen. Her clay and ceramic “Mammy pot” figurines are a point of pride for the artist, who calls black women “the midwives of this great country.” In some ways, she may be right. It’s hard to imagine better defenders of freedom (or better flag bearers of freedom) than those who have worked the hardest to achieve it.

As the work of Ameen and Tarey suggests, Ohio Diaspora offers a fair amount of figurative work. It’s a show curated to connect and engage on a personal level. Striking depictions of African Americans abound. In the hands of April Sunami, these representations take on a timeless and ethereal dimension. For Lisa McLymont, the depiction of African Americans offers a chance to portray strength and hope with a warm naturalism. For Ron Anderson, the figure offers the opportunity to contemplate the links and relationships between people. Taken together, the works here illustrate that while the experiences of African Americans are varied, those experiences remain and are integral to our shared history.

Tracy Ameen | Black Marchy | 2016 | carved pottery

In this context, Ohio Diaspora is a timely reminder to all that it is one thing to have a story, and another thing to have that story told, heard and shared. Ohio Diaspora is it that. It gives voice and visibility to a group of exceptional artists and, in doing so, highlights the stories, experiences and connections that shape who we are and who we could become.

Fortunately, these stories will continue to be told, heard and shared. Riffe Gallery director Cat Sheridan notes that the Ohio Arts Council is working on a virtual gallery experience that will allow people to explore the exhibit remotely. Additionally, Sheridan reports that they are also investigating the possibility of expanding Ohio Diaspora when the Riffe Gallery reopens. That would be good news. A show this staff deserves to be seen in person.

For more information on Ohio Diaspora: Art from the Collection of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center and Ohio Artists, as well as a presentation video of the exhibition, visit oac.ohio.gov/Riffe-Gallery/On-View.

Lisa McLymont
The tribe of the universe is a strong woman | The four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, winter (detail)
2015
Neocolor, graphite, hopes, dreams, love

Feature picture: (L) Willis “Bing” Davis (left) |A Warrior’s Prayer Dance Mask | 2018 | Lost & Found & Willis “Bing” Davis (right) | Urban dance mask #3 | 2018 | Objects found // (r) Bruce Robinson (top) | Janus #2 | 2016 | Plywood, paint, found materials and Bruce Robinson (bottom) | Rhyme | 2017 | Plywood, paint, found materials

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Jeff Regensburger

Jeff Regensburger is a painter, librarian and drummer for rock band The Christopher Rendition. He earned a BFA (painting and drawing) from The Ohio State University in 1990 and an MLS from Kent State University in 1997. Jeff blogs sporadically (OnSummit.blogspot.com), tweet occasionally (@jeffrey_r), and paint as time permits.