Fourteen Black and brown artists inspired by 1980s graffiti and the neo-expressionist movement have their work featured in the first exhibition from Wood & Green Black Art Haus, a new gallery project in Cleveland Heights.
“Inspired By: Jean Michel Basquiat” is open now and runs through April 10th.
The Cleveland Heights gallery sings with vibrant Basquiat-inspired works, some baring likenesses of the deceased artist and some pieces derivative of Basquiat’s style, ever ripe with cultural context. His work continually challenged conventions in popular art while being reflective of the hip hop movement erupting from South Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.
Although there are references to race in Basquiat’s works and writings — most notably in his work, “Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart)” — the artist seemed to be more focused on artistic notoriety than racial or political controversy. The Haitian-American and Puerto Rican artist was quoted as saying, “I am not a Black artist, I am an artist.”
This exhibition is part of the ongoing ‘Inspired By’ series where owner, founder and curator David Ramsey will be choosing historically influential Black and brown artists for local artists to reflect on.
“Our goal is not just to showcase Black and brown artists, but to educate as well and the ‘Inspired By’ series gives us a chance to do both,” says Ramsey. “We want to educate artists and the general public alike about the contributions of Black and brown artists to the institution of art. Part of that is intentionality in highlighting them when we can.”
Wood & Green seems to be an extension of Deep Roots Experience, another full-time gallery run by Ramsey in Cleveland’s historic Fairfax neighborhood near Karamu Theater, the nation’s oldest African-American theater. Fairfax is also where Langston Hughes went to high school and where many other prominent Black figures thrived, including Jesse Owens, Dorothy Dandridge and Bobby Womack to name a few.
Currently on view there is ‘Who Are Your Heroes,’ which runs through the end of March and which Ramsey co-curated with Mr. Soul. The exhibition honors inspirational Black and brown people who have elevated society in some way. The Kevin A. Williams piece in the exhibition, “Civil Unrest,” is a poignant commentary on race, inequality and police brutality and is a representation of how artists, galleries and curators need to continue to use art as a platform to engage society in the continuing conversation towards real change. Ramsey wants to be clear that his endeavoring to help foster, expose and elevate Black and brown artists and to continue to educate people is a group effort and that he is not alone in this journey.
“We do not work as if we’re the only people doing this work,” says Ramsey. “There is Framed Gallery, Museum of Creative Humans, Current, Cleveland Gallery, Blank Canvas, Artfully Phi and so many more who are doing similar work as us from different vantage points. We are all necessary to ensure that the black art and the culture itself is recorded and reported from within. I am thankful to be a part of a network of black owned and operated art spaces showing any artist of color in some way.”
Wood & Green will also host an exhibition from March 16th to 18th called ‘Street Dreams,’ a solo show featuring the photography of Cleveland Heights native Ryan Harris before continuing with their ‘Inspired By’ series reflecting on the work of Emory Douglas on April 30th.
“Black and brown culture in many ways has been dictated and shared by people outside the culture,” says Ramsey. “This creates issues with context, accurate representation, and understanding. The elevation is through a clearer understanding of what our contribution to the art world is.”
Wood & Green is situated on the northern end of Cleveland Heights on Mayfield Road where Ramsey has partnered with another Black-owned business, NyceCo Print Shop, founded by former 107.9 DJ, DJ Knyce/Keenan Williams and his girlfriend and co-owner Brittany DeMudd.
Williams chose to leave the corporate radio world after 10 years to start his print company which has been running successfully since 2019 and which features sometimes sardonic apparel, playful in its reflection on racial concepts, ideas and symbolism.
“I want people to take away the fact that we have a very rich and varied history as Black people and a very rich culture,” says Williams. “I want them to take away pride with our apparel, wear it proudly and just be happy to be Black. None of our designs are trauma-based or throwing back to times of oppression or anything like that. We literally celebrate our blackness and that’s what I want people to take away from it.”