Where We Stand: Black Artists in Southwest Michigan

September 14-December 8, 2019

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James Palmore, A Sundered Beginning, 2009, acrylic on canvas, acrylic on wood, wire mesh, stone, leaves, paper. Courtesy of the artist.

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Top row, from left: Darien Burress, Al Harris, Brent Harris
Middle row: Chakila Hoskins, Audrey Mills, James Palmore
Bottom row: Maria Scott, Tanisha Pyron, James Watkins.

Supporting artists is part of the KIA mission, as evidenced by our annual juried exhibitions and Kirk Newman Art School's post-baccalaureate residency program. Where We Stand: Black Artists in Southwest Michigan is an exhibition that focuses on the diverse creativity in a selection of Black artists working right here in West Michigan. This unique exhibition offers our audiences an opportunity to explore the breadth of talent that contributes to the cultural richness of our region.

The exhibition features ten Michigan artists working in sculpture, photography, painting, ceramics, and printmaking. They are emerging artists and veterans in their field who address issues as diverse as the environment, mass incarceration, the criminal justice system, and concepts of beauty.

The exhibition is being curated by Denise Liseicki, Director of the Kirk Newman Art School, and Fari Nzinga, Curatorial Fellow at the KIA and Kalamazoo College. The exhibition continues through December 8, 2019.

This exhibition is supported by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Michigan Humanities Council

*Free Community Day Opening Saturday, September 14, 11-5 pm, will celebrate the exhibition with family activities from 11 am-3 pm include three of the exhibiting artists exploring and creating art with visitors: Brent Harris, James Palmore and Al Harris. Photographer, actress, and poet Tanisha Pyron will perform an extended spoken word piece several times during the afternoon.
*Thursday, November 14, the KIA will host a 5:30 reception and 6:30 screening of the premiere of a documentary about the artists in Where We Stand, produced by Maya Wanner. The artists and filmmaker will be on hand for a Q&A after the film. Reception organized by the Black Arts and Cultural Center.
*In support of Where We Stand, the Kalamazoo Public Library will host an "Artists in Action" program at its branches throughout the Fall. Five of the exhibiting artists will be in residence at one of the KPL branches, making art, engaging with the public, and hosting an evening program.

James C. Palmore grew up in Kalamazoo's Eastside neighborhood, and works out of a studio in his childhood home on East Michigan Avenue. After serving in Germany as a medic during the Vietnam War, Palmore moved back to Kalamazoo and eventually became the Youth Program Coordinator at the City of Kalamazoo Parks & Recreation Department for 25 years. He was a founding board member of the Black Civic Theater, and, with Bertha Barbee McNeil, a member of the Velvelettes, Lois Jackson, and Gayle Sydnor, he helped found the Black Arts and Cultural Center. Palmore has been awarded a Community Medal of Arts by the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo. Palmore's large-scale portrait Chief received the Peoples' Choice Award in the 2018 West Michigan Area Show.

"I've always investigated things. How does stuff work? How do people work? That's always been a fascination to me and so that transferred into art subjects. Art is a polysynthesism of thoughts, dreams, feelings, manifested through the manipulation of materials, motion, sound, and sense. I don't know where all the ideas come from. Maybe it's life experiences. But I know I don't want to be old with a tube in my neck saying, 'I should have.' The art that I make appears in a verity of styles and techniques that are dictated in most part, by the idea and subject. I am totally open to using any material, technology or concepts that will aid me in conveying the statement. Part of my intent is to reflect back what I hear people saying regarding social, economic, ecological, environmental and political conditions. Communicating what I perceive and what others tell me shapes my art into forms that are constantly changing. Let's see, maybe I'll use a little of this instead of that?"

James Watkins was born in 1957 in Flint, MI. He graduated from Mott Community College in Flint in 1976. Watkins attended Western Michigan University where he received a BFA in painting. Watkins co-founded the Kalamazoo Film Society and has run the Black Arts and Cultural Center's film series during the annual Black Arts Festival. His work has appeared in numerous exhibitions and juried contests throughout western Michigan. One of his paintings, Victims, is in the collection of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. You can learn more about Mr. Watkins in this locally-produced interview.

Painter and educator Al Harris, Jr., teaches drawing to 4th-6th graders at the Kirk Newman Art School when he isn t working on his own portrait paintings (one of which is in the collection at the KIA) of family, friends, and students. Influenced by artist Chuck Close, he works from the photographs of his sitters to make preliminary sketches before exploring further in his preferred medium of oil pastels.

