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  • Marquez Woods

I’m Not Your Typical Art Critic, and Black Wall Street is Not Your Typical Gallery.

My Experience at “A Black Man Can”

Marquez T Woods Feb 9th, 2021

I don’t imagine I am the only one who has been longing for an institution like BWS — one that puts its full weight behind black artists and is brought to life by the people.

The recent pop culture references to the insidious white destruction of Black Wall Street do not affect the gallery’s motivations or inspirations. The boost in relevancy only strikes the previously naive. Black Wall Street’s life and death was a completely normal part of my education as I’m sure it was for most other black people. America’s dirty secret was never a secret to me, yet, I didn’t learn of it in history class.

It was a part of my cultural education. Taught in a different kind of classroom. Where desks were sofas covered in plastic and my teacher loosely held a cigarette, not a ruler. Still, the demand for undivided attention was as serious as a consequence for distraction.

It was my understanding that the story of Black Wall Street was an accurate depiction of America. I was forced to acknowledge my ancestors' persistent pursuit of a decent life and the ever-present opposition that dwelled here.

A “Black Man Can” demonstrates the push and pull of a century-old interaction and more importantly, it takes an active part in shaping the future by learning from the past.

Certain pieces reminded me of how disconnected I felt from my roots. African masks and sculptures alike sat in the corners of my childhood home, taunting me with a broken and mysterious history. They were basically souvenirs, displaced from Africa by my great-grandfather when he came home from the Army. I had no use for them. The traditions and stories behind these symbols had been burned out of my gene pool like firebombed flesh in 1921.

“My American Gothic” 2017, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in @troyjonesartist

To see artifacts I had perceived as painful and empty symbols contextualized into prideful instruments of life was both jarring and profound.

“Sankofa”, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 20 x 16 in @troyjonesartist

For every piece that immortalized the pain…

“DMX” 2020, Oil on canvas, 60 x 40 in @_brandontellez

…There was a piece that showed the regal strength it produced.

“Queen Bey” 2020, Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 66 x 58 in @jaemelo

“Revolt” 2020, Acrylic and paper on canvas, 60 x 48 in @corswavey

The duality was unrelenting. I could not ignore the hopefulness. It was in the tone of the space and the details of the pieces.

Black Wall Street symbolized resistance from a parasitic authority. It was reverse Manifest Destiny in the form of economic and cultural freedom. It showed resilience through creativity and optimism.

“Inner City Good Life” 2019, Acrylic and paper on canvas, 48 x 36 in @corswavey

I lingered in the gallery analyzing the brushstrokes. Eventually, I sat with a few familiar faces. More seemed to join at every moment. Each veiled their face in a mask… all different colors.

What began as a conversation about the craft and beauty of the art eventually left the walls of the gallery. Artists and observers sat and spoke with equal footing, contorting their minds to understand each other and reveling in the moments that they did. Tales of Black experience from all corners of creativity splashed the room dousing young minds with wisdom and elder minds with perspective.

For me, “A Black Man Can” was a refreshing manifestation of black creativity and community. The space, artists and curator cultivated a passionate and intellectual space I would highly recommend.


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