Words: Xander Mauer
On January 21, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture gave high school students the opportunity to have their art presented and put on display in the 11th Annual Reginald F. Lewis Museum Juried High School Art Show as part of Martin Luther King Day celebrations.
The contest was centered around the styles and themes of Romare Bearden, a prominent African-American artist during the Harlem Renaissance. Approximately 200 students from all 24 counties in Maryland submitted drawings, photos, paintings, prints, and mixed-media to potentially be displayed.
Only 26 pieces of art were selected, and among them were two Centennial Art III students: Noni Grimes and Gabrielle Chery. Their pieces are titled “Together, Sunday Night” and “Thanks to the Nurturer,” respectively.
Centennial art teacher Nan Collins encouraged students to enter the contest, but it was not a graded assignment.
“[Collins] suggested that we could do it, but she just said that it wasn’t a mandatory thing to do, so I worked on it outside of school,” Chery explained. “I kinda had to rush the last part, and I think it turned out pretty well.”
Despite choosing similar themes, Grimes’ and Chery’s pieces are unique, shaped by their own experiences and backgrounds.
“The two themes that stood out to me the most were womanhood and history,” Grimes described. “When I read womanhood, I thought of female bonds, and when I read history, I thought of family history. Finally, my mind landed on my mother doing my hair. It seems like such a simple, perhaps superficial, thing to value, but there’s more to it.”
Most artists used personal experiences to inspire their art and bring shape to it, and Grimes was no exception, even using actual family photos in her piece.
Her painting depicts four women in ascending age. The youngest admires her older sister as she does her hair. The older sister acts the same way, admiring her older sister, and the pattern continues up until their mother, depicting the continuation of the tradition through the generations.
“I’ve always been really bad at hair and mostly depended on my mom to help me,” Grimes elaborated. “When I was little, we would play salon as she washed and styled my hair, and I pretended to be a rich client with two to seven children and she would play along. She would share stories of her own mom doing her hair, of her hilarious jerry-curl phase, of her personal rebellion with going natural.”
Grimes summarized her piece, saying, “In short, hair has always bonded me and my mother one way or another, and this bond isn’t just between us, but also her mother, her mother’s mother, and so on.”
Personal experiences, specifically familial ties, played a part in Chery’s piece as well.
“It was based off my mom’s whole journey in coming to America and kind of trying to thank her for that, I suppose,” Chery explained, outlining her process. “I tried to think of a figure that reminded me of my mom.”
Describing her choice of imagery, Chery said, “I thought of a mother hen because I have a bunch of siblings and we all kind of trail about her like little chickens, and that was my whole inspiration for the piece.”
Their artwork, along with the work of the other student artists from around the state, remained on display at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum throughout the month of February, extending the initial Martin Luther King Day celebration throughout Black History Month.
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