‘WEST’ Exhibition Highlights Local Artists of Color

'WEST—Arizona Artists of Color' is on display at the Civic Center Public Gallery inside the Scottsdale Civic Center Library. Photo: Scottsdale Arts

Scottsdale Public Art

Hugo Medina, ‘Bus in India’

Scottsdale Public Art recently opened “WEST—Arizona Artists of Color,” a new exhibition featuring local artists at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library.

“WEST—Arizona Artists of Color” aims to show the West as the featured artists know it: with a rich cultural history. Their work in Arizona shows the universal need to belong, to be accepted and to be seen, as well as shedding light on the struggle to make social connections and understand one another. The artists in this exhibition express their solidarity with the human condition and the need to be free of prejudice and injustice.

“The exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the varied range of creatives living and working here in the Valley of the Sun, who also happen to be artists of color,” said Kim Boganey, director of Scottsdale Public Art. “Some of the artists have well-established names that may be recognizable to many; others we are excited to introduce to audiences. With all of the artists, their work is a reflection of what it means to live in the West.”

Co-curated by Phoenix artist Joe Willie Smith and Wendy Raisanen, curator of collections and exhibitions for Scottsdale Public Art, the exhibition will run through March 2.

Smith said that historically, many exhibition opportunities — especially through established institutions — were not open to artists of color. Elements of that exclusion continue today, he said.

“There still is a void of opportunities for artists of color,” Smith said. “The ‘WEST’ show is really a wonderful opportunity.”

He said there can be a stereotype that there are only white artists in the West, and all they create is art of cowboys and horses. “WEST” emphasizes that artists of color also reflect the geography and culture in which they live.

Smith also noted how there is often an expectation that his work will talk about Black history or contemporary Black people. While he has done work that speaks to his race, his artistic practice encompasses much more than that.

When people ask Smith if he makes Black art, he often responds: “Well, I use black paint sometimes.” For the most part, his work is like many other artists.

“I think about color; I think about composition,” Smith said. “I have conceptual work I’ve done.”

Smith contributed one of his own pieces to the exhibition, “Little Boy Blue,” a painted steel, aluminum and wood sculpture that acts as a biographical statement for the artist, referencing his childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Artist Claire A. Warden is also featured in the exhibition with two artworks, “No. 15 (Genetics)” and “No. 24 (White Passing),” both from her “Mimesis” series, where the artist uses a camera-less photographic process on negative film and also incorporates saliva and mark-making. Warden said the process produces images that reveal certain truths in the abstract nature of identity and personal experiences as an immigrant and a person of color.

“The creation of my ongoing series ‘Mimesis’ comes at a time when the struggle to accept the unfamiliar is pervasive in our culture,” Warden said. “Now, more than ever, it is vital to engage and support voices that speak to the diversity of our community and the experiences had by people of color.”

Other artists included in the exhibition include Clendolyn Corbin, Gloria Martinez-Granados, Eugene Grigsby, Annie Lopez, Stephen Marc, Hugo Medina, Sebastiao Pereira, Joe Ray, Safwat Saleem, Sonny Sholola, Ani Tung, RIP Woods, Frank Ybarra and Bernard Young.

The physical exhibition is located in the library’s Civic Center Public Gallery, operated by Scottsdale Public Art. Library hours may be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A virtual version of the exhibition can be viewed online at ScottsdalePublicArt.org/exhibitions/.

Scottsdale Public Art will host a virtual reception with many of the artists from the exhibition at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19. For information about how to attend online, visit ScottsdalePublicArt.org/events. Additionally, Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation has organized creative activities associated with the exhibition that can be completed at home.

Through its partnership with the City of Scottsdale, the nonprofit Scottsdale Arts (formerly known as Scottsdale Cultural Council) creates diverse, inspired arts experiences and educational opportunities that foster active, lifelong community engagement with the arts. Since its founding in 1987, Scottsdale Arts has grown into a regionally and nationally significant, multi-disciplinary arts organization offering an exceptional variety of programs through four acclaimed branches — Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), Scottsdale Public Art and Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation — serving more than 600,000 participants annually. In conjunction with the City of Scottsdale, we also host more than 200,000 people annually on our campus through a robust rentals program.

The mission of Scottsdale Public Art is to make Scottsdale one of the most desirable communities in the country in which to live, work and visit by incorporating art and design projects throughout. In 1985, the City of Scottsdale established Scottsdale Public Art with the goal to enhance the quality of life for its residents and visitors. Since then more than 100 permanent and temporary public artworks have been commissioned throughout the community. Scottsdale’s program and projects have won local, regional and national awards.

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