"My work is part of me. My personality, emotions, skills, and knowledge all come into play during the process of creating. The subject matter I have chosen is primarily portraits. By enlarging the face, it allows me to explore the medium to a greater extent. This use of pastels, in a painterly style, helps me to create a more realistic image, thus communicating thoughts and emotions going on inside me through my subject. "

Ceramist Maria Scott was born and raised in Chicago and has lived in Kalamazoo for 34 years. She began exploring ceramics in high school, and earned a BA in Fine Art from Siena Heights University in Adrian, MI. One of her salt-fired vessels is in the collection of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.

"My work is intuitive, coming from a past that resides within the soul I was born with. All of my pieces are hand-built and most often pit fired. Pit firing is the process of burying the piece in a container filled with wood, planar shavings, sawdust and/or other combustible materials. The materials are then set on fire and allowed to smolder until completely burned away. The result is an earthy, smoky finish that I feel suits the forms I create."

Sculptor Brent Harris received a BFA from Western Michigan University. He worked for seven years as an EMS paramedic before purchasing Alchemist Sculpture Foundry in Kalamazoo. He has shown his work in galleries throughout the Midwest, at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, and in collections in New York, Chicago, and London. He teachers sculpture at the Kirk Newman Art School at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.

"Often I combine elements of the male and female as well as contrasting body types in the same figure. Movement in my work is influenced by the rhythms of nature, and nature provides shapes and patterns that repeat in our body and subconscious. In my own life I have deeply examined the social, ancestral, and racial influences that have brought me here."

Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs
Michigan Humanities Council
Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo
Kalamazoo Arts Collaborative


Audrey Mills is a 2019 graduate of Kirk Newman Art School post-baccalaureate residency program, and holds a BFA with an emphasis in print media from the Gwen Frostic School of Art at Western Michigan University. Her work has been featured in various group exhibitions, including most recently in Text(ure) at Artlink Gallery in Fort Wayne, Indiana; ArtPrize 10 in Grand Rapids, MI; and the do it exhibition at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.

"My work revolves around blackness and the African Diaspora, investigated through the lens of language, history and social power structures. I am interested in the exploration of race, history and the formation of identity. My work conceptualizes blackness as spectral, constantly shifting between places of belonging and segregation, from criminal bodies to consumed bodies, from spooks to revenants. History, culture and language document these transformations."

Painter Chakila Hoskins recently won first prize in the 2019 West Michigan Area Show for her oil painting, Transformation (Metamorphosis). Her work also was on view in the 2018 Area Show. She earned her BFA and MFA in painting from Kendall College of Art & Design of Ferris State University. Hoskins works as a Continuing Studies Youth Instructor at Kendall, and an art teacher at New Era Christian School. Her work has exhibited at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.

"I believe that art should be obtainable and enjoyed by everyone. Pursuing concepts of spirituality and eternal life, I've explored semiotics, the theory of signs and symbols, and applied it in my artwork. Semiotics uses communication, which requires a sender, a message, and an intended receiver. My use of scripture and poems in braille is a means for the blind and visually impaired to connect with my art."

Photographer Tanisha Pyron is a graduate of Western Michigan University's theater program, and earned an MFA in acting at University of Illinois. She is also an actor, dancer, singer, filmmaker, playwright, poet, and educator.

"I consider myself to be a modern day griot, focusing on telling stories that highlight and find the beauty in the contradictions, pain and pride within our stories and thus to discover and re-claim the beauty within my own stories. I've used acting, poetry, dance and photography as modalities for making sure my creative vision and voice are seen, heard and felt. To me the art and the artist are one. As I seek to unlock and express what is contained in my own heart and to heal and celebrate my own beauty and spirit. The art will speak to who it needs to. "

Grand Rapids native Darien Burress is a 23-year-old biracial woman working towards a degree in art therapy at Western Michigan University's Gwen Frostic School of Art. She has exhibited at WMU's Richmond Center for the Arts, and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.

"Creating work allows me to explore, release and transform life's emotions and experiences into something of substance. I have developed a connection to nature and as I've grown have come to associate it with femininity and the black woman within my work. My work has allowed me to develop strength and wisdom through the excavation of my own personal feelings, desires and fears, as well as my view of the world